Annette’s father was a war veteran and suffered from war neurosis. He drank heavily, and was abusive and violent. Growing up in the 1940s and 50s, Annette had frequent run-ins with him. Where her mother was very submissive, Annette stood her ground.
‘I was a bit more spirited and I tended to stand up to him because I knew what he was doing wasn't right’, she explained.
When she reached adolescence, her father’s behaviour became even more difficult.
‘He started going crazy possessive’, she said. Though she was a tomboy and very naive, more interested in looking after her pony than anything else, he suspected her of spending time with boys. When she was 15, he went to the welfare office in their New South Wales regional town and reported her.
‘He went to them and complained that I was running around with boys … He wanted them to pull me into line somehow.’
As her relationship with her father deteriorated, Annette left school, found a job and went to live with her grandparents. One day a young man at her work tried to molest her and she hit him. Somehow, word of this reached a welfare officer, who turned up several days later with two uniformed policemen.
‘The boss said, “What? What’s she done?” And that woman said, “She won’t be back”,’ Annette recalled. The welfare officer tried to get the young man to lay an assault charge against Annette but he refused. So instead the officer went to court and arranged for Annette to be sent to a government-run home for wayward girls.
Annette arrived at the home as an absconder: she had tried to run away and been picked up by police. She believed that might explain why she was treated so harshly at the home. She spent eight months there, and to this day doesn’t understand why. It was the ‘grossest injustice’, she said.
‘I’d never committed a crime. I had a good job. I was living at my grandparents’ house. The only crime I’d committed was being a bit insolent to this woman and standing up to my father. They are not crimes.’
There were two supervisors Annette recalled as being particularly cruel. One of them, Alan Beasley, greeted her arrival at the home by striking her on the head with a heavy bunch of keys.
‘He said, “This is what we do to absconders” – whack!’
It was widely known in the home that he and another supervisor, Linton James, were sexually abusing girls. Annette was sent to James for discipline after inspection at shower time revealed she had a new tattoo.
‘He must have had a liking for little girls … at that age, I was tiny and skinny’, she recalled. James kicked and punched her, and she ended up on the floor. ‘He said “You’re a little girl, aren’t you, you got little tits, little tiny little girl tits” … He said, “You’re going to isolation … and I can do whatever I want with you, and no one’s going to stop me”. That was the threat. I took that seriously – my hair [was] standing on end.’
James didn’t rape Annette but he visited her in isolation and molested her. Annette was put there several times during her stay. After one escape attempt, she was ‘bashed’ by Beasley and put in isolation for a month.
‘That’s what really caused my mental breakdown. It was the segregation. The total isolation for one month. That’s when I started self-harming – I’ve got scars on my arms where I’ve clawed … I’ve done it off and on over my lifetime’, Annette told the Commissioner.
When Annette was released from the home she returned to live with her grandparents. She got a good job – ‘I always did’, she said.
But her experiences in the home had lasting effects. As well as self-harming, she suffered terrible nightmares. She married in her late 20s, but couldn’t sustain the relationship. ‘He was very gentle, very understanding and caring – he was a good man.’ But she was frigid. ‘He basically had to pursue me to get any sex … It was mostly my fault the marriage didn’t stay together; he just couldn’t cope.’
She had two children with her husband, a son and a daughter. Her son, she said, was the first male she had ever truly loved.
Several years after Annette’s marriage ended, she suffered a total breakdown and was hospitalised. Though in care for some time, she didn’t reveal her experiences at the home. She told a few friends over the years. But it wasn’t till the 2000s that she told a doctor. She had watched a television program about the home, and it turned her life ‘upside down’. She called Lifeline.
‘It was some young woman; she said, “What’s the matter?” I said, “It’s no good talking to you, you’re too young, you wouldn’t understand what I went through … It’s all come back to bite me again – I can’t stand it, I just can’t cope”. And she sent round an ambulance.’
The next morning Annette saw a psychiatrist, who diagnosed complex post-traumatic stress disorder. She has been receiving regular psychiatric treatment ever since.
Annette received $5,000 compensation as a victim of crime, after a difficult process that was interrupted by changes to the way the system worked. ‘I’ve been treated with total injustice again’, she says of the paltry amount. She hasn’t sought any further redress –experience has made her think ‘You just don’t talk about this stuff’.
Annette’s father is still alive – he’s 90 now. ‘He says to me I was nothing but a bastard of a kid … He will not accept any responsibility that he did anything wrong.’