Staff at a notorious New South Wales Government residential care facility for girls, in Sydney where Ada was placed for several periods, ran a prostitution ring, Ada said.
They chose Aboriginal girls and others who were small and submissive. The girls were also bashed and raped during their time at the institution.
Ada told the Royal Commission that the men and women who ran the institution – ‘it was like a horror movie’ – and its even more brutal rural annexe ‘were a breed of their own’.
The prostitution ring paid the girls in cigarettes. ‘We all knew about it … of course we weren’t allowed to have cigarettes and we had no need of cash … [but] they were paid in cigarettes.’
‘Unless you’ve been [to the Sydney facility or the rural annexe] … no one else knows’ anything about what the girls, sent there by the courts until the mid-1970s, lived through.
Ada urged the Royal Commission to be careful with and to believe the women who came forward with stories of rapes and bashings and isolation in the facility’s dungeon ‘because they are really telling the truth’.
‘I’ve spent 40 years on drugs after [being there] … I never told anybody anything that happened to me’, she said. She kept her secret until she was a mother in her 30s and her frustrated husband asked her ‘what’s wrong with you?’
‘I said: “I’ve been sexually abused”.’ And finally it all came out – how Ada was sexually abused by her father until he died when she was 11, and her experiences at the facility where, between the ages of 14 and 16, she was repeatedly bashed by three superintendents and bashed and raped by a fourth, deputy superintendent Barney Hillier.
‘[Hillier] abused me sexually, verbally or physically … He abused me every time he saw me – every time no matter which it was, that Barney Hillier abused me in every way possible … even to the point of pushing my head into an industrial-sized pot that was in an industrial-sized sink that had semolina in it and had been sitting soaking in that filthy scummy water all morning. And that man grabbed me by the back of the hair and put me in there like I was a gutter rat,’ she said.
Ada told of mindless scrubbing of beams in a loft full of pigeons while bird droppings and water ran down her hair and face and afterwards of being bashed and flogged around the laundry ‘like a rag doll’ for fighting back at the unprovoked attack.
Her mother happened to visit after she suffered hearing damage, two black eyes and split lips from one bashing. ‘One of the girls told her Mr Hillier [had] bashed me.’
Within days of her mother’s threatened legal action, Ada was sent by train to the rural annex. Over the next five months her life there – spent largely in a cement cell with no talking for most the day – was far worse than the facility.
And what had happened in the dungeon ‘was like a ballroom dance’ in comparison.
‘I do believe every time the child welfare got their hands on me they ruined me,’ Ada said, describing experiences of misery and degradation suffered in both Sydney and the rural annexe. At the latter, she had to show her sanitary pads to an officer who, after judging whether they were soiled enough to require changing, later raped her several times.
When Ada began telling her husband about this period in the 1960s that she had previously repressed, she wound up in hospital fainting and vomiting numerous times each day.
‘If I’m damaged 100 per cent, my father only did 20 [per cent]. The rest of it is the child welfare department’, Ada said.
‘Forty years on the drugs’, she explained, ‘trying to repress memories that want to pop up and want to scream out of you’.
And while she saw ‘a thousand’ psychiatrists and counsellors, both voluntarily and by court order in relation to her long-term drug use, the most useful ‘therapy’ was to return to the town where the rural annex exists as a museum.
‘That’s how I’ve overcome a lot of my problems’, she said.
Ada was unsuccessful in her bid to sue the New South Wales Government for its lack of duty of care but may try again for compensation.
‘They couldn’t pay us for what they’ve taken. You could give me $1 million and I wouldn’t get my life back.’
Ada is unimpressed by the police, who have failed to follow up with her, return her documents or charge Hillier.
She was motivated to come to the Commission because having talked to some of the other girls who had been inside, ‘I just thought I could get the horror through'.
Married now for nearly three decades, Ada attributes her resilience to her ‘loving husband’, children and grandchildren. Although she personally did not take offence, she said other girls from the facility who came forward to the Commission would take offence at the description of them being ‘in care’.
Ada is adamant that welfare officers need to be alert to signs of abuse – sexual, physical and mental – because children will not offer the information. If a child has been removed from home for whatever reason ‘there are telltale signs that children act out if they are being abused’.
In her case, Ada went from an A school student to ‘playing up’. She became a defiant, recalcitrant, physically unkempt ‘street urchin’ with a bed and underwear-wetting problem, totally different to her other siblings.
Talk to children at an age-appropriate level. If they are an eight-year-old, talk to them like an eight-year-old, she said.
‘Re-train your counsellors. Get sexually abused people like me’, Ada advised. ‘I would be an awesome counsellor … just overhaul the system. It’s crap!’