My Body, My Ancestresses

By Gabrielle Everall, 54. Fitzroy, VIC

TRIGGER WARNING: Sexual violence.

I occupy and write on stolen land. My body was stolen on the stolen land that my ancestors stole. I inherit violence. I inherit intra-familial sexual abuse. I fell heir to sexual violence. Intra-familial sexual abuse was passed down to me. My foremothers had intra-familial sexual abuse inflicted on them and possibly my foremothers before them.

A foremother means a female ancestor. This alludes to my mother but does not pinpoint her exactly. It could be a grandmother or an aunty. My mother’s story is not mine to tell.

My filiation of place comes from a place of sexual violence. I am an incest survivor. I am a survivor of sexual assault as an adult. How can I appreciate place?

When I was a teenager I was raped in the Northern Territory at Top Springs. This is my place of trauma. According to Maria Tumarkin, this will also become my space of trauma as I relive the memory in many years to come. For Tumarkin, trauma is not ‘a medical condition’ or ‘pathological state’. Tumarkin writes, about place, that ‘physical settings of tragedies, both natural and human-made have become an essential part of people’s experiences of mourning, remembering and making sense of traumatic histories imprinted onto them.’ Other people have also been sexually assaulted in Top Springs. I wonder about the women at Top Springs before me and after. I’m not surprised that the tourist slogan for the NT was ‘CU in the NT’. Top Springs was like a torture camp in the middle of the desert for me, not a tourist attraction.

I think of the seaside of Killarney in South-West Victoria, where my mother and great-grandmother came from. I have caught glimpses from a car window but have never properly been to where my mother came from.

I feel like my story tells me. My story is a prison where I must write my way out. My story is a maze of repetition where I am re-abused. I am unlike Scheherazade who tells her stories so violence will not be done to her. I write in the aftermath of the violence that has already been done to me. Can I let go of my suffering?

I hitch-hiked around Australia with a friend when I was approaching nineteen. It was 1986. If people were doing that now they would be considered ‘mad’ but I guess we were, too.

We arrived in Darwin. We had no money. I gained employment as a cleaner at Top Springs. My employer’s brother drove me there. The ochre rock formations I saw on the way to Top Springs made me think the Northern Territory was the most beautiful place on earth. I cannot really speak of the land at Top Springs. What would I know? I am a white city woman. It is not a town. It is a pub hundreds of kilometres away from anywhere. Only the people that inhabited the land before my ancestors would truly know of the land. All I know of is the violence.

Immediately from the pub the land looked arid to my white-seeing eyes. I hardly ever left the pub or my dorm the whole three months I was at Top Springs. I didn’t belong. And I didn’t really want to belong. I am different. They had to rape it out of me.

I feel like my story tells me. My story is a prison where I must write my way out.


1986

The worst year of my life. When I told my parents that I was going to hitch-hike across Australia, they said ‘Don’t go’. My mother gave me an amulet of a picture of a nun to protect me. They thought they would never hear from me again. They almost didn’t. After I told them I was sexually assaulted they said, “We thought something like that would happen to you”. My father was the first person in my family I had to tell. My father warned me about the media. “You’ll have to watch out for cameras,” he said. But the media were never interested in what happened to me at Top Springs. What make the media cover some women’s stories of rape and ignore others? Why is it usually white, cis, middle-class women who are covered and other women from different races, ethnicities, sexualities and classes ignored. However, maybe it is a blessing that the media did ignore me. When I was in Top Springs my family did not contact me. I sent them a post card saying ironically that the people at Top Springs were like a family, but that was before I was raped.

The detectives and police laughed as I entered the room. “Had a hard week, have you?” they asked. The detective mansplained to me the definition of rape and then the definition of sexual assault. They said I was not raped but sexually assaulted. Yet, my assault involved penetration so I still think of it as rape. Other people have also said it was rape.

I don’t believe in genre. I don’t believe in chronology. I see an eagle. I see a dog that looks like a dingo. The dog looks back at me. I see a goat at my dorm window. I see a middle-aged obese tattooed white man who will destroy my life.

His name was Craig. Craig Suffolk. I always hated the name Craig. Now I know why.

I said Top Springs was like a torture camp in the middle of the desert. There is no point in me trying to re-map Top Springs. No healing can be possible there.

After I was raped I bled. I washed my clothes. The detectives were angry with me for washing my clothes as I had washed away evidence.

I bolted hard to get away from Craig after he sexually assaulted me. I thought of my great-grand mother in the night sky like the planet Venus protecting me.

Gabrielle Everall has a PhD in Creative Writing. The second edition of her book, Dona Juanita and the love of boys, was published with Buon-Cattivi Press. John Kinsella included Dona Juanita and the love of boys as one of the best poetry books for 2020 in Australian Book Review. She has been published in numerous anthologies including The Penguin Anthology of Australian Poetry. She has performed her poetry at La Mama, The Bowery in New York and The Edinburgh Fringe Festival. She has also performed her work at The Evil Woman conference in Vienna.

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Leonie
Leonie
1 month ago

A skilfully written, hard hitting piece.