Dorothy Elaine's story

‘I pray. I don’t believe in God anymore but I pray that’s there a reason for me to live … Once I’m dead I don’t ever want to come back here only to be hurt by anybody because it’s too painful.’

In the mid-1950s, when she was two years old, Dorothy was placed in a state-run children’s home in Victoria. She and her younger sister were fostered and in care for a short time, then taken to a cottage home in the suburbs of Melbourne.

‘You know, I didn’t even know what it was that I lived in. I know it’s hard to believe but I didn’t know … I felt like I lived out of my body my whole life – even now.’

Dorothy said the cottage parents were cruel and abusive. The children were made to clean and cook or receive harsh punishments. They were also routinely sexually abused.

‘In that home it was just a life of misery. The wife, his wife, used to bath the boys and he used to bath us … It was disgusting.’

The couple also had a holiday house, where the man would regularly take the girls.

‘He used to walk around with nothing on and the drive up there was about two hours and he used to have his private part out and he used to say, “Did you want to play Adam and Eve?”. We were only little kids and I didn’t know what that meant …

‘Even when you got your monthly you had to show him your old pad to get a new one … Your whole life was like that. You were intimidated the whole time … There’s no way you’re going to tell them anything …

‘You … never was safe in your bedroom, you were just hanging onto the bed at night … those cottage parents were there for years.’

Dorothy doesn’t remember seeing anyone from welfare in her younger years, but as she got older there were occasional visits from caseworkers.

‘[They] used to come and those cottage parents would be in the kitchen … they could hear if you say something because you’re just in the next room so you knew not to say anything … ‘

When Dorothy was about 12 the cottage parents warned the children that the welfare workers were about to visit.

‘We just said to ourselves, “If we don’t say something what they’re really like, it’s going to be forever”. [This] time … I asked the ladies … “Could we talk by ourself?” … We told them what they were really a bit like and those people [the cottage parents] went. They either went back the next day or they went of their own accord.

‘Once one started, we all just said little things … We said enough.’

New cottage parents arrived and while they were strict, they weren’t abusive. ‘You could breathe a bit, you could breathe. You could lay in bed and you knew that they weren’t going to do nothing to you.’

Dorothy doesn’t know what action was taken against her abusers. She has no recollection of any police intervention or further discussion being conducted with the children in the home.

But in her 20s she tracked the couple down, because she wanted to ‘say to them what I think of them’. The man answered the door and Dorothy said, ‘I’m not afraid of you anymore … And one day you will pay for what you did to all of us’.

The couple are now both dead.

‘They ruined all our lives … They had no heart, those people … they should never have been working with children ... They were like predators.’

The impacts of the sexual abuse are significant.

‘You could imagine from two to 16 being told how worthless you are, how you’re nothing … If there’s an argument I’d rather just talk about it … I’d rather people just hurt me … I take it. And that’s what being in that home has done to you.’

Dorothy had to wait until her 20s to obtain her records and even then they were incomplete. She never met the rest of her immediate family. She and her sister have only recently talked about the abuse in the cottage home.

‘My sister and I actually never spoke about it until the last couple of years … I [say] “No one cared then, we have to for every other kid that it doesn’t happen again”.’

Dorothy is now interested in pursuing compensation but isn’t sure what would actually help her. ‘I don’t even know what would take away the pain in anyone’s heart unless you’ve actually had it done to you personally … You was never a child.’

Dorothy had to leave the home at 16 and, despite having no ‘life skills’, became part of the workforce for many years. She now looks after her grandson.

‘Our only crime us kids in homes was that our parents either didn’t want us or they couldn’t mind us or they’d passed on … I don’t even know what happened to most of them [the other children] … They all would just be sad like me, I would say … I think they’d be proud that I spoke up for them … At the end of the day I survived.’

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