‘My father was an alcoholic, my mother drank and gambled’, Esme said. ‘I never went to school, I was never allowed to go to school. I had to mind my baby brother.’
When things got unbearable in the small house she shared with all her siblings, Esme would run away. ‘I used to go to the police. I used to go tell them I’d run away and I’m not going home again.’
In the mid-1950s, in her early teens, Esme was sent by the Children’s Court to a girls’ home in Sydney’s west. ‘What I’ve never been able to understand … I was sentenced to nine months. I did 13 months. Why, I don’t know. One of the attacks on me would not have happened if I’d have been released on time.’
In the home, Esme was sexually and physically abused by a senior member of staff. On one occasion he threw her against a glass cabinet which shattered against her knee.
‘He told me I was to tell people I fell over. If you told anyone any different you’d get worse. Who could you complain to? Nobody. Who would believe you? Nobody.’
Esme received no medical attention and still has a large scar. ‘So much so I’ve never been outside the door without wearing stockings. Everyone asks me how I got it. And that brings flashbacks.’
Twice after she was abused, Esme was put in isolation. The first time for 24 hours, the second for 48. ‘Very mouldy and damp … all you got fed was bread and half a cup of milk … you dragged in a mattress at night … it was filthy, smelly … anyone that came out of there sane was lucky. You’d have to be strong to come out sane.
‘No one should go through that.’
As she got older Esme hoped to have a career in health care, but couldn’t do the training because she’d been denied education by both her parents and the children’s home.
‘My life would’ve been different if I’d have been educated.’
She got married in her early 20s, had children and was with her husband for over four decades. She remembered him as a ‘wonderful husband’ and an ‘excellent man’.
Until speaking with the Commissioner, Esme’s husband was the only person she had ever told about everything that happened to her in the home. ‘I’ve never wanted anyone to know’, she said.
Throughout their marriage, the couple worked to leave the abuse behind and live for the future. ‘If you look too much back on the past, you can become very depressed. And I won’t let that happen.’
But she still feels the impact. ‘You get flashbacks, but you’ve got to recognise what they are. When I look back I do get panic attacks. And a panic attack is just like a heart attack. But you’ve got to recognise that for what it is, too. And I’m lucky, I can do that.
‘Underneath it all I am a strong person.’
Esme has never thought about compensation. She came to the Royal Commission from her home overseas to support all the other children who passed through the home.
‘I just feel as though something should be done about what happened to the girls there.’
Despite its history, Esme hopes the home will not be demolished, ‘to remind people it can never happen again. No government should allow a building like that … to be opened again.’
She also hopes, in the future, that children who aren’t living with their families are given proper care. Esme believes it’s essential that they receive counselling and, most importantly, education.
‘A child should be educated.’