‘There’s a lot that’s affected me with my life. And I just feel like I’ve been hard done by. And it’s a place I was put into, where I shouldn’t have been in the first place. I think they’ve absolutely destroyed my life.’
When Beatrice was around four years old she was taken into care. The institution she was placed in was merged with a school which catered for children with intellectual disabilities, in regional Victoria.
‘We were all normal kids, and what happened, they built another institution not far from us, and they mingled the other kids in with us. And some of the normal kids went like that.’
It was the late 1950s, and she hasn’t been able to find out much about her life before then. ‘I think they swapped names there. I tried to get a get a birth certificate, and I couldn’t get one, they couldn’t find me. So I really don’t know where I’m from ... There was a guy who reckons he was my brother, but I really don’t know.’
Staff at the school were cruel and Beatrice was made to constantly work, including scrubbing floors and making beds. Once, she went deaf temporarily from being hit over the ear, and she still has scars from beatings. She cannot remember any caseworkers or other welfare people visiting.
The children did not receive much formal education, and were not given much dignity. ‘When you used to have a period, they used to check your pads all the time too ... I couldn’t understand why.’
During school holidays Beatrice would visit a woman she knew as Aunty Evelyn, who advocated that she should be educated in a regular school. This argument was ignored.
A male nurse called Mr Wayne sexually abused Beatrice when she was 14. Wayne was in his 30s, and related to the matron. ‘He was a big guy. He tried to jump in bed and touch my boobs.’
One time, a boy at the school told Beatrice ‘Mr Wayne wants to see you, he wants to give you something ... I went in to the dormitory, and then he yanked it out, got me to hold it. Then I bolted.’
Wayne abused Beatrice half a dozen times when he was on night duty. Afterwards, he would warn her not to tell anyone.
Beatrice would listen for his footsteps, and the key turning in the door. If she heard him coming she would try to hide by going to a different bed. ‘I’ve still got the problem, like if I’m in a deep sleep sometimes I just wake up and scream, like something’s pouncing on me.’
When she was 15, Beatrice told the matron what Wayne was doing to her. ‘She didn’t believe me, she reckons I was just telling tales.’ Beatrice ran away from the school a short while later.
Moving in with Aunty Evelyn, she then found a job. Sometimes she changed her appearance, as she was ‘on the run’ as a missing person after absconding from the school. As such, she couldn’t report the abuse by Wayne to police, as authorities would then know where she was.
‘I’d just keep moving, keep running.’ Beatrice met some bikies, and ‘they were really, really good guys at the time. They took care of me for a while, and set me up into a flat’.
Not receiving any education severely limited her options for employment over the years – ‘I think I should be in a better place than where I am now’. After a long time working in factories, she pushed trollies for a decade.
‘If you go for a job interview, everybody says what sort of education have you, what schooling have you had? ... You’ve got to lie, you’ve got to say oh yeah, I went to high school, Grade 4, which I didn’t do. Because you don’t want to tell them.’
When Beatrice reached the age of majority ‘I knew I didn’t have to run no more, because them days I think people were in charge of you until you were 21’. She got married and had kids, and was with her first husband for 30 years. ‘To get married I had to go to a solicitor and pay $500, because I couldn’t get my birth certificate.’
Beatrice’s children are all doing well, and she enjoys a close relationship with them. ‘I had to learn the hard way ... but I think I was a good mum.’ She wishes she could tell them more about their ancestry though, including their family medical history.
Her kids became used to her screaming out in the middle of the night, although none but the oldest daughter know about the abuse she experienced. As well as night terrors, she would have spikes of depression, but not really know what was causing them. ‘Things would come back ... I did go to a counsellor, but I think it made me worse.’
Beatrice has still never reported the abuse to police, but is considering this option now. A year or so ago she engaged solicitors to pursue a compensation claim, which she hopes will be settled soon.
The 2009 apology to ‘Forgotten Australians’ made by Prime Minister Rudd had a big impact on Beatrice, and she is very grateful for this acknowledgement. She got her care records once, ‘and I was absolutely disgusted what I read ... It absolutely destroyed me, I just couldn’t believe what I was reading. So, I demolished them, got rid of them’.
Her lack of official documentation still causes her issues today. Centrelink cut off her benefits for a while, because she couldn’t supply her birth certificate. ‘I just feel like I’m still getting badly treated.’
Still, she told the Commissioner: ‘I don’t know where I was born, where I’m from. But I’m here, I’m breathing the same air’.