‘I never wanted to turn out like my mother and I always wanted to make sure I was a good mother. [My daughter’s] grown up very well educated, had five children. My grandchildren - one in a trade, one at uni, so it’s like everyone keeps saying the circle keeps going; actually no it’s doesn’t. I’ve broken the cycle.’
After her mother left, Davina entered institutional care at a young age and some of her earliest memories are of being with her two younger brothers in an orphanage. At 12, her mother reclaimed her three children but after a few weeks again abandoned them. They stayed together until the landlord found them and reported them to police and welfare authorities.
The children were collected by Salvation Army officers who separated them and sent the boys to a home in Sydney and Davina to a girls’ home they ran in regional New South Wales. Before going there, Davina was sent to the home of a Salvation Army officer and repeatedly raped by him over the few days she was there.
Davina lived in the girls’ home for about two years in the early 1970s. She was told by Salvation Army staff that she wasn’t intelligent enough to be educated and that she’d only ever be able to do housekeeping.
‘I was treated like a slave at the home, having to look after the babies in the nursery, scrub the floors on my hands and knees and prepare the vegetables for meals. The babies were given no stimulation and stayed in their cots all day.’
The devastation of losing her brothers stayed with Davina. She wanted to write to them but was told by staff that her ‘disgusting mother doesn’t pay for you to be here and so there is no money for stamps’. After she left the home at 15, Davina tried to visit her brothers in the boys’ home but she was repeatedly refused entry.
She found work in a cafe and soon afterwards met Donny and became pregnant. She went to the Salvation Army for advice and it was suggested that she adopt the baby out but Davina didn’t want to do that so at 15 she gave birth to and kept her daughter. Donny later tracked them down. He and Davina married and have remained so since then.
As an adult, Davina found it difficult to get copies of records of her time in the Salvation Army homes. She was initially told she wasn’t there, then found school enrolment notes that corroborated her account. When she finally received the records they were heavily redacted, and little was known about the man who’d sexually abused her. In the early 2010s, she sought compensation from the Army, initially rejecting their offer of $85,000, before being worn down by the process and accepting it. She’d never reported the assaults to police.
When she reunited with her brothers, Davina learned about the sexual abuse they’d experienced in the boys’ home. It was further devastation to her.
‘I would let you cut my right arm off with a blunt instrument if I could take my brothers’ pain away’, she said. ‘I would go through everything that I’ve gone through a hundred times if it would stop my brothers going through what they did. And that’s the one thing I don’t think the Commission or anyone has got their head around yet. It’s not so much the sexual assault that happened to me and the awful experience; it’s that the Salvation Army deliberately kept us apart and made sure those important years – there’s too much pain there now and even when we get together, all that’s in the room is the shared experience of the Salvation Army so you can’t have a normal relationship.
‘It doesn’t look like anything that I hope you guys all have, you know what I mean? 'Cause it’s not normal. It’s almost - like with the two boys – it’s like that to me is the biggest pain of all. Not only were [the Salvation Army] paedophiles and they treated us so badly and they punished us so dramatically, constantly, it’s that they set about to make sure we never got back in contact with each other, for their own benefit. And that’s the part for me, I’ll never get past that.’
Davina said that at different times in her life, if someone had told her ‘if you walk through that door your pain will be over, but you won’t be alive’, she would have walked through the door. She’d once gone overseas with the express plan of not returning, but in the end had come home. She gave short shrift to counsellors and other ‘middle class’ people with limited experience of the world, but was accompanied to her private session by a psychologist with whom she’d developed great trust. One of the ways she dealt with the deep pain, she said, was by being creative.
‘I think the difference between me and someone living on the street – there’s only one difference: I have a space to go to in my head. I have a space to go to that’s very creative so I can knit, crochet, and I sew and I’m a patch-worker and I can do anything with my hands. So that’s the space that I’ve fathomed since I was little and I just go there. It’s almost like an autistic form. I just can go there, and I think that’s the only difference; there is no difference between me and the ones that go to alcohol or go to drugs. That’s my drug I suppose in a way. That quiet, shut the door, go in the room. And sometimes I don’t come out and I don’t sleep for days.’