Gayle Lily's story

‘It is a brick that you carry.’

Gayle never had a ‘fuzzy warm support system’ from her family. Her father returned from the war as a ‘mentally wounded man’ who turned to alcohol to cope, and in the late 1950s her mother was placed in a mental asylum in Victoria. Gayle was a baby when she and her siblings were made wards of the state and moved to a children’s home in Melbourne.

When Gayle was five years old, she and four of her siblings were placed in a St Vincent De Paul’s orphanage. She was separated from her siblings as dormitories were organised by age. Gayle said the nuns were ‘harsh’ and she was subjected to their constant physical and psychological abuse.

Gayle remained at the orphanage until she was 17 years old. During that period, she attended a Catholic school nearby and was fostered into several homes during school holidays. She said that the families were often local parishioners of the church.

One of the homes Gayle was sent to, in the early 1960s, was that of a family in a suburb of Melbourne. She was sexually abused by her foster father several times. Gayle was about five at the time, and can’t now recall the man’s name. She felt unable to report what had happened when she returned to the orphanage.

Gayle was sent to another foster home in rural Victoria when she was 10 years old. She and her sister were placed there for a month during the school holidays. The Kennedys had a small home and no children. Here, Gayle and her sister were regularly fondled and touched by Trevor Kennedy, their foster father. Upon their return to the orphanage, Gayle reported Kennedy to the nun in charge but nothing further was done. Gayle and her sister never spoke of it again.

‘I don’t know why we never spoke about it.’

Gayle’s grades began to slip at school because she was unable to concentrate. She said she became involved with a ‘troubled peer group’, and though she was seeing the school’s psychologist at the time she didn’t reveal the abuse. The psychologist didn’t seem to see her behavioural changes as a concern.

At the age of 12, Gayle was moved to cottage accommodation that was part of a group home run by the orphanage. The home was ‘crowded’ with at least 10 other children being cared for by a foster mother, who had an older son who Gayle believed was at least 18 years old. The son would often ‘patrol’ the house without supervision. Gayle was sexually abused by him several times and she witnessed some of the other children being abused. When her foster mother found out about the abuse, the children were removed.

Gayle left the orphanage when she was 17 years old and moved to a suburb in Melbourne. She said she had no skills or education, but found employment as a factory worker. Shortly after, Gayle obtained secretarial skills through a retraining scheme. She was then able to get a job as a typist.

When she was 19, Gayle became pregnant. Facing single parenthood and a life of insecurity, she decided to relinquish her baby for adoption, as she thought it was the best option for the child. She said she believed it was the right thing to do but it is still a ‘painful memory’.

Throughout her adulthood, Gayle has struggled to connect with others. She said she has always been ‘frightened’ of being hurt. She also carries ‘shame’ from the child sexual abuse she endured. She has a tendency to ‘compartmentalise’ her life, she said.

Gayle had two children in her 30s with her now ex-partner. She said she was over-protective of her children, which she now recognises was an impact of the child sexual abuse. She felt she was ‘emotionally unavailable’ to them because she had no motherly role model. Her children are now estranged from Gayle and live overseas.

‘I was so over-protective with my daughters that they really don’t want have much to do with me.’

Gayle has never told anyone about her past. Coming to the Royal Commission for a private session was the first time she had spoken about her experiences. At this stage, Gayle has not made a police complaint nor taken any civil action. Her main focus is to reconnect with her children and to meet her, now adult, first-born child.

‘I want to go back to my girls and be honest with them. I just want to give them a little bit more of an understanding of who I am.’

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