‘He could do anything to me, anything at all. You were never allowed to question, talk back or stick up for yourself.’
Adele was born into a large family living in a suburb of Brisbane in the mid-1940s, and was a shy and obedient child. Her mother suffered from a mental illness and her father was an immigrant. They could not care for their children, who were sent to live with foster families.
When Adele was four she and her younger brother Zander were separated from their siblings and placed with Mr and Mrs Trowel, who lived on a farm a fair distance away from their family home.
Mr Trowel would sexually abuse Adele every night at 6 o’clock while his wife was preparing dinner, letting Zander crawl on the floor while he abused her on the bed.
Adele can’t remember how long they lived with the Trowels before she and her siblings were moved to an Anglican children's home. Here she was separated from her older and younger siblings and placed in a different dormitory, only seeing them twice over the 18 months they spent there. She attended the local primary school, which was ‘at the bottom of the hill’ near the home.
The children’s home was ‘awful’. The toilets had no lids and the toilet cubicles had no doors. The mattresses ‘smelt like urine’ and Adele was made to re-stuff them with dirty materials on weekends.
Older residents were expected to bathe the younger ones and Adele was sexually abused by the older girls during bath time on several occasions. She is unsure how the matron found out about the abuse, but Adele was involved in the punishment.
The matron ‘had a number of us line up and they passed a jug of hot water from one of us to the next one and we were supposed to pour the water on the naked girl sitting in the empty bath tub. The girl I had to pour the water on was sitting crossed legged in the bath with her back to the taps … I can remember being petrified as I didn’t want to burn her so I tried to pour the water in the space between her legs’.
Adele was also sexually abused by Mr Georges, the owner of the home, who would often take girls out on weekends to the room where church services were held. She can’t recall exactly what he did, but she does remember sitting on his lap while he told her how lovely she was and that this made her feel very uncomfortable.
When Adele was six she was sent back to live with her parents. She stayed at the family home for six years before her mother fell ill again. After this she was moved to a Salvation Army girls’ home for 18 months.
The girls’ home was run by Matron Daniels, who was ‘terrifying’ and cruel. Daniels constantly threatened to send Adele to a mental institution, even when she didn’t misbehave, and ‘all communication with the outside world was cut off’ from her. At least three times a week she was forced to clean the bathrooms and stairs with toothbrushes.
Adele tried to run away from the home with a few other girls so she could tell her parents about the home’s conditions. They were returned by police and severely punished by Daniels, with Adele being locked in a vegetable cupboard for three days.
Adele was exposed to sex acts of other children several times during her stay, including once walking in on a girl who was ‘playing’ inappropriately with a dog.
She was also attacked by the home’s gardener, who constantly stalked her and asked for her to ‘come into the long grass’ with him, but could not tell Matron Daniels as she was scared of being punished further.
At 14 Adele returned to her family and found work in a factory. She began studying by correspondence as she had never received any education until then.
Adele fell pregnant with her first child in her early 20s and was married. She has always felt determined to ‘provide a good a life’ for her children.
As an adult Adele has found hard to trust people, and has an inability to stand up for herself. She finds the timeslot of 6 o’clock very difficult, as this was when Mr Trowel would abuse her, and often feels sad without warning. Her claustrophobia means she always has to be able to see outside whatever room she is in. She still finds the Salvation Army uniform distressing.
It was only in recent years that Adele was able to disclose the details of all her experiences. She told her psychiatrist after being triggered by a meeting with other residents of the home. Adele has never reported the offenders to the police.
‘I struggle with the public’s perception of the Salvation Army because I have seen the dark side of them. I also find it so unfair to see the uniformed Salvation Army officers in public and in the media getting support when we are left so damaged.
‘I am heartbroken that we never realised our full potential in our lifetime due to the selfish, exploitative nature of the people in charge of the institutions. It was through no fault of our own other than the fact that we were children in need.’