‘You’re very brave but you’re crumbling inside, so I’m totally weak and yet I come across as being strong. And when my friends say to me, “You’ve got such strength”, I say, “Have I?”’
Doris’s mother passed away in the early 1940s. Her father had a ‘nervous breakdown’, so the children were placed in care when she was still a toddler.
When Doris was eight, she and her siblings were sent to a children’s home run by the Open Brethren Protestant Christians. The mostly female staff who worked there were ‘strong disciplinarians’ who ‘never showed me in any way any love or compassion’, and often punished all of the children for an offence committed by one. Medical attention was lacking, even when Doris was quite ill, and food was meagre.
‘As a little girl I was constantly reminded I was there to be corrected. Discipline included standing long periods of the night beside my bed with hands on my head or behind my back. We did not seem to have a lot of friendly, happy days. There were many periods during the day when the rules were no talking.
‘Their teachings bred rebellion and hate, they were ladies you had to obey every time, without even thinking about understanding their rule. These ladies were very religious and we spent nights learning whole books of the Bible.’
The children provided some support to each other. ‘We all had sad home situations we were taken from – we shared with each other when we could get to talk, mainly when we were bush walking. It was a case of being very alone, and lonely, all missing whatever we had left behind even with all its grief.’
Doris was sexually abused by at least three slightly older boys on numerous occasions, when they would take her underneath a building or into an unused water tank.
‘The boys then sexually fondled me, rolled close to me with their body, played games with me. I hated this. I was so frightened of what the ladies in charge would do to me if I told them. This continued for a long period of time, and the boys had intimidating remarks and threats they would use to keep me quiet. I felt guilt and hatred of myself for being in this activity.’
One day a male houseparent caught the boys abusing Doris in the water tank. ‘He saw what was happening. He made us get out of the tank, saying, “Oh, don't do that”. I never saw him come again. He was not checking to see if anything was continuing, nothing was said to me. And I do not know if anything was said to the boys, but the pattern continued.’
Doris was relieved to leave the home after a couple of years, returning to live with her father, but she found it hard to integrate back into regular society.
‘It was like a release and freedom from a dark side of my life I did not enjoy. I found it very difficult to assimilate back into home life, and particularly school. It was disturbing to be amongst a large number of children who played happily during time out. I would retreat to the toilets, and remember even eating my lunch in the toilet, so shy, feeling shame and afraid after the disturbing sexual abuse.’
When she was in her teens Doris’s father explained how he had searched to find a really good placement for the children, and had believed the home was ‘the ultimate’. ‘He never knew what happened there.’
The experiences Doris had at the home continue to impact on her life over 50 years later. She had a fear of authority, and ‘was plagued by emotional instability and a ‘low self-esteem’.
‘I had a distrust of boys, and later of men’, and ‘as a result of living in institutions I allowed myself to be abused in my marriage by my ex-husband, having received domestic violence over 10 years.’
With little confidence in herself or her abilities she found starting off in the workforce very difficult, but persisted and ‘kept studying all my life’, becoming a ‘workaholic’ to cope with her past.
‘I think this is the way I’ve got through, I’ve just kept my mind going and I’ve kept myself busy. And I’ve kept myself working, kept eating ... I haven’t gone to drugs or drink excessively.’
Over the years Doris has engaged in counselling, and developed thinking and strategies that help her get through life’s difficulties.
‘I’ve tried to have this philosophy, if you call it, and I guess it’s totally selfish but it’s good common sense. I can choose to get angry, or I can choose to let something pass. And I always choose to let something pass, I make a determined effort, which is really hard. But it takes that effort to not get angry, but I know it’s for my own benefit, it’s for my own health ... Why get angry, when I have a choice?’
It wasn’t until hearing about the Royal Commission that Doris decided to speak about the abuse.
‘For years, and perhaps decades the memories of this behaviour has haunted me, never telling a friend or relative, or a counsellor. The shame of even being in the home, let alone all the behaviour that resulted, had caused me to retreat from normal life as a young girl.
‘I would never have shared these ugly days and spoken up without the Royal Commission encouraging so many to come forward, and bring all the darkness that they were forced to live with in institutional care under recognised carers and guardians to light.’