Deanna's story

Deanna has never known her real birthday, as her arrival into the world went unrecorded. Welfare assigned her an arbitrary date of birth – the anniversary of when she came into care, as a toddler in the early 1960s.

The age they gave her was based upon her dental development. They later told her, ‘”We looked at your teeth, and thought, you’re about that age”. I felt like a horse.'

When she was six years old, Deanna went to live with foster parents, Harold and Amelia Knight, in New South Wales. Her brother came to visit her when she was first there, but she never saw him again.

At first, she thought the Knights were wonderful. They made a big fuss of her at Christmas and birthdays, things she had never really celebrated before.

However, ‘It was never really good with my father.’ Although Amelia had wanted to foster a child, Harold had been against the idea.

One time, when Deanna did something which upset Harold, he ‘told me quite emphatically, that “You’re not my child, you’re not my blood, I don’t want you here but you’re here”’.

The Knights’ own children were older than Deanna. Their youngest, Damien, was four years older than her, and looked after her on many occasions.

Damien began behaving inappropriately with Deanna when she was 13. ‘He’d wait until my parents had gone out, and he was my babysitter. We’d be watching TV or something like that, sitting on the lounge.’

The abuse escalated as time went on. ‘It started off little by little, and culminated in that one particular incident where it went too far. And that’s when I said no.’

This time, Damien had been drinking, and was sitting on the lounge with a blanket. ‘He kept wanting me to sit under the blanket with him, and I kept saying no. And then he sort of started slurring his words, and fumbling about.’

Damien touched her and grabbed hold of her, attempting to sexually abuse her. She struggled with him, and ‘that’s when I ran out of the house’.

The next day, Deanna told her foster parents about this incident. They were angry, and blamed her for Damien’s actions. ‘They believed that Damien had done something wrong, but they made it quite obvious that I must have done something to encourage him.’

Deanna had a good relationship with her two welfare officers, so felt comfortable disclosing to them what had happened. ‘I rang the Welfare, because back then I had a welfare officer because I wasn’t adopted. I had monthly visits from the Welfare.’

Her welfare workers met with the Knights after she disclosed the sexual abuse, and she was not left alone with Damien again. No criminal action was taken.

Deanna’s relationship with the Knights deteriorated after the incident with Damien, and also their attempts to set her up to be married. She was not allowed to socialise very much outside the home, and their restrictions lead to her becoming quite rebellious.

She left the placement when she was 15, returning to the children’s home she had left to live with the Knights. She had to leave school as well, as Welfare would not finance her education. This was devastating for Deanna, as she was an honours student.

‘I had plans to go on to university and be a teacher, and it just all disappeared.’ Welfare got her a job in a factory, making paper bags.

At 17, she moved in with her boyfriend. They married shortly after, and she had her first child the next year. He was very controlling of her, and they divorced within a few years.

Damien had a car accident which left him with ongoing disability, so Deanna does not feel she should pursue criminal charges against him. She is currently considering her other legal options.

The lack of records about her life has been difficult for Deanna. She was 20 before she found out she didn’t have a birth certificate, when she applied to get a passport.

She was forced to become an Australian citizen by application – being told she had nothing to prove her citizenship, despite never having been out of the country. The process took two long years.

In later years, Deanna made a freedom of information application, and was told that her file had 300 pages. Of these, she received 17, and most of these heavily redacted.

She suggested to the Royal Commission that people be better supported when they embark on the process of accessing their state ward files, as it can be a very emotional journey.

‘Everyone should have the right to know, 100 per cent, about themselves. And no one in government, and no one else anywhere, should have the right to say no, you can’t know everything.’

Deanna eventually returned to her studies, and completed a university degree, and now enjoys a successful career. She is proud of what she has achieved professionally, and personally with her children and happy second marriage.

‘Probably the biggest thing is proving that I’m worthwhile, that you count as a person. Because from a very early age you’re told that nobody wants you ... you’re a pest, you don’t have rights, that you’re a bother, and constantly being told that you don’t matter ...

‘You’re supposed to be constantly grateful to them, for them even bothering with you. You think, what did I do to deserve to be treated like that?’

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