‘I had a fantastic relationship with my dad and I think that’s why it’s really painful for me … He was a good dad and … we knew that we were loved. But I didn’t know what was going on when he had the accident. And all of a sudden my whole life changed.’
When Alice was nearly a teenager, her father had an accident that left him with serious head injuries that made him behave violently towards her and her siblings. The kids were placed in Anglican-run foster homes around Melbourne but Alice would frequently run away and try to get back home. After running away one time in the 1970s, Alice was picked up by the police and made a ward of the state for being exposed to moral danger.
She was sent to a children’s home but after about eight months she was too old to stay in that section and was transferred to a juvenile remand centre.
‘They took you in at about 7 o’clock at night. When I first went into reception and they told me to take all my clothes off, I said I wasn’t taking my clothes off. They called … the night watchman, and he has an Alsatian dog. He come down and they told me to strip all my clothes off … his dog started growling at me and I was petrified and I still wasn’t going to take my clothes off …
‘[The night watchman] started to take my clothes off me and the whole time I was screaming about it. And so the whole three of them, and the dog barking all its way after me, picked me up, picked up my legs and they threw me in the bedroom – well, a cell, that’s all you could call it … I was in that cell room for three days.’
After that, Alice was taken to another centre and placed in maximum security, where they held her down and took all her clothes off. She has a letter from her records stating that at one point she was locked in one of the cells for two weeks. She also said she was self-harming while in that centre.
Every time she was brought back to the centre after running away, Alice was subjected to internal examinations to check for sexually transmitted diseases. She was always examined by a male doctor who would tie her legs in stirrups and her hands to the table. The doctor never wore gloves. Alice found these experiences humiliating, embarrassing and painful.
‘Because he had this great big silver thing, a duck I learnt that it was, and if you were a girl who played up the last time you were in … then he would ram that piece of metal into you and you’d be walking round for days aching, felt like it was coming through your back. And the staff used to say, “It’s your own fault, you’re not doing as you’re told”.’
If any of the girls resisted, the staff would beat them severely so they could be tied to the table and examined by force.
After a period of time, Alice was moved to a Catholic convent where she was subjected to humiliating practices including ‘treatment’ for bed-wetting, in which she and other girls would be made to hold a metal disc between the top of their thighs for up to two hours at a time. They had to hold up their dresses, leaving their genitals exposed, for inspection. She said the inmates were also used to test medical drugs on, and to train dentists. As a result she’d had all her teeth removed by the age of 16.
Alice was released at age 18, when she was no longer a state ward. She put the years in the homes behind her and carried on with life, although she went through some tough times, including having to give up a child for adoption and feeling suicidal.
‘I still see a counsellor now. Look, there’s a lot more in Pandora’s box than this and she’s been really good … I can go for months and months and never go and be okay, and I just ring [her] up and … she’s been fabulous with me.’