Story of survival inspires students

INSPIRATIONAL: Griffith High School students Penina Nauer, Ngavero Tei and Alaisa Misiloi meet Indigenous elder Aunty Mary Hooker (centre) on Friday after hearing her harrowing story about life inside Parramatta Girls Home.

INSPIRATIONAL: Griffith High School students Penina Nauer, Ngavero Tei and Alaisa Misiloi meet Indigenous elder Aunty Mary Hooker (centre) on Friday after hearing her harrowing story about life inside Parramatta Girls Home.

ONCE a vulnerable, broken young girl, Mary Hooker is now a strong, inspirational woman.

As a teenager she spent 15 months at Parramatta Girls Home, where sexual abuse and violence were commonplace.

She recently gave evidence at the Royal Commission.

On Friday she shared her harrowing story with students at Griffith High School, moving many to tears.

"I was one of 12 children and in 1970 eight of us were taken away from my mother," she said.

"I've been telling my story for 44 years since I got out of Parramatta Girls Home.

"Before we got taken away my Dad worked in a timber mill at Nowendoc.

"We were one of the first Aboriginal families to move off the mission at Taree to a little town called Mount George and Mum and Dad had access freely to alcohol for the first time and that led to abuse and violence."

Aunty Mary can still remember being taken to the children's court and told they were going to have a "holiday" in Sydney.

"We were classified as damaged goods and treated that way," she said.

"I was abused, tortured and raped inside the home. Around this time a youth minister by the name of Bill Crews used to come on Friday nights, we'd pray and get to have milo and biscuits. He always said to us girls that if we ever needed anything we should come to the Wayside Chapel. Each time I was abused or bashed I'd escape and find him.

"He didn't realise what he was sending us back to."

Now close to 60 and almost blind, she recalls being 14 and forced to sit in the darkness of an isolation cell known as 'the dungeon' bracing to be "taught a lesson".

Despite having lived through some tragic things, she has emerged a practical and down to earth woman, learning from the past and even finding forgiveness in her heart through her faith.

Seventeen-year-old Ngavero Tei was among the students moved by Mary's strength and braveness.

"I found it very interesting and sad. It brought tears to my eyes," she said.

"I'm so surprised that she has survived and is able to forgive. It would be a hard thing to do. It does make you think that if she can forgive after all that happened to her, we all should."

While in Griffith the amazing Indigenous woman also told her story to locals at the Life Source Church.

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