Aboriginal woman granted appeal over $1.8m abuse claim

Rex Martinich |

An Aboriginal woman who tried to sue the Queensland government over alleged sexual abuse while in forced state care has been granted leave to appeal in the High Court.

The woman, aged 69, had sought more than $1.76 million in damages claiming she suffered psychiatric injury from the state’s negligence in placing her with a foster family in the late 1950s where she was allegedly sexually assaulted between the ages of three and five.

In a brief hearing on Thursday, High Court Justices James Edelman and Simon Stewart dispensed with the usual requirement for appeal to be lodged within 28 days of a decision.

“Special leave to appeal is granted,” Justice Edelman said.

The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, also alleged that, while she was living in state care in the 1960s, she was sent on visits to family members during which she suffered an attempted rape at age six by a teenage relative.

The Brisbane Supreme Court last year permanently stayed the woman’s case due to the difficulty in establishing what had happened more than 60 years ago given that both her foster parents and other witnesses who were adults at the time had subsequently died.

“The consequences of that passage of time for the availability of witnesses and evidence, is such that a fair trial is not possible and, accordingly, the exceptional step of granting a permanent stay of the proceedings is warranted,” Chief Justice Helen Bowskill said.

Court of Appeal Justice Robert Gotterson in May this year upheld the decision to halt the case, finding “unsurmountable” issues in bringing the matter to trial.

The government argued it would be prejudiced against at trial due to the lack of witnesses or documents to help defend itself and the difficulty of proving which traumatic elements of the woman’s life had contributed to her psychiatric issues.

In her claim for damages, the woman stated she had been diagnosed with post traumatic stress and psychiatric symptoms such as panic attacks, nightmares, dissociated states and difficulty concentrating.

The woman was subject to Queensland’s Aboriginal Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act that between 1897 and 1969 allowed the government to remove and restrict Aboriginal people to designated ‘reserve’ areas.

The woman was removed from her parents as an infant and taken to the Cherbourg girls’ dormitory about 170 kilometres northwest of Brisbane, and in 1957 was sent to live with a nearby Aboriginal foster family.

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Aboriginal Counselling Services 0410 539 905

National Sexual Abuse and Redress Support Service 1800 211 028