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Ann Meredith's story

Ann has never had a birth certificate, and doesn’t know if her birth was ever registered. Her father was an alcoholic, and the family lived in a filthy shack. Like most of her siblings, she was removed from her parents’ care, and made a state ward while an infant. ‘I would have liked to have been able to stay connected to all of my siblings over the time I spent in the system, as I find it hard to connect with them now.’

In the early 1970s, when Ann was around four years old, she was sent to a government-run orphanage in regional Victoria. On weekends and holidays she was sent to stay with an older couple, who fed her so poorly that she had to scavenge from the slops they gave the pigs.

The couple had adult sons who lived in a shed at the back of the property. Ann is unsure whether the orphanage knew these men lived there.

This placement continued for three years. During these stays Tobias, one of the couple’s sons, frequently sexually assaulted Ann. She has since learned that her older sister had been sent to the same couple some years earlier, and was also abused.

Ann tried to tell the manager of the orphanage what was happening when she visited the family. He told her ‘don’t tell lies ... they wouldn’t do it’, and maintained the couple had been decent people.

Eventually Ann told a female worker that Tobias was ‘doing naughty things’ to her, and this worker would not let her go back to that placement – ‘she was very staunch about it’. After this she spent holidays and weekends with a different family, who treated her very well.

Sometimes she would visit her mother’s place. On one such visit her mother’s new partner abducted her and one of her sisters, sexually assaulting them for several weeks.

When Ann was 14 she left the orphanage and went to live in a hostel. Shortly afterwards she became pregnant, and after a while gave the child up for adoption. She ‘became very self-destructive, as I had no counselling after telling all those people about the abuse’, and was ‘drinking too much, and smoking and taking drugs, and yeah, just trying to kill myself’.

Ann had more children but they were removed after she had a breakdown. They were placed in kinship care with relatives who she believes tried to turn them against her.

She told the Commissioner there needed to be better housing support for children coming out of care. Having her own home would have provided some stability for Ann and her children.

Having grown up in institutions she struggles with parenting. ‘I don’t know how to be a mum to them. We’re still growling today, about why weren’t you there Mum?’

A few years ago Ann received some compensation for her experiences in state care, and lost almost a third of it in legal fees. The rest she used to buy a caravan and household goods, and to help her family.

She also reported the abuse by Tobias to police. They interviewed him ‘but they said they could not do anything, as he denied it’.

Ann gets some food vouchers and practical assistance (such as cleaning), as well as mental health and other medical support, through her local council and Aboriginal co-operative. She suggested that there needs to be lifetime counselling offered to those survivors who want it, though she is hesitant about it herself.

‘It would be helpful, but I don’t know if it’s worth it anymore, ‘cause I’m over it, sort of. I’m not “over it” over it, but you know, I don’t like talking about it. I think counselling will just be opening up a tin of worms again.’

Ann tries not to let her childhood experiences impact her life too much, although she sometimes still gets flashbacks. ‘You don’t want to live in the past ... You’ve got to move on, somehow, you’ve got to find a way ... You’ve got to have that spirit otherwise you just fall into a heap.’

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