Every second Sunday, Geraldine and her younger brother waited for the visitors’ bus to arrive at the children’s home, but nobody ever came to see them.
They didn’t know that back home in the UK, their mother and grandparents were writing to the Immigration Department in Australia about them. They wrote again and again, over many years, asking to have the children returned.
The department refused to send them back, and Geraldine was never told that the family had made any contact. For all of those years, ‘I hated my mother ... thinking she’d just left us, and she didn’t’.
Geraldine’s family first came to Australia as part of an assisted migration scheme in the 1960s. When Geraldine’s father was unable to find work, they decided to return to the UK.
Her mother and sister went ahead, leaving nine-year-old Geraldine and her brothers with their father. He couldn’t look after them, so they were taken into care. They never saw him again.
The children were split up. Geraldine’s older brother went to a reception centre, whilst she and her little brother were sent to a government-run farm home in regional Victoria.
The children were cared for by ‘aunts’ at the home. ‘I can’t even remember how many aunts I had when I was in there, but some of them were just nasty, like really nasty.’
One time when Geraldine was in the shower, an aunt came in and prodded her developing breasts. ‘She was poking me with a stick, and telling me that I’d been with the boys. I hadn’t been with the boys, but because of that, I thought I’d done something wrong.’
When she got her first period, she thought she was dying. ‘The aunt just threw a packet of pads at me and said I was a dirty girl.’
The children would be sent from the home on holiday placements, often on farms. They were usually worked hard, baling hay and milking cows. ‘And the men weren’t really pleasant. They used to try and get you when they could.’
Geraldine was sent to stay with Mr and Mrs Williams twice. Mrs Williams was kind, but Mr Williams sexually abused Geraldine by coming up behind her and groping her breasts and genitals.
A number of other times she was placed at Mary and Edward Bligh’s farm. Edward also sexually abused Geraldine. He molested another girl who was sent there, too. Geraldine doesn’t think that Mary ever knew what he did to them.
Geraldine refused to go on placements any more, to avoid the abuse. This upset her younger brother, as sometimes they would be placed together, and it was one of the few chances they got to spend time with each other.
She was asked to leave the home in her early teens. With nobody to turn to, she spent some time boarding in hostels, and living in a park. Feeling very alone, she attempted suicide. ‘I wasn’t coping, and I did run in front of a car.’
After being hospitalised, she began to get her life together and found stable housing. Her little brother moved in and she became his legal guardian.
‘All I ever wanted to do, when I left the home, was to get married and have a family.’ Her first husband was a violent man. For over a decade he beat her and their children. He told her that if she left ‘I’d go down the gutter where I belonged, because I had no family to take care of me’.
Geraldine did leave, though, and later remarried. She had more children with her second husband, and they also cared for a number of other kids.
As an adult she went looking for her father, but he had died by the time she found him. She later discovered her mother and sister were still living in the UK, and she speaks to her sister on the phone sometimes.
Geraldine requested her wardship files when she was in her 30s, after applying for a passport and being told she ‘didn’t exist’ in Australia. It was through her files that she learned her family had written all those years ago, wanting to bring her home.
There was even a court order in her files that ordered she should be sent back, although somehow this didn’t happen. Geraldine remembers that one time she and her brother were told they were being sent home. They packed their bags and waited, but nobody came for them.
Geraldine has struggled financially throughout her life, working poorly paid jobs as she didn’t get much education. She eventually received a small amount of compensation for her time in care.
When she was first at the home Geraldine played make-believe with her dolls, and ‘pretended that I was their real mother’. Today, family is still the most important thing in her life.
She told the Royal Commission it is ‘my family, my husband, my children’, that keep going through the hard times.
‘And I know a lot of people say, usually if you’ve had that upbringing you end up treating your children really bad, which I can’t understand ... I’ve always said, with my kids, I want them to have what I didn’t have, and to be the best mother I could possibly be.’