‘I always had this sort of strange, foggy, vague memory … but there was an incident … at work that upset me and it just seemed to make it all come crashing into my face. It was like, “Whoa”.’
When Alice made a serious complaint against a work colleague, it triggered a strong emotional reaction and led to a mental breakdown. Memories of being sexually abused as a small child came back to her, and she has been dealing with these ever since.
‘We were poor. When Dad went away to work … that was really tough on my mother’. In the late 1950s, when she was four or five, Alice was sent to a holiday home run by a charitable organisation in Victoria, to give her mother a break.
‘Something happened. I don’t know what happened. What I remember is, trying to wake up, but feeling really, really heavy, like I couldn’t move, and the smell of Brylcreem. And I have this feeling that there was more than one person there. And then, my next memory is feeling cold and wet and just sort of pulling blankets back over myself. So that’s basically my memory.’
The following day, ‘we had a playroom, where we sort of did art and played games and whatnot, and I remember, we were playing … and somebody came to the door and obviously must have asked for me, and I got sent outside, and I don’t remember this person saying anything to me, but she just grabbed me by the arm and belted me on the backside a couple of times’.
Alice told the Commissioner, ‘I buried it. I know I buried it’. She never told anybody about the abuse, but believes that it has had an impact on her confidence and relationships as an adult. She finds it difficult to trust anyone.
‘I look back on things, things that I allowed to happen to me, and I think, “That’s not really you. Why did you let that happen? Why didn’t you speak up at the time” … One, I was afraid to speak up. Two, I felt I wouldn’t be listened to.’
After the memories came back, Alice told her boss about the abuse and her boss arranged for her to see a counsellor. ‘She was quite good and she also … gave me the number of a … journalist who was looking into [the holiday home] … I never called that person. Sometimes I wanted to. Sometimes I didn’t … I wasn’t sure what would happen. But I did want to be heard and I didn’t know if I’d ever be heard.’
Alice told the Commissioner that she isn’t sure what has kept her going over the years. ‘Sometimes I wonder how. I’m a very strong person, but I’m not feeling that strong recently. But anyway … I think just the belief that life can be beautiful, and just keep looking for that.’