When their mother was hospitalised with a serious illness, Eve and her twin sister, then aged two, were placed in a Church of England children’s home in New South Wales. Their father, a returned prisoner-of-war, was unable to care for the girls and for the next 15 years would appear infrequently in their lives.
In the home, children from Eve’s age on were punished for wetting the bed by having their heads held down a flushing toilet. Girls with disabilities particularly struggled with washing their own sheets, and would be further punished by being attached to a clothesline while a staff member spun it around.
When Eve and her sister were four, they were taken aside and told their mother had died. Eve started crying and was slapped across the face by Sister Jamieson. ‘She told me, “Stop crying. Your mother’s not coming back”.’
In the 1960s, Eve’s father changed jobs and he arranged for the twins, then aged 10, to be transferred to a Church of England girls’ home closer to his work. The girls arrived to find that Jamieson had also moved to their new home.
Eve told the Commissioner that other girls bullied and preyed upon the young and new. One day Eve was lured by several older girls into a room where she was told to lie on a bed and keep still. They then held her down and digitally penetrated her. Eve struggled and cried, but the abuse continued and her pleas were ignored. She was sure staff members nearby heard her, but they did nothing.
‘I quickly learnt survival techniques to keep on people’s good sides. If laying down kept you from being bashed, then you did it. I learnt to put up with the abuse. You just did it ‘cause then you’d get out of there.’
The pattern of abuse by older girls continued until Eve requested that she and her sister be moved to another cottage. During the three years she was in the home, Eve was also sexually abused by Jamieson, who used a dog to inflict the assault.
In a holiday placement with a local family, Eve was abused each night by an older boy in the family who’d come into the bedroom and digitally penetrate her. ‘He used to make threats, you know, “Don’t tell anyone”. I used to pretend I was asleep, but that went on and I refused to go back to that home, so I got in trouble for that.’
When she was 13, Eve learnt from her father that for years he’d been sending money to the home for it to be used on things she and her sister needed. Eve confronted Jamieson and asked where the money was going.
‘I got a backhander and hit the floor’, she said. Both girls were then told to pack their bags, then they were driven to the home of a distant cousin who knew nothing about them coming.
Eve’s sister remained with the cousin, while Eve went to live with her father in a boarding house. She embraced her new-found freedom and joined up with local kids to hang around the beach and shopping malls. One day, police took Eve into custody and charged her with being ‘in moral danger’. A magistrate ordered her incarceration in a girls’ correctional centre.
Like others arriving at the centre, Eve was subjected to a vaginal examination and hosed down with antiseptic. She was given a number and told not to speak unless spoken to. Put to work in the kitchen, her first job was to pick the weevils out of oats used for making porridge. One day she stole a box of matches and as punishment was put in an isolation cell where she was made to perform oral sex on a staff member.
Eve came to realise the centre shared many characteristics of the homes she’d been in.
‘It was the systemic abuse of breaking your spirit that had a far more all-pervading and far-reaching impact – that lack of nurturing, not being believed, that sense of having no belonging, of hopelessness and helplessness, incredible power imbalances and a sense of injustice.
'As a child I couldn’t articulate it, but I was very much aware of it. If staff came through, and they were nice and they did try to create some sort of nurturing environment, they were quickly moved on.’
Eve left the centre after six months and said that in subsequent years she entered many violent relationships. She’d come to expect abuse, she said, and thought the best way of managing was to offer no resistance and let it happen.
Despite her early history of fractured education, she’d attained two degrees and built a successful career in community services. She told the Commissioner she had several children and grandchildren who were a big part of her life.
‘All I ever wanted when I was a child was a family [even though] I didn’t quite know what a family was. The family unit was always paramount. They know I’m here and I’ve managed to move on.
'They may have gotten my body but they didn’t get my spirit.’