Bettina can’t remember where she lived for five years from the age of two. She only knows that she was taken from her home and put somewhere else and then found with her brother in the early 1940s ‘wandering the streets’ of a town in Victoria.
She remembers what it was like to arrive at a nearby orphanage, a ‘very dark’ and ‘haunting type of place’.
Separated from her brother, Bettina met Miss Franklin, ‘a very hard-faced lady’ who took her to a dormitory and sent her to get clothes from the stores.
‘The shoes, whether they fit you or not, you had to wear them. Then you went to the school on the grounds, and that’s when I learnt that the teachers didn’t care one tooty hoot about us because they were getting paid. They sat down and read the paper and just, “Oh, just do something”.
‘When I was going to high school I had the dunce’s hat put on my head three times through the high school because I did not know one thing about Science, French or English. I could not even add up properly.’
One day when Bettina was about nine, her father arrived at the orphanage and asked permission to take her to see her mother. Instead, however, he took Bettina interstate and, at various places along the way, sexually abused her. Police caught up with them in Queensland and, after her father was arrested, Bettina was made a ward of the state. She was sent to an orphanage nearby for a short time before being returned to the orphanage in Victoria.
Miss Robinson was in charge of the girls’ dormitory there and Bettina recalled being in the bathroom one day when the woman came in with ‘her skirt up and pants down’ and forced Bettina’s head into her groin.
Bettina told Miss Franklin about this incident, but she wasn’t believed. She thinks that Miss Robinson was spoken to though, because although there were no further incidents like that in the bathroom, Miss Robinson singled her out for increased and more frequent physical punishments.
At 14, Bettina was sent to a female correctional facility and on her arrival was subjected to an invasive vaginal examination. She remained at the facility for two years. After she left she got various jobs, often lying about her age so she could work in hotels. She married at 20 but left her husband after five years because he was physically and sexually abusive. During that time she had a child, who she had to give up for adoption.
Bettina’s next relationship was also abusive and she left that man after he threatened her with a gun.
After working for many years, Bettina said ‘everything came back’ when she had to retire. After hearing a media report in the early 2000s, she contacted an organisation that supports care leavers and she has been supported by them ever since. They helped her find a lawyer and she has begun a civil claim against the Victorian government who’d had responsibility for overseeing the orphanage.
Bettina had hoped Miss Robinson would be called as a witness, but she died a week before proceedings commenced. ‘I would have liked her to have been there, where I could face a person and listen to her story and then listen to mine.’
In the early 2010s, Bettina received a settlement of about $30,000 from the state government. She has never made any reports to police.
These days Bettina lives alone and isn’t in a relationship. ‘I’m petrified to even let a man or a woman near my body.’
She does volunteer work and helps others in the community. ‘I like to keep myself active and I walk 10,000 steps a day ... I did 23 one day – six times into town and six times back home. I took my groceries that many times to get back and forth ‘cause I couldn’t afford a taxi.’
Someone once told Bettina she had good stamina. ‘I said, “No, I haven’t, I’ve got willpower”, because I didn’t know what the word meant.’
Bettina sees a counsellor fairly regularly and her local doctor occasionally. ‘That is one thing I am tired of – doctors. “Do you know if your family had this or that?” “I’m sorry, I was reared in an orphanage.” And the actual attitude is “Oh …” like that. It’s like putting us down more.’