‘Believe the children. We don’t all lie.’
That’s the message Camilla would like to pass on after growing up in foster care. She was one of several children taken from their parents in the early 1960s and sent to different parts of New South Wales.
Camilla was four and a half at the time. Later she tried to find out the reason for the removal but the details were deleted from her file. All she can suggest is that her father was dark skinned and her mother was fair skinned and so she and her siblings may have been thought of as ‘half-caste kids’. The family had been evicted from their house and were living in a caravan.
‘Someone made a complaint and a policeman came around and put us all in the car and we all got charged with exposed to moral danger and no fixed abode, but we were living there.’
Camilla was made a ward of the state and sent to live with a foster family, the Taylors. There were two children in the house who Camilla came to think of as her brother and sister, but she hated the parents. Mr Taylor sexually abused Camilla from the time she arrived to when she ran away in her early teens.
‘No one would believe me growing up but then my brother said he saw it. He said he walked into the room and I was in the bed when I was five and I just had this real scared look on my face and he said he never told anybody but he kept it all his life … [Later] he contacted me and he said he kept asking why Camilla’s running away. And he knew in the back of his mind, because he saw his dad.’
Camilla described Mrs Taylor as a nasty lady who was emotionally cruel and physically abusive. After her chores were done Camilla would go outside and if Mrs Taylor wanted her she’d ‘whistle for me like a dog’. She couldn’t tell anyone about the sexual abuse because Mr Taylor said, if his wife found out, she’d kill them both. But Camilla is sure she knew. Every time something happened, Mrs Taylor would take her to the welfare office and accuse her of stealing. Welfare never came to the house to check on her.
‘I wanted to tell them what he was doing but I was just too scared that they wouldn’t believe me because she’d go to church every Sunday … I had to go church too and I’d be standing there and they’d go “Jesus loves you” and I’m going, I don’t think he loves me.’
As she got older, Mr Taylor’s abuse got worse, particularly when Mrs Taylor was away. When the woman announced she was going overseas for six weeks, Camilla decided she’d had enough. She ran away, with only a pair of sandals and a dollar, and ended up in Sydney.
She was picked up by the police and put in a government-run home. The staff rang her foster mother who said, ‘Leave her there to rot, I don’t want her’. Mrs Taylor also told them she was a habitual liar. ‘So I didn’t have a hope in hell of telling anybody what really happened.’
During her 14 months in the home Camilla was often punished. Once, when an officer caught her laughing at dinner, he dragged her into a holding cell by the hair, then cut it all off in front of everyone. He would also rub up against her and touch her breasts.
Camilla ran away and, when picked up by the police, was charged with being exposed to moral danger and sent to another home, one that she’d heard was notoriously harsh. After one severe bashing she was locked in an isolation cell. A guard gave her something to drink and when she woke up she felt groggy and her underwear was missing.
‘They said they never locked us up in isolation but they did. And they did throw us in the dungeon. And we did have no doors on the toilet. And we did have to show when we had our periods and it had to be written down in the book. And all those things. Absolutely true. They were very nasty.’
When she turned 18, Camilla was discharged from being a state ward. She married and had children and worked at reconnecting with family members.
Her husband said she should let things go and get on with her life, but she said the past kept eating at her. She eventually decided to engage a solicitor and took her case to the welfare department. She was awarded $10,000 compensation in relation to the abuse committed by her foster father but was told she didn’t have enough proof of the other abuses.
Camilla said it’s very difficult to fight those in authority when you’ve been told you’re nothing.
‘My husband calls me a survivor. I am a survivor … I was told for years I would be nothing and I’d end up in the gutter. But I am somebody and I thought, I’m a good person. I didn’t ask for anything when I was four and a half, I didn’t do anything wrong. And that’s what I can’t understand. I did nothing wrong but I was always in trouble for just being me.’