The old copy of the child protection act Gloria read stated that the government would ‘either ensure that you had your education or ensure that you had a good job. Well, they did neither for me. So I fell through the cracks, I guess’.
Gloria was made a state ward when she was about seven. Her family had travelled down to Sydney from Brisbane in the late 1930s. Her mother, widowed several times and now on her own with two kids, had to go out and work. With no one to look after Gloria and her younger brother Harry, they were put into a Protestant children’s home.
Years later Gloria found out she’d been labelled a ‘status offender’ in her records, meaning that her mum was too poor to pay for her stay in the home. ‘I’ve offended because I didn’t have enough money.’
This home in western Sydney wasn’t so bad, although it did block attempts by welfare to check on the kids. ‘The home says “These people are coming and if you don’t tell them you’re happy, well, you’ll get a belting”.’ The kids huddled together and decided any reporting they made wasn’t worth the beating they’d get later.
But the foster home she and Harry were sent to after that was 'horrific'. The foster mother tested Gloria first thing by making her wash a tubful of dirty hankies.
‘She must have seen I was going to be easy. What she did was use – it’s not too strong a word – use me as slave labour … My brother ate with her but I was told to eat on the verandah alone like a dog. They’d all go out … and leave me to mind the baby … “And you scrub upstairs and downstairs before we get home”.’
The family moved away and the foster placement ended. The matron at the Presbyterian children’s home Gloria was then sent to was her next source of torment. ‘She’d tell us we had to stand for hours with our hands in the air.’ If the children dropped their hands, the matron beat them.
‘But when she went to bed, sometimes we skittled off … She hit me across the nose with the leg of a chair and split it open.’ The damage done to her nose still affects Gloria’s breathing.
At 13, and still a state ward, Gloria was living with her mother. One day she and a friend were taking a shortcut through the army barracks. A soldier called out to them, took them into a building and sexually assaulted them both.
Gloria told her mother who then contacted the police. She believes that there were criminal proceedings – she remembers being in court – and that the offender was prosecuted. The assault made the newspapers. Gloria’s mum didn’t realise she could ask the journalists not to put the girls’ names in the paper. ‘So everything was there.’
Gloria was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder later in her life. She’s very distressed by the ‘continuance’ of her trauma from childhood, firstly through mistreatment at work and then during a battle for workers’ compensation after she was injured.
‘Help is needed for forgotten Australians who suffer workplace bullying as adults, after being abused and bullied in children’s homes.’
Gloria has been getting counselling, which has been helpful. Part of her resilience comes from doing art and also from having a supportive husband.
She finally did get an education, and the discipline and rigour required to do so has helped her through her ‘crashes’.
Gloria now tries to use what happened to her to help others. ‘That’s a driving force ... If I can discover what some of the gaps are … maybe someone will listen.’