“I remember getting off a plane, I was four, and going straight to an institution. I was taught to believe in the Lord, and I was forced to study the Bible. I had to go along with it because we didn’t have a choice. Because we were kids [Irene has nine brothers and five sisters] and in orphanages, we had to do what they wanted us to do.
Religion gave me false hope. God’s there to do this and that, but when it come around to the crunch, He wasn’t there to help us when we were getting molested and stuff like that. So that’s where I lost my hope and faith.
I was adopted out at nine and I was brought up in this foster family … they were all white and I was the black sheep of the family, literally. I was forced to go to church and everything like that … but I had my own understanding about life and death; it’s like it’s in my blood.
So I actually ran away and joined the circus when I was 15, just so I could get out on my own and be my own person, find my own heritage … I wasn’t comfortable there, I was living their dream and not me own.
I worked with the circus for about six months, but then found a hostel for indigenous, young girls. The Aboriginal worker who ran the hostel helped me get back in contact with my brothers and sisters.
Now I just believe in Aboriginal and dreamtime stories, from where our ancestors came, that’s where my spirit lays now. And I pass that down to my kids and grandkids.
I was brought up the white fella way, but now we’ll encourage our younger generation to be brought up with Aboriginal dreamtime, and they feel more comfortable with that. They’ve found their culture and they can stay secure.”