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Carina's story

'It's just a lot of things happened that shouldn't have happened', Carina said, remembering an early life in regional New South Wales filled with abandonment, violence and sexual abuse.

Raised in an Aboriginal family with a devoutly Catholic grandmother, she's often tried to reconcile her grandmother’s values of love and kindness with the behaviour of the nuns she later encountered at an orphanage, 'who had a big black strap with tacks in it that they used to hit you across the bum'.

Or the priest who sexually assaulted her at age six or seven. 'He got me once in the toilets and once in the presbytery.'

Soon after this incident of abuse, Carina and her younger siblings were abandoned. 'Our dad walked out first … And then one day, I would have been about seven, Mum said she was going to the shops. I didn't see her again until I was 13.'

Her grandmother did her best to look after the children. However, after a couple of years Carina and her siblings were made state wards, and dispatched to an orphanage, though they returned to their grandmother during holidays.

Carina became pregnant aged 14 and was sent to a home for unmarried mothers. 'To fall pregnant at that age was just a big crime. I was still very naive – I didn't know where babies came from until I was having one.'

Her son was taken away for adoption soon after birth, and Carina, distraught, was sent back to her grandmother. 'They were supposed to look after me but instead they ruined my life … I didn't care about myself anymore.'

Picked up by police while hitch-hiking with some other girls, Carina was judged to be ‘uncontrollable, and exposed to moral danger and neglect’. This was sufficient to condemn the 15-year-old to detention in a girls' home.

The home was not a happy place. On arrival Carina met Superintendent Walter.

'He said, "While you're here, we're going to teach you to be a lady". Be a lady – what's that? All they taught you was how to be cruel and to hate.'

Carina was put to work, often at pointless scrubbing. 'I was scrubbing seven days from early in the morning to late at night. On the seventh day I refused to scrub, and Mr Walter come up and told me scrub and I said no, and he grabbed me by the hair and threw me down the stairs.

'I landed on the rail on my back. Someone dragged me from the laundry to the segregation section; Mr Walter got me up there and he punched me, I had two black eyes. I was locked up there for a couple of weeks.'

Carina tried to kill herself. 'While I was locked up, I drank four litres of disinfectant. They left me lying in my vomit.'

And at other times in the segregation section she was raped by Walter. 'And he used to always force me to suck his dick, rub it all over my face. If I wouldn't do it, he used to punch the hell out of me … I believe I was drugged sometimes – I used to wake up with no clothes on.'

After two years, non-cooperative behaviour saw her consigned to a rural annex. 'It was very strict. You have to stand six feet apart from everyone, you weren't allowed to touch anybody or talk to anybody.

'Christmas Day it was a privilege just to be able to sit and talk to a girl. But you weren't allowed to talk about family or anybody on the outside. You had to talk about the trees, the flowers, whatever was there.'

After six months she was escorted back to her home town. 'There were two of them … they just left me at the station with a packet of cigarettes.'

Carina started emulating her absent mother. 'I was an alcoholic when I was 19. I drank methylated spirits … ended up in hospital a few times with the dry horrors, seeing devils and snakes.'

Inevitably she also ended up in court. 'The magistrate said, "How old are you?" I said, "Nineteen". He said, "You look like a 60-year-old-woman" and put me away for six months to dry out.'

Ten years later Carina sobered up after the birth of a second son. 'He changed my outlook, gave me back love that I never had. I looked at him and thought, "If I can create this that's so beautiful, well, maybe I'm not too bad after all".'

Now in her early 60s, Carina brushes aside talk of compensation and official apologies – 'It's too late for the sorrys'.

The shadows of the past persist. 'The abuse has affected my ability to form a good relationship with a man,' she wrote in a statement to the Royal Commission. 'I think someone is trying to tell me what to do and I react strongly against this, even if it is a misunderstanding. I find it very hard to develop trust with any man after the abuse I have gone through.

'I am not telling my story in self-pity, I'm speaking out for the truth to be told and for justice.'

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