Geraldine Felicity's story

‘My recollections of family life is that we were all at risk and quite vulnerable … Our father went in and out of jail … for crimes to do with poverty rather than violence. And my mother, I think she would now be diagnosed with a number of different mental health issues …

‘She used to blame me a lot … and she used to beat me quite a bit. At the same time, I loved her … Still do. And I tried to look after her before I was five … And I tried to look after my [siblings] as well. In both things I failed.’

By the time she was five, Geraldine had taken on a lot of ‘mothering roles’ at home. Before she and her siblings were made wards of the state when Geraldine was seven, they all spent time in and out of care. At times their social worker had some of them staying for extended periods at her house.

‘We’d be all over the place. There were no real routines.’ The children’s paternal grandmother came to visit whenever their mother was having another baby, and their maternal grandmother, who ‘was very loving … cared for us a bit as well’.

Because their maternal grandmother came from a family that was involved with the Salvation Army, it was important to their mother that when the children were placed in care they went to a Salvation Army home.

Geraldine and several of her siblings were placed in a Salvation Army home in regional Victoria in the early 1960s, and Geraldine lived there until she was 16. In all the years she was there, her father visited twice and her mother three times. Geraldine found out much later that her parents could have had free train tickets to visit the children every weekend.

‘I guess when we first went there, I felt like part of me had died and we were just living like robots, just doing what we needed to do. I think the culture of it was such, that if anything happened we never spoke about it … You knew, without being told, you didn’t speak about anything pretty much.’

When a new matron came to the home, ‘I was actually her pet and as such, I had privileges … Everyone knew I was her pet without it actually being talked about’. Geraldine was asked to take on duties such as watching over the other children when they were in the dining room. ‘So it meant I wasn’t part of … I didn’t really have friends.’

The matron began watching Geraldine when she was getting undressed. ‘This started when I was about 12 until I was about 16. I thought it was sexual. I actually was confused by it. We were always alone and it was at different places, at different times. I don’t know why … it just became normal. She never, ever touched me, but she always looked at me.’

On one occasion, the matron asked Geraldine to go into a small lounge room. There was another girl in there. ‘[Matron] made [Alison] take off her underpants … She made her lie over her knee and she started hitting her bare backside. All the time she was watching me, looking at my expression, and I really don’t know why, but … it just made me feel really sick.’

Geraldine and several other girls were taken for drives on a bus by a friend of the matron. He used to take children on outings at another Salvation Army home. Uncle Ross made Geraldine sit next to him in the bus and while he was driving, and he began touching her leg and tickling her under her dress.

‘He was laughing and joking just like, this was just being normal … but it was really awful.’ Uncle Ross drove to isolated places and then took Geraldine with him, while the other girls stayed on the bus.

‘At some point I would forget. I would not remember. But I would remember when we came back [to the bus] … I would remember that I had forgotten, and I was really puzzled about what had happened – but I really don’t know, and I still don’t know now. But I knew it was something awful.’

Geraldine never told anyone about the sexual abuse she experienced as a child. ‘I never told anyone about anything.’

When she was 11, Geraldine began going on holidays with a foster family. Alison stayed with the family too. The two girls shared a bed, and Alison began sexually abusing Geraldine, digitally penetrating her. ‘It happened on a number of occasions.’ Geraldine believes that Alison was sexually abused at another children’s home, and was exhibiting learned behaviour.

After she left care, Geraldine married young and had children, but her husband was abusive and the marriage didn’t last. She began drinking heavily, and in her 20s and 30s she was ‘a mess, an absolute mess. I don’t know how I was able to keep working. I think that was the only way I could actually keep sane’.

Geraldine has now been with her current partner for nearly 30 years. ‘Having someone that actually knows what you’ve been through and isn’t judgmental is really good.’

Geraldine tried counselling but found it didn’t help. ‘My self-worth was so low. I felt so guilty, that if they ever talked about anything around those issues, I would run a mile.’

Geraldine began talking about the sexual abuse only about three years ago. The memories have been with her the whole time, but she held them in for so long because, ‘I felt so ashamed, and I blamed myself and I couldn’t talk about it. I coped with it, I guess, by writing.

‘I don’t write about the hardest things in my life, but I do write, so I try to make sense of things’.

Geraldine told the Commissioner that she still finds it difficult to accept that the abuse wasn’t her fault. ‘Maybe sometime I might be able to believe it.’

Geraldine was encouraged to come forward to the Royal Commission when some of her siblings began to talk about the abuse they experienced in institutions. She also attended some of the public hearings held by the Commission, and was determined to be one of those who had a chance to tell their story in a private session.

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