Darla's story

‘Tom had really bad war problems, really, really bad, you know. One day he had us lined up out the back and he had a gun. He had Lily and me, and luckily his father came around and he just said, “Tom, the war’s over”. It was really, really quite sad.’

Darla’s very early memories are hazy, but she recalls a time in a children’s home in England before a long boat journey brought her to Australia in the early 1950s. She remembers feeling confused and unsafe. Darla was most likely a member of the post-war orphan migration program.

Tom and Lily Patton seem to have adopted Darla soon after she arrived. Lily had a baby son, James, who became Darla’s brother and remains in contact to this day. But both Darla and James were not to stay very long under the Patton’s troubled roof. Tom was a returned soldier and had severe mental health problems.

‘I think Tom at that time couldn’t hold down a job so I ended up with the Children’s Welfare Department’, Darla told the Commissioner. ‘In lots of ways I was glad to get away from them because they were not very responsible.’

Darla and her baby brother were placed in a state-run children’s home in suburban Adelaide. Darla was separated from James and rarely saw him. She felt frightened, lonely and isolated.

‘I didn’t know how old I was, I didn’t know my real name and I always wanted to have a birthday like the other children.’

Darla was befriended by a 14-year-old girl who worked in the kitchen. ‘She said, “If they come near you, you run for your life”.’ Darla believes she was sexually abused by a doctor who drugged her during a procedure at the home.

‘I was on the bed and I can remember having an injection … he put me to sleep.’

Darla describes what could have been electroconvulsive therapy. ‘Then he started asking me questions about Lily and Tom … and then I felt some needles going into my brain – one there and one there and one there – because I’d woken up.'

‘I said to this man, “When I get out of here I’m going to tell on you”, being a little girl. He started swearing at me. I had a convulsion or something like that and I ended up on the floor. And I must’ve been unconscious for a little while, I must’ve fainted I was so frightened of this man.’

Eventually Darla was taken in by another family and lived with them until she was 14. After that she lived with a woman she called ‘grandmother’, who may have been the mother of either Lily or Tom Patton. Darla attended high school and a girls’ technical school, and worked in clerical jobs as she grew older.

‘I married a farmer... I had two children ... I used to cook for shearers and look after everyone, the kids.’ The marriage lasted into the early 1980s. Darla is still in touch with her adult children and takes an interest in her young grandchildren.

Darla has not discussed her past in any detail with her family. Her daughter is in a demanding job and Darla does not want to burden her with the truth. Darla also feels shame and embarrassment over what happened to her and her lack of knowledge of her origins.

Darla wrote to the Migrants Trust and sent a photo. She has been unable to obtain any information about her birth family as she has never had her own birth certificate.

She finds the mystery of her birth a very painful ongoing issue. She suffers from chronic headaches and has low self-esteem.

‘I say to myself sometimes, “How on earth did I get into such a mess? Am I having a big dream?” I’ve come along [to the Royal Commission] to think besides helping myself, it might help someone else, and the other thing is sometimes people don’t know what goes on in institutions.’

Content updating Updating complete