‘A bit over 12 months ago now I started having flashbacks. Up until then it was in the back of my mind. I got on with my life, I guess. I just got up one morning and had me shower and had vivid flashbacks and it got worse and worse.’
In her mind’s eye, Amy saw the photography studio. She saw Mrs Mathot, Craig Mathot and the other men who abused her. She saw the old property on the outskirts of Sydney with the verandah where she slept and the trees she used to climb.
Amy was sent to the property in the late 1950s when she was three years old. Her mother had died and her father, unable to care for her, responded to a notice at his local Anglican Church and handed Amy over to a foster carer – the widow, Mrs Mathot.
‘At the time’, Amy told the Commissioner, ‘I didn’t know, but I now know that she was an extremely evil woman. She was very cruel to me, physically, verbally. And she must have been aware that a lot of the males who came through the place interfered with me’.
Amy knows for certain that she was sexually abused from age five, but she’s confident that it happened before then as well; she was just too young to remember. The main perpetrator was Mrs Mathot’s son, Craig.
Craig was 10 years older than Amy. He started abusing her from when she was very young until she left the property in her early teens. Of the many incidents, one in particular stands out in Amy’s mind.
At age 10 or 11 she was walking to the shops when Craig stopped beside her in his car, offering ‘some sort of threat or bribe’. He took her to his photography studio where other men were waiting. He and the men spoke about ‘light and angles’ for a while before they covered Amy’s face with a black cloth and photographed her.
Aside from Craig and the other men, Amy was also abused by some of the guests who came to stay at the property from time to time. Some of these men were ‘one-offs’ who vanished the next day. Others were regulars who shared Mrs Mathot’s bed when they weren’t climbing into Amy’s.
The abuse was so frequent that, from a very young age, Amy came to see it as a normal part of life. One time she was sent on a short holiday to the home of Mr and Mrs Hegarty in a nearby Sydney suburb. That night Mr Hegarty crawled into bed with her and took her pants down.
‘The next morning when we got up for breakfast Mrs Hegarty asked me did I sleep alright and how was I. And I said, “Yeah, I did sleep alright but I woke up when Mr Hegarty came in and took my pants down”. And then all hell broke loose and I was sent back to Mrs Mathot’s and then Mrs Mathot gave me a hiding for telling lies.’
Later, when Amy came to realise how wrong the abuse was, she thought back to the beating she copped from Mrs Mathot and concluded that there was no point telling anyone. She did, however, start fighting back.
‘A few days before she sent me away she was belting me with a privet hedge, which was not uncommon. So it was a green stick. Anyway, I lost it and grabbed it out of her hands and snapped it across my knee. And then the day before I went, she hit me with a walking stick and I grabbed it out of her hands and snapped it across my knee. So I was getting a bit too big for my boots.’
This wasn’t the only reason Mrs Mathot decided to send Amy back to her father. ‘I was obviously developing and there was a risk that I would be pregnant and then there would be too much to explain.’
When Amy went back to live with her dad, everything improved. She thrived at school and went on to work a variety of interesting jobs all across the country. She married in the early 90s and enjoyed a strong, supportive relationship with her husband.
Then, a year before Amy came to the Royal Commission, the flashbacks started. She decided to get help and spoke to her GP, who referred her to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress disorder and put her on a program of counselling and medication that she continues to this day.
‘It hasn’t been easy but I knew that if I didn’t do that I would have stayed in bed all day every day and just curled up like a ball. I’ve got too much living to do.’