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Calista Ann's story

‘People didn’t understand, they thought you could come out of there and be a normal teenager. That was impossible after being belted for four years.’

Calista was two years old when her parents divorced. She went to live with her mother, who had mental health problems. Her mother constantly visited the local police telling them that Calista was ‘uncontrollable’, but she knew she wasn’t. That’s when the welfare department stepped in.

In the late 1950s when she was 14, Calista was taken into state care. She was placed in a girls’ shelter in a New South Wales town and was told it was for her own protection because her mother needed care. She stayed there for a short time and was then moved to a girls’ home in a different town.

Upon her arrival, Calista was forced to have an internal examination. There was one doctor who did the examinations and he always made ‘snide remarks’. Other staff members also made horrible comments about each girl, often in front of them. Calista remembers being strapped down on the table for examinations several times.

‘We didn’t know what was happening to us.’

Instead of being given an education, Calista was forced to work in the kitchens. She also cleaned the toilets and dormitories and there was always something to be scrubbed or polished. She remembers cleaning the floors even when she was sick. The workers were mean and often punished her, she said.

‘[One of the workers] bashed me senseless and all the girls in the dorm were listening, they could hear me. He kicked me in my private parts, time and time again. He enjoyed what he was doing.’

She was moved to and from the girls’ home several times. She ran away several months after being there but was picked up by the police and sent back. Shortly after, Calista’s mother went missing and she was never found.

Calista was then made a ward of the state and kept at the home. She hated being there and wanted to know what happened to her mother so badly that she often ran away. Each time she was returned she was physically punished by the workers.

She was also forced to have internal examinations each time she was returned and after visits from relatives or friends. She was digitally penetrated at least seven times during her time at the home, she said.

From the age of 15, Calista was taken away once a month to have electroconvulsive therapy. The therapy was awful and she found the doctor frightening. To this day she believes she never had a psychiatric problem.

‘I always wondered why they did that to me.’

In the early 1960s when she was 18, Calista was released from the home and went to live with her half-sister. She never told anyone of the abuse she endured because she didn’t think anyone would believe her. She then moved to another town but couldn’t find a place to stay and was homeless for a long time.

As an adult, Calista has had depression, anxiety and other health problems, and she’s been in psychiatric care for over four decades. She describes herself as a very nervous person. She has claustrophobia and can’t watch movies that depict hospital or psychiatric treatments. She said she has suffered from the poor education she received.

In the early 1980s Calista first disclosed the abuse to her psychiatrist. She didn't mention it again until the late 2000s when she joined a survivors’ group. She said all the girls in the home knew about the abuse, but they didn’t ever talk about it.

Calista has been told by others that she is a very strong person. Part of the reason she’s managed to get by in life is her sheer determination not to let her experiences in the home defeat her. She also draws strength from good memories, such as her encounters with a staff member at the home who was kind to her and stayed in touch with her after she’d moved on.

She came to the Royal Commission to have her story heard and believed. At the time of her private session, she expressed interest in receiving compensation but said it wasn’t a necessity. She said nothing can replace the years she has lost, but she has formed great connections with other survivors of the home.

‘There’s been a cover up for too many years. It should be on record that it happened to us.’

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