Elizabeth was still in the UK when she was adopted at the age of two. She migrated to Australia with her adoptive mother and brother in the mid-1940s when she was six.
When Elizabeth was 11, in the mid-1950s, her adoptive mother decided she didn’t want to keep her as she was ‘an uncontrollable child’. Elizabeth believes her mother adopted two children as a way of making her own emigration to Australia easier.
So Elizabeth was made a ward of the state.
She was happy at her first place - an Anglican girls’ home in northwest Sydney. But the home decided that, as a non-fee-paying state ward, she was too much of a financial burden. So at 13 she was sent elsewhere. Elizabeth ran away after a fortnight. She got as far as the train station before she was picked up by police.
It was then that she was charged with absconding and sent to a girls’ home in the west of Sydney. It was done at the ‘Governor’s pleasure’. ‘When I asked “Why would the Governor be pleased?”, they told me it meant that there was no release date.’
The place frightened her. It was old and smelled of decay. As one of the youngest girls there Elizabeth learned quickly that she’d have to toughen up and use her fists. She also had to steel herself against staff saying no one wanted her, and that she was the lowest of the low.
Her schooling was non-existent. There were no pencils or paper and she learned nothing. After a few months she was put to work in the laundry.
David Newhart, who was second in charge at the home, had been eyeing off Elizabeth since she arrived. ‘He made it very clear to me that he would train me well. I didn't understand when he said it to me; I was young.’
Newhart raped Elizabeth throughout her stay at the home. If she didn’t comply he would put her in solitary.
‘He would remove my clothes. He would remove everything from the cell, I suppose you could call it. There was no light globe. There was nothing … And I would spend my days counting bricks. But there was no bucket of water … In the morning they would bring me a mug of milk which was sour and I couldn't drink.’
Elizabeth thinks she was targeted by Newhart because she had no outside support. ‘No one would ever come and see me. No one would ever take any notice of me … I just didn't exist in the adult world of people. I wasn't considered to be a person.’
She was puzzled by how Newhart was so intent on her and yet also so insulting. ‘He used to tell me I was filth, I was everything, and yet he still kept coming and putting hands on me … It seemed strange.’
He also told her no one would believe her if she complained.
Elizabeth's part in a riot at the home eventually led to some time in jail. She can’t believe she did time in prison for rioting against the man who was raping her.
‘He got early retirement and super. I got locked in jail.'
One night, in her own cell and feeling safe enough to sleep, Elizabeth was woken by a torch shining in her eyes. She was dragged out of bed by six guards. ‘Two guards left and the only words spoken were, “Kill the light.”’
She was then raped by the remaining four guards, who had been brought over from the male section by a female guard. No other words were spoken during the assault.
Elizabeth was called in to the superintendent’s office after she’d been seen by the nurse the next day.
‘And he turned to me and he said there is nothing he could do. The law is the law. I was placed there by the government. There is nothing he could do about it. But he was angry that he could do nothing.’
Elizabeth was married only a few months after she was released from prison.
She has never used drugs or alcohol to get through the effects of the abuse. She told her husband what happened because she was still a ward of the state and so needed permission to marry him. It affected their marriage eventually.
She doesn’t accept depression and says she rises above it.
‘I never believed any of what they told me … I always believed I would rise above it … I always fought for what I thought was right, and I never gave up and I never gave in.’
Elizabeth took the NSW Government to court over the abuse she suffered but lost the case on the statute of limitations. Later she applied for compensation and was successful.
Elizabeth would like to see the statute of limitations ‘completely obliterated’ from the language when it comes to children. And she’d like to see an acknowledgement that terrible things did happen.
‘There was a holocaust here in Australia, a holocaust, and it happened to the children.’