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Adeline Virginia's story

‘In my records it said that my mother was down at the pub drinking with unprofessional people … low-life sort of people, and we were home, left in filthy conditions, and someone must have put her into the police or something, and they took the whole three of us.’

Adeline was made a ward of state when she was 15 months old and was placed in a babies’ home in regional Victoria in the mid-1940s. She stayed there for three years before being moved to an orphanage.

She has no memory of the babies’ home or the first couple of years at the orphanage. ‘I could probably remember from five on, but I remember they were … they sort of bullied me around. They used to terrorise us at night when we’d go to bed … the carers or whatever …

‘When I used to have a bath, they used to duck your head under the water and leave it there and that’s why [I’m so] afraid of water, but also they’d scold you for things and they’d put you down. I remember when I went to school … I thought to myself I might have been stupid … They were trying to teach me something and I couldn’t even grasp what they were talking about, and they used to belittle me.’

Adeline was returned to her mother’s care when she was seven, but ‘I still know that the government failed to protect me when I went home, because my mother was still under the … umbrella of the government, and of course we were neglected badly when we went home’. Adeline’s father was away with the war when she was young, and when he returned he drank, and there was a lot of violence in the home.

She told the Commissioner that as well as being physically and emotionally abused at the orphanage, ‘we got neglected there. I came home lousy with fleas. It was shocking. But going from one place to a filthy house, it’s not much difference, really’.

Adeline’s older brother was supposed to walk her to school. Instead, ‘he used to stop me from going … I can remember that distinctly as today … I was sexually abused by my brother, but it was more or less fondling, more than anything, but this went on for years’.

When Adeline told her mother about the abuse, she didn’t believe her. ‘She never believed a word I said, you know. I went to her and said this and that. Nuh. She would not believe me … Why would she believe something I said? I would have made up a lie or something. So this went on for ages and ages and … then, I just had a feeling that it was more than fondling, but I don’t know, it sort of got blocked out of my memory.’

The sexual abuse stopped ‘after I started to realise something was going on. I was probably about 13, because I was very … I grew up quickly after that … So that’s when it stopped … I just talked back and said, “That’s enough”. I got very strong over the years. I was a very strong-willed person’.

Adeline believes that, ‘my whole life was affected by the emotional abuse of the orphanage … My whole life has been emotionally affected because I was put down by them, put down by my family, put down by my husband, and it went on and on’.

Adeline has been seeing a ‘wonderful’ counsellor for about nine years, but ‘the past is always there. It doesn’t matter how long you go to a counsellor, that’s still there. It’s still there but you try and get on with it. You sort of don’t let it rule your life, but sometimes when I got angry about things I used to take it out on other people’.

Adeline has always suffered from depression and took anti-depressants for a long time. ‘I used to put myself down, that I couldn’t do anything because, you know, in an orphanage, when you’re put down every day of your life … [you] think you’re worthless.’

When she told her sister that she was coming to the Royal Commission her sister asked, ‘“Is it about the money?” No, it’s not really about the money. But it’d be nice to make up for what’s happened. You can’t change what’s happened, but a little bit of sweetness on the cake would be nice. But that’s not the reason I’m here. I’m here to make sure we are talking about it’.

Adeline loves being called a survivor. ‘I reckon that’s a great name. Great saying I’m a survivor. I really like that … I think I’ve got great resilience. I don’t let things wear me down. They do, but I have a bit of a cry and I get back up and I go again … I fight back.’

Adeline told the Commissioner, ‘I think there’s not enough people in this society that will stand up … I’ve just learned to stand up for myself. I think it’s because of the toughness that I grew up with as a child and had to sort of … grow up yourself … fend for yourself … I’m a wild one, love, a wild one’.

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