Eugenie was three years old in the late 1950s when her mother placed her and her siblings into children’s homes. Many years later, when Eugenie reconnected with her mother she asked about this decision. ‘I did say “Well why did you give us away?” And she said well she couldn’t afford to keep us. Had nine children, and my father’s an alcoholic and I’ve since found out he was also a gambler. One of his own sisters has told me that.’
During holidays, rather than being left at the institution, Eugenie was sent to private homes to be cared for. When she was approximately five years old, she was placed in one such home during the Christmas break. Two or three older males were also staying at the same residence. As Eugenie told the Commissioner, ‘I was told to stand on the green camping stretcher in the bedroom. And two or three males, they seemed like teenagers to me as I was five or six years old, would masturbate me. This would happen nearly every night’.
On another occasion Eugenie was placed in a residence where ‘the male of the house (who was an adult) took me to the main bedroom, exposed himself to me and made me touch his penis’.
Eugenie does not recall whether these incidents happened at the same residence or not, but she does recall disclosing the abuse to three of her peers upon returning to the institution after the holidays.
‘One of the girls told the matron at the home. I was questioned by the matron. I told the matron about both events. It was all verbal and would have been in January 1961. As far as I know the matter was not taken any further. I was never asked about it by anyone else, certainly not by the police. I was not given any support by the institution, nor did I receive any counselling at the time. Being only six years old at the time I reported the abuse I guess it was easier for the institution to just ignore the whole thing.’
Very soon after these events Eugenie was permanently fostered by a couple. Before being placed with her new foster family, however, the matron took steps to ensure there was no further investigation relating to the sexual abuse Eugenie had suffered. ‘They even went so far as telling my foster parents that I was a liar, trying to cover themselves in case I mentioned it to them. A six-years-old child does not make up this type of thing, especially in that era.’
Eugenie’s foster care experience was not a happy one. ‘I wasn’t abused sexually but there was physical and mental abuse.’ On one occasion her birth-sisters came to visit and give her a doll as a present. Her foster mother took the doll off her, wouldn’t let her play with it and later threw it in the tip. Eugenie has had a fascination with dolls ever since.
‘I didn’t get to meet my family again until I was 18 and I was getting married. I went to my Social Services officer to get permission to be married because I was under 21 and he told me “The law’s been changed and you have to go and find your real parents and get their permission to get married”. And that’s what I did and that’s how I ended up meeting the rest of my family.’
Eugenie is still married, has a son and a daughter, and has maintained contact with most of her siblings. ‘I married at 18 and still married 43 years later, so I think that’s saying something. Having my daughter and my son have helped.’ She attributes her solid education, marrying young and having a stable family in helping her to recover. However she has had trouble showing affection her whole life which has impacted on her relationships with her children. ‘I’m not one of these people who go up and hug people, even if they’re my friends. I can’t just go up and hug them.’
Although her marriage is stable, Eugenie’s husband is controlling and her lack of self-esteem meant she never pursued a career and has no financial independence. Eugenie also suffers from flashbacks and nightmares about her childhood sexual abuse. ‘I have nightmares, sometimes three or four times a week, where I’d wake up screaming thinking there was someone in the room.’
Eugenie never reported the abuse to the police nor sought compensation. It was after Kevin Rudd’s apology to the Forgotten Australians that she approached Care Leavers Australasia Network (CLAN) and began to receive support. She has since disclosed her abuse to her family and has been seeing a psychologist for the past four years.
‘My husband, daughter, psychologist and CLAN have helped. Knowing that there are other people who have suffered sexual abuse and subsequently mental issues and not been believed has helped me. I am not alone. I now have other people I can talk to about what happened to me and know that they believe me because similar or worse things happened to them.’
‘The Australian people should know that there are thousands of children that this has happened to. It’s not an isolated case, there are not just a few of us, that there are thousands that this has happened to.’
‘We have all suffered emotionally and mentally for decades for something that we could not prevent happening to us as we were innocent children.’
‘By telling my account to the Royal Commission I am another voice not lost in the wilderness of the non-believed.’