In the mid 1960s, Frannie was made a ward of the state and placed in an orphanage in Queensland run by the Sisters of Mercy. Frannie was three years old when, ‘the mother deserted the home and the father couldn’t look after us, so he put us into care’.
Frannie was fostered by Mr and Mrs Gardiner, and was subjected to years of physical abuse. ‘We often had social workers pop in to check our welfare, and we were always told … to be on our best behaviour, or we would be taken away. In hindsight, that would have been a far better option.’ Frannie still has scars on the backs of her legs from the beltings she received from Mr and Mrs Gardiner.
‘I was once belted for starting a fire in the bedroom rubbish bin, but I had been previously told that is what you do with rubbish bins, because we had a rubbish fire back then. So, as a young four-year-old, I thought that is what he meant. I was belted, belted, belted. I couldn’t speak for days.’
When the Gardiners’ marriage broke down due to domestic violence, Mrs Gardiner moved away with her children and foster children. She began asking men from an organisation for single parents to babysit, and Frannie was sexually abused by one of them.
‘My memory of those times when he sat us are horrendous. I would be on the couch watching TV when he would get me to put my hand on his penis. He would then kiss me roughly and put his tongue in my mouth. This would happen on many occasions. It escalated to him eventually have me suck his penis and vomiting.’
Franny told the Commissioner that the priest from her school also minded the children. She recalled that one day Mrs Gardiner walked in on the priest raping one of her foster daughters. Mrs Gardiner called Wendy a slut and not long after she was sent to live in a girls’ home.
Mrs Gardiner was ‘a very strict Catholic and she wouldn’t have wanted any of that to get out, I think … He still came over and looked after us’.
When she was in high school, Frannie told a social worker that things were ‘pretty bad at home, and I wanted to get out of there’. Mrs Gardiner found out, and Frannie received a thrashing for revealing family secrets outside the home.
When Frannie left school at 15 and got a job, she moved out of Mrs Gardiner’s home, but was still in care. Child Services allowed her to live with a colleague from work and her husband. When she was home ill one day, she woke up on the couch to find the husband’s brother on top of her, which terrified her. Child Services then had to find Frannie somewhere else to live, and she went to live with Mr and Mrs Parker.
One night, when Mrs Parker was on holiday, Mr Parker ‘opened up my nightgown and fondled my breasts. He tried to kiss me and get into my pants. He was all over me’. Frannie burst into tears and said, ‘“I’m supposed to be your daughter”. He said something similar to, “You’re special. I see you’re not going to play”’.
When Frannie told a social worker what Mr Parker had done, she sent her home, saying, ‘Everything will be fine’. She arrived home to find that Mr Parker had packed her bags. ‘He threw me down the stairs … picked me up by the throat and smashed my head into a concrete wall.’
Mr Parker then told Frannie that he was a respectable businessman and ‘I can do more fucking damage to you than you can to me’. When Mrs Parker phoned Frannie a few days later to ask what had happened, she told her, and Mrs Parker accused Frannie of trying to ruin their marriage.
Frannie accessed her files about two years ago, and read, ‘Left [Parker residence] due to an incident’. Frannie told the Commissioner, ‘I was incensed by this statement. I left because I had been sexually abused by the man that Child Services had said would care for me. The files were not properly completed’.
The physical and sexual abuse Frannie experienced during her childhood have affected her adult life. ‘I have suffered depression, anxiety, possible post-traumatic stress disorder, flashbacks, poor sleeping and panic attacks.’ She told the Commissioner that she has managed to keep going because ‘I am a fighter’.
Frannie was told by a lawyer that because of ‘the path you’ve taken’, it would be difficult for her to win a court case. He told her that she would have been better off if she had turned to drugs or alcohol, rather than running a business and being in a long-term marriage.
‘It just takes you back to think, “I’m not believed” or “I’m not good enough” or, “What do I have to do, throw myself under a truck to get personal injury?” … Just because a person looks a certain way, it doesn’t mean there’s nothing going on inside.’
Frannie believes it is important that her story is heard, ‘so this does not happen to any other child. I felt no one really believed me. I felt powerless and vulnerable as a child. Systems need to be implemented to give vulnerable children a voice … The child must be believed at all times’.