Bunty’s father had problems with drinking and gambling. She described him as a ‘gamblaholic’. An ex-army man, he was also an overbearing disciplinarian and as a result there was a great deal of conflict in the family as Bunty grew up.
‘As I got older, I couldn’t be in the house with my dad.’ One night during an argument Bunty’s father knocked her mother down. ‘After that, when Dad was home at night I used to go out’, she told the Commissioner.
The family lived in Perth. Bunty would walk into town and spend time with people who lived on the streets. They looked out for her, she said. But her mother used to worry. ‘She’d ring the police and get them to find me. After a while this came to the attention of the child welfare department.’ Bunty and her parents were summonsed to appear in the children’s court. It was the early 1960s and Bunty was 14. The magistrate said she was a neglected child and made her a ward of the state.
‘I was not neglected by my mother in any way. That wasn’t right’, Bunty said. She has seen her department file, and said what’s written there is ‘horrible’. ‘It makes it sound like I was a slut. But I was a virgin till I became a ward of the state.’
Bunty was sent first of all to a government-run reception centre. It was to be a temporary home until a long-term placement was found. She made some friends there, mostly Indigenous girls. ‘We were like a family. We stuck together.’
The centre had separate sections for boys and girls, and between the two was an area known as the box. This was a small, windowless room, accessible from the boys’ section as well as the girls’, that was used as a punishment cell. There was a bed, and a bucket, and it was dark except for the light that found its way in above the door.
It was too dark for her to identify the face of the man who raped her in that room. She believes he was a staff member from the boys’ section. Other girls were raped there too. ‘I don’t know what men came in, but they mainly focussed on the Indigenous girls’, Bunty said.
Bunty was raped there more than once. She didn’t report the assaults – she was too frightened. ‘If you talk about this you’ll be thrown back in here again – whoever’s on duty will be able to do what they like’, she was told. Instead, she ran away from the home. ‘Of course the police brought me back and threw me in the box. And it happened all over again.’
After some months a department officer arranged for Bunty to take a job at a tourist lodge, in a remote location. The boss, Winston Playmer, was a physically abusive man who frequently assaulted his wife. ‘They’d taken me out of one violent home and put me into another one’, Bunty said.
Bunty understood she was to be paid five pounds a week for the 18-hour days she worked, helping the cook, washing dishes and serving at tables. But when she got her first pay packet she found she had just half that. Playmer had deducted the rest for her room and board. She wanted to resign but no one from the department ever came to check up on her.
Her time at the lodge came to an end when she accepted a ride into town from the cook. On the way he stopped the car and raped her. She managed to escape, and find her way back to her parents’ place. She didn’t tell her mother what had happened, but she did try to tell the department officer – who didn’t believe her. ‘She said, “I don’t want to listen to your tales”’.
Bunty was now sent to another institution, run by Catholic nuns. It had a commercial laundry, where the girls were made to work. ‘If you weren’t at school, you’d be in there from 9 o’clock to 4 o’clock, every day. And it was so hot, and the nuns were not nice.’
Every few months the girls were taken to a doctor for an internal examination. There was never a nurse present. ‘And he used his hands, not instruments … When I got older, I thought, “That’s not right”.’ She was also examined internally when she ran away and was brought back to the institution. The experiences left her with a lifelong pathological fear of pap smears and other internal procedures.
Bunty was released from the institution just before she was 18. She found work, and eventually married and had children. She and her husband have also been foster parents, caring for numerous children over the years. She has never had counselling, and has not considered reporting her abuse to police or anyone else.
‘I guess I didn’t think anyone would believe me.’ She didn’t talk to anyone about what happened until she told her oldest daughter, by then an adult, many years later.
Bunty believes she was failed by the child welfare department. ‘Never once did they come to my home, sit down and speak to my parents. There was no conference, no mediation … My dad should have been removed, not me. Nowadays he would have been.’ There should be better investigation of where kids are being sent to, and closer monitoring once they are there. ‘Not just a police check. You’ve got to talk to people, neighbours, because they know what’s going on.’
She has not sought compensation, and doesn’t plan to – although she wouldn’t mind some back pay. ‘I’d like to be paid for those two-and-a-half years of laundry work I did.’