In the mid-1960s three month old Evelyn was taken by the authorities and placed in a Catholic children’s home in Victoria. This happened without her 15-year-old mother’s knowledge or consent.
At seven Evelyn was adopted by one of the three foster families she stayed with on weekends and during school holidays. These were families who visited the home with a view to adopting a child, and the visits were seen as a ‘trial run’.
Evelyn has little memory of the children’s home, but feels she may have suffered some form of abuse there. She believes there must be a reason why she was fearful of the nuns.
‘I know that at one particular stage there I remember … staying away from the nuns, which is almost impossible, but there was a reason why I didn’t want to go near them. I didn’t want hugs. I didn’t want cuddles. I got on my back and pushed my way from them, and things like that.’
Evelyn was sexually abused by the foster father at the second of the three families she visited. Although she doesn’t remember details of the abuse she believes that some form of penetration was involved. She has seen some of her old medical records, and there was evidence that her hymen was torn by the age of four.
She remembers that the year this abuse occurred was ‘my difficult year. I think that’s the year my memory is definitely erased. I know people … that were in my world [then] and I have them still in my world today … and they certainly know that things changed … That’s a year that I don’t really remember and I don’t want to remember it and … I don’t want to remember anything’.
Evelyn is unsure if she revealed the abuse to the foster parents who eventually adopted her, but thinks they must have ‘picked it up, because I was just pissing and shitting and crying a lot more than normal’. Although she is unaware of any investigation into the abuse, Evelyn thinks it must have been reported ‘because I never went back’.
Evelyn started drinking at 15, ‘maybe before. I think it might have been a bit earlier due to the fact that my adopted parents had wine in the cupboard’. She consumes 12 stubbies of beer every night after work, and describes herself as a ‘proper-functioning alcoholic … I just don’t have one drink. I have multiple drinks to put me to sleep … And I do that every night’.
She was kicked out of high school, because she was ‘too naughty. Drinking on the oval, all that sort of stuff’. No one asked if there was a reason for this behaviour.
Drinking, and for a few years, drugs, helped to erase Evelyn’s memories. ‘Yep. Just forgetting everything. Becoming a stronger person because I’m such a sook … when I’ve got a pot of beer in my hand you won’t see this, and I think each pot of beer that I have just makes me harder.’ By coming to the Royal Commission she wants to ‘get to the bottom of all this crap … I wanna give up the grog … that’s what I’m here for … give up the grog if I can’.
At 21, when she first saw her file, ‘I said, “Oh, how cruel’s this prick?” … I thought I’d been done by the worst ever. But now I’ve got older people out there in my world, and they’ve been to the Royal Commission and things like that. I know my story’s nowhere near, so I’ve probably just exaggerated my life to myself when I got my file and thought it was the worst file ever. But to me I guess it still is a little bit … I don’t know. I just get confused’.
Evelyn has only recently started talking about the abuse. ‘I’ve been hiding it. I’ve been on the piss.’ In her early 20s Evelyn discovered that she was Aboriginal.
‘From 23 to 30, 35, I think were my pretty vicious years. I call them vicious years because I was not only turning Aboriginal but my parents were old. I was starting to lose them. I’m turning gay. Wow. What the fuck’s happening here. Had a great … career. I’m pissed off with meself. I’ve wasted that. And I started to get really depressed and started hiding a lot of stuff … Now I don’t want to hide anymore.’
She has now established relationships with a large number of siblings and cousins, and ‘some amazing elders … they’ve taken me under their wings when I first came in’.
When she met her birth mother she began to understand why she was put into care. ‘I understood her journey straight away as soon as I met her. She was a wild, rough one and I just … I couldn’t believe I’d come from this person. I don’t blame her for whatever’s happened to me. She was 15.’
Evelyn told the Commissioner she is hopeful for the future and ‘I feel better coming in here’. She has ‘found my mob … got a great job’ and by coming into the Royal Commission ‘maybe this might make me even a happier person … the next 50 years are going to be pretty cool’.
After her experiences, Evelyn hopes that ‘none of our kids go through this, none of them’, but ‘if we feel one of our kids getting molested, then let’s talk about it. Let’s approach that family. Let’s not be frightened. Because in the end we’re saving someone’.