‘As a very young child I was with my mum and dad and my brother and things weren’t real good between my mother and father and Mum took off and left us with Dad.’
In the late 1950s, Carole’s father sent the children to live with an aunt, ‘who was not a very nice person at all, and I later found out that she made allegations against my father about me, and that resulted in me being placed in an orphanage along with my brother … and that was a very, very awful experience’.
The orphanage in New South Wales was run by the Sisters of Mercy. The nuns were very cruel and the children were beaten for minor offences. Carole recalled having to stand in the shoe cupboard all night for losing her toothbrush, and when she still couldn’t find it the following morning, she was caned.
‘You were always threatened with religion. You had to kneel on the floorboards and say Hail Marys [and] the rosary … for hours on end.’
When she was eight, Carole was fostered by Mr and Mrs Miller and she stayed with them until she was 16. ‘From the very first month … there was sexual abuse and that was from her son and her brother … I told her about it, but she didn’t believe me and she called me a liar and ungrateful and all that crap, and she just belted me with a jug cord.’
Carole tried to tell Mrs Miller a number of times, but ‘the beatings got more severe, and then I just stopped telling her. But that abuse went on for a while’.
The sexual abuse stopped when Carole was 12. She can’t remember the exact details, but she knows at that time she was taken to hospital by ambulance. When she looked at her chart in the hospital, it said ‘tonsillitis’.
‘I remember thinking, “They’re lying. I haven’t got a sore throat”.’ After she returned from hospital she never saw Mrs Miller’s brother again.
Mrs Miller was very cruel. ‘I felt like a slave because all I could do was work … I was frightened a lot of the time and the welfare officer used to come and see Mrs Miller once a month …
‘I’d be absolutely terrified because she’d say to me, “Don’t you dare tell that man anything about what goes on here, because they’ll only send you to … a place that’s much worse”. So … I’d be there dressed in a jumper, and black stockings on in the middle of summer, to cover the bruises …
‘I don’t know where [the welfare officer’s] brain was, but anyone would think he’d be wanting to ask questions about why I was dressed the way I was … I was always warned by Mrs Miller never to open my mouth and say anything.’
Carole told the Commissioner, ‘It was a pretty horrible time … never once did I see my brother and I just fretted for him so much … I didn’t even know when my birthday was. I never celebrated a birthday’.
When Carole got her first job, Mrs Miller took her pay cheque each week, telling her she had to earn her keep, despite already doing all the work around the house. It was only through the kindness of her boss that Carole managed to leave the foster home.
He noticed her bruises, and although Carole told him they were from falling over, or other excuses, he did not believe her. He tracked down her father, who told Carole that he was coming to collect her. She was 16.
‘First time in my life I got the courage to stand out the front and yell out to her and swear at her and curse her for everything, because I knew I wouldn’t see her again.’ Although Mrs Miller got in her car and chased Carole, trying to run her over, Carole managed to get on the bus to meet her father. As she was leaving, her boss handed her an envelope filled with money. ‘I was really grateful for that.’
Carole told the Commissioner that she coped with the physical and sexual abuse by not letting any of her abusers see her cry, even though ‘some of those beatings, they drew blood on my back … It took a lot to not cry, and I’d always sort of go into a place in my mind that “One day I’m going to see my dad again. One day I’m going to see him”, and I’d focus on that’.
Carole had a small paperbark hut in the bush near where she lived, and after the physical and sexual abuse, she would immerse herself in the river, and sit in her hut, and that is where she cried.
Once Carole was back living with her father, she got a job and eventually moved to a different region of the state. She got married and had children, but her marriage didn’t last. She hasn’t had a relationship since, because she finds it difficult to trust people.
Carole has lived all her life fearing her abusers, but now that she is over 60, she thinks, ‘What am I frightened of? They can’t hurt me now’. With this in mind, she is considering reporting them to the police.
‘If those men are still around … there may be a possibility that they are hurting some other child and I don’t want that to happen … There’s also a part of me that’s terrified about those people and I don’t know why they’ve got that control over me.’
Carole wanted to see how her session with the Royal Commission went before she decided whether to report the sexual abuse to the police. ‘I think I need to do it.’
Carole has spent a long time working with Aboriginal families, trying to keep children safe. ‘I felt kind of like a hypocrite with a couple of families … encouraging them to talk about [abuse] … and yet, I wasn’t doing that … I don’t like asking people to do something that I’m not prepared to do myself …
‘I thought, “Well, I need to do this in case these men are hurting other children” because the damage was done with me. You can’t take that back, but you can do a lot about preventing … If they’re still hurting children, I need to speak up. Nothing you can do will give a childhood back to someone who’s had it stolen.’