Cynthia never knew her parents when she was little as her mother placed her and her siblings in a Protestant children’s home in Queensland when she was a baby. In the late 1950s, when she was nine years old, Cynthia met her father when he visited her and her siblings in the home.
‘You could only visit on a Saturday, once a month for two hours. You didn’t get to know your family … Some of those times, my father had to work and couldn’t come.’
Cynthia was upset to be separated from her brothers in the home. She remembers trying to sneak out to see them and getting into trouble. The staff were cruel to her and punished her often.
‘I had to sit down and eat hay and molasses as a punishment. There’s probably a lot more, [but] I’ve switched [it] off.’
Cynthia remembers attending school, but being unable to study because of the chores and manual labour she was forced to do. The work was tiring.
‘You couldn’t do any homework because you had to do the laundry or peel the vegetables … It took you hours and hours.’
When Cynthia was 11 she was told to deliver a message to George Cooper, one of the workers at the home. She had to go to the toolshed, which was a huge room, to speak to him.
‘I gave him the message, I can’t even remember what it was. He grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go. I’m screaming … He touched me all over.’
Cynthia was fondled by Cooper several times during her time at the home, once right in front of the home’s manager when they were all travelling on a bus.
On one occasion Cynthia was called into the toolshed to see Cooper and noticed a mattress set up against the wall in the corner.
One afternoon after school, Cynthia walked past her brother and she just burst into tears. When she told him about Cooper he advised her to tell the managers of the home.
‘He said, “Go and tell them”. That was the worst thing I ever friggen’ did. I got slapped, then I got the cane, then I got the strap. I was just beaten and told I was a liar.’
When Cynthia was 14 she left school and got a job in the town. She spent so much time at work that she only ever returned to the home to sleep. Cooper didn’t approach her again.
Cynthia never told anyone what happened at the home. She didn’t have anyone to talk to about it. She knew she couldn’t go to the police. ‘You wouldn’t tell anyone, you’d just switch off.’
Cynthia was 17 when she was removed from the home and taken to a different institution to work in the laundry. She was surprised when one of the managers from the home visited her there and was nice to her. Now she believes it’s because the manager knew that she had been abused and didn’t want her to tell anyone. ‘She gave me a present and was really kind to me. It was weird.’
At 18 Cynthia was dismissed from state care. She went to a foster home for a short while, but she hated it. Her foster parents made her scrub the floor with a toothbrush. For the first time in her life, Cynthia spoke to a caseworker and told them about the ill-treatment by her foster family. Her caseworker then placed her with her father.
While living at her father’s home Cynthia was able to find fulltime work. She then met her husband a couple of years later. Moving into the real world was difficult for Cynthia because she didn’t have any life experience.
‘When I fell pregnant to my husband, I had to ask him how the baby would come out. I didn’t know.’
Cynthia was in her 30s when she disclosed the details of her abuse to her husband. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that she spoke of the abuse again. She received a phone call from the police asking her if she had been abused in the home, and she confirmed she had.
Cooper was charged and Cynthia gave evidence against him in court. The trial was a positive experience for her as Cooper was convicted for offences against her and other victims. However, she felt the sentence he received was too light.
In the mid-2000s Cynthia received $22,000 from the Forde Inquiry, and did not think the amount of money was fair. She also obtained her records, which she found distressing to read because they were incomplete.