In the mid-1970s, five-year-old Bron was left with her father and his new family. Told it was just for a holiday, she grew up thinking her mother would come back and get her. However, her mother had developed a mental illness and ‘couldn’t deal with saying goodbye’.
Life in her father’s home ‘was like a Cinderella set-up’. Her father and stepmother, who drank and fought, emotionally abused her, but treated her stepsiblings affectionately and favourably.
As Bron entered adolescence, her father began to sexually abuse her. She started to drink and take drugs, and a few years later, ran away and made a statement to the police. ‘I was hoping they would do something … I thought someone would look after me.’ However, she had unknowingly made a ‘closed statement’, and no action was taken against her father.
Community Services Victoria then intervened and made Bron a ward of the state. She was placed in foster homes, and then in a mixed-sex youth refuge where, craving affection, she had sex with a boy who would come to her bed by night and ignore her by day.
Next, she was sent to a government-run youth training and correctional facility in Melbourne. She was driven there by the police who frightened her by saying, ‘You’ll love it here. They stick broomsticks up ya … You’re going to be really well welcomed here. And the girls are going to love you. You’re young’.
Bron told the Commissioner, ‘I was intimidated the minute I got there’. State wards had to mix with older girls who had been convicted of crimes. These girls ‘had all the power because they were sentenced criminals. Hard-headed big tattooed women, and scary.’
To survive and cope in this tough environment, young girls received protection in exchange for sex with older girls. ‘It’s like it was a psychological game … If you weren’t with a girl, then you were a target.’
On movie nights, sex would occur under the blankets the girls were allowed to take into the hall. ‘The staff knew what was going on … They saw it. It didn’t need to be told to them. It was seen. And they were just as much a part of it by ignoring it.’ Bron recalled, ‘I was with a 20 year old girl when I was a teenager … I survived by doing that … It’s hard to deal with’.
Bron also remembered the timeout room where staff would ‘hold you down and strip all your clothes off you, and leave you in there with hardly anything on, so any male staff could come and see you half naked’. She recalled the ‘uncomfortableness’ of being supervised in the shower by male staff, and the addiction-inducing practice of rewarding girls with cigarettes. She also spoke about girls being ‘guinea-pigged’ with the drug Depo Provera, or with a form of tattoo removal that used bleach to extract ink out of a girl’s skin.
Bron ran away in her mid-teens, and felt ‘better off on the street with the drug addicts and criminals that did keep a big brother attitude over me and looked after me’. However, when she fell pregnant to a man in his twenties who had been giving her drugs, the staff at the facility put her in a room and tried to talk her into having an abortion.
‘And then, after that, it was too late. It was “Adopt your child. You’re not going to be a good mother. You’re just hopeless. You’re a DHS kid. You’ve got nothing going for you”. And I was so rebellious that I stuck it up every one.’
Bron’s defiance equipped her to fight for, and keep her baby. ‘All I thought I could be was a mum. And that was something they couldn’t say I couldn’t be because I had that one right, and I hung onto it with all my heart.’
Bron and her baby moved into a Housing Commission flat. One of her supporters was a youth worker who would visit her, make her feel special and grown up, and sleep with her. Bron couldn’t tell anyone, and felt betrayed and ‘criminally contaminated’ by the experience.
Because of Bron’s apparently stable set up, her wardship was ‘dropped’ when she was 17. However, in the years that followed, she entered into abusive relationships, had to deal with her persistent addictions, and raise more children on her own. She also questioned her sexual identity, and carried a deep sense of worthlessness.
In her mid-thirties, Bron’s drug-taking landed her in jail. However, it was a turning point because she realised that without her mothering role, she was ‘totally lost’. Bron got clean, and managed to keep her kids out of care. ‘I still stuff up every now and again’ with the drugs.
Since that time, Bron completed high school, and proved to herself that she was smart by obtaining two university degrees. Despite now having serious health issues, she works in the community to help others, and is active in her local church. ‘You can’t get a bigger love than God, so that’s why I go.’
Bron is ‘actually kind of insulted’ by the notion of compensation. While a payout would help her treat her illness, she’d ‘rather hear people say sorry and change the system’. She’d also rather see effort put into jailing the perpetrators because ‘that would be compensating the victims … I tell you, it would be a tough job. Too bad. Deal with it’.
Bron is proud of the fact that, as adults, her kids are all ‘kicking goals’ in their jobs and personal lives. She makes sure that they all ‘know that they’re the most worthwhile, valuable human beings in the country. And if they ever said any different, I take them to the mirror and make them tell themselves that they are’.
Bron still struggles to value herself beyond her role of mother, but she is working through this with a counsellor. ‘Seriously, … why do I have to go through all this, my post-traumatic stress, and all it’s brought up in my life, and see my counsellor for over a year, having back flashes and … psychiatric medication to cope … just to already know I was a valuable person in the first place?’
By telling her story to the Commission Bron feels that she is standing up for herself for the first time in her life.
She is also speaking up on behalf of other girls from the facility who are either in jail or dead, and in order to protect other children. ‘And hopefully, I will learn how to like myself and think I’m better than how I was told.’