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Bridie's story

As a young girl, Bridie had a very tough life and many harsh experiences that have had a profound impact on her life.

She was the youngest of eight children. Her parents separated and when she was only six weeks old, she was placed in a babies’ home in the outer suburbs of Melbourne as her mother had to work. The other children went to live with her father.

When she was about five, in the early 1960s, she too went to live with her father and his new partner. Bridie told the Commissioner her father made her sleep in his bed, sexually abused her and threatened to bash her.

Bridie has had great difficulty finding accurate records but she knows that in 1963 she was placed on a guardianship order by the Children’s Court and was sent to a Catholic children’s home in regional Victoria with two of her sisters.

The nuns from the home sent her to strangers’ houses on weekends, telling her they were people who wanted to adopt a little girl.

Bridie told the Commissioner, ‘One was a dirty man who just wanted me to sit on his knee so he would rub his hands all over my legs and my backside’. The nuns didn’t listen when she told them. But when she told her mother she must have intervened because Bridie was then allowed to live back at home and she has fond memories of the next couple of years, living with her mother in a boarding house.

However, when she was 12, Bridie and her sister were sent to a different Catholic children’s home in regional Victoria, which she described as ‘a hell hole’ because of the harsh, physically and emotionally abusive treatment by the nuns.

‘It was a horrible place,’ she said. ‘The whole place should have burnt down … we were the scum, the way they treated us … There wasn’t a nice bone in any of ’em.’

At the home, Bridie was forced to participate in painful and degrading internal medical examinations, which she felt were sexually abusive. The only explanation she ever received for the examinations was that she was ‘dirty’.

‘You’ve got someone holding you down and you’re forced to do it. What can you do? And then you get belted anyway if you don’t do what you’re told.’

The abuse she suffered at that time carried over into her adult life and affected how she behaved with her own children, treating them harshly because she had not learned any other way of controlling them. Her two sons later ended up getting into trouble and spending time in children’s homes, despite Bridie’s best efforts with them.

The brutal physical examinations she experienced led to ongoing gynecological problems later in life. Trauma from the emotional and physical abuse led her to become heavily addicted to alcohol and marijuana and she has attempted to take her life more than once.

She told the Commissioner, ‘I feel as though I’ve never been able to trust anyone in authority’. She says her lack of trust has made her very private and she’s kept things bottled up. ‘It’s not something you want to share.’

Bridie’s long and mostly unsuccessful search for accurate records from her childhood in care has been a source of much frustration and anger. Her decision to tell her story to the Royal Commission came as a result of a letter sent to her by an organiser at Care Leavers Australia Network (CLAN), regarding the treatment of Forgotten Australians. The letter, which was to be sent to Bridie’s local MP, detailed Bridie’s experiences and included her name, without having asked her permission to do so. This action has made Bridie extremely angry and upset.

‘I’m not a Forgotten Australian. I’m Bridie. I’m not a Forgotten Australian because I’m not bloody forgotten. And no one had a right to label me as that or give me a friggin’ number. I’m not. My parents gave me my name. Not this Forgotten Australian whoever or whatever. No. It’s not right.

‘That’s what sparked me up and that’s the only reason I made a complaint’, she said. ‘That’s what done me. Because I would have took this all to my grave.’

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