‘[We] had an abusive, alcoholic father. Over the years, [he] broke every bone nearly in my mother’s body. I was the child that he despised the most, so I got a lot of floggings … and then finally, my mother ended up in hospital, so the welfare came and took us and put us in [a children’s home].’ Hannah was 10 when she and her siblings were placed in care.
Elizabeth was six when the children were placed in the home. She recalled that her father ‘wasn’t the nicest of people’, but he wasn’t around much, and their mother ‘was just a quiet, loving person, and that’s how I remember [her]’.
Neither Hannah nor Elizabeth knew what their abusive father did for a living, but their sister Carol told the Commissioner that he did ‘nothing … he used to disappear … he was a bludger … He had women everywhere apparently’.
Hannah, Elizabeth and Carol grew up in regional New South Wales, and they and their siblings spent years in care before their mother was able to regain custody of them. The three women attended separate private sessions at the Royal Commission to tell of the physical, emotional and sexual abuse they experienced during their time in care.
On the day they were taken away, Carol had been injured while playing. Her father didn’t know that she was lying on the couch in the living room when he came home and began to bash her mother. When he saw Carol, ‘he dragged me by the hair, threw me down the front stairs … he was an evil man’.
In the mid-1960s, all the children were sent to a children’s home run by the Anglican Church, but they were eventually separated. Hannah and Carol were sent to another home after about two years; Elizabeth remained there for seven.
Elizabeth recalled that the matron ‘got rid of them as quick as she could. Got ‘em out the door. Anything to hurt Mum … It was all aimed at our mother … She tried to keep us as a family group away from one another … She just hated our mother and hated all of us. I have no idea [why], but she told us often enough she didn’t like us because we were [Mum’s]’.
All three women expressed hatred for the matron. Elizabeth described her as ‘nasty, vicious, selfish … bitter, just a horrible, horrible, horrible, person. Horrible’. Carol recalled that ‘her form of punishment was a jockey whip, the same as what my father used, actually’.
Carol told the Commissioner, ‘I look back on my life in the homes and that … I mean, they fed us, and they clothed us, but there was no such thing as love … [The matron] had a couple of children in there that were her nieces and nephews and they used to have the run of the place’.
One of the matron’s nephews was a boy in his late teens named Dave. Dave sexually abused both Elizabeth and Carol, and they know they weren’t the only ones. Elizabeth recalled catching him in the laundry with a girl aged about five or six.
Elizabeth was eight ‘the first time he tried to touch me up … he used to sort of corner me and like, do what blokes think they have the right to do, and he did that right up until I was 13, when he actually tried to rape me. He hadn’t tried to have intercourse with me before then. He was always touching me up, hence, I used to hide a lot’.
When Dave tried to rape her, Elizabeth fought back. ‘I kicked him in the balls. Then I punched him and I ran’. When Elizabeth tried to report him to the matron, she sent her to the psychiatric hospital, saying that she was a liar. After that Elizabeth was charged with being uncontrollable, and sent to a juvenile detention centre.
One day, Dave and another boy dragged Carol under the building. ‘They took my pants off and they started fondling me, and my brother … came under and he attacked ‘em.’ When Carol told the matron what happened, ‘I was a liar. I was telling lies and I got the whip and then I sat in a corner … and watched her tear the skin off my brother’s legs with the whip’.
Hannah told the Commissioner that she was sexually abused by an older girl at the Anglican home. They shared a room and ‘she’d get in my bed and …’ Eventually, Hannah was moved to a different room, before she and Carol were sent to a Protestant girls’ home. Once again, the matron there was ‘a nasty old woman … a really nasty woman’.
Carol recalled that ‘She would slap you round the face with a fist and that, but she didn’t use a weapon. She [degraded] you … You weren’t worth anything and nothing will ever become of you. She … took me out of school … I’d only done three months of first year high school and she took me out of school and stuck me in the laundry and kitchen in the home’.
At the Protestant home, Hannah was groped and fondled by a maintenance man. ‘At the back of the home, we used to be made to go and help bring the wood and stuff in … and he would bail us up in the woodshed … We would tell people. No one listens. So we just … tried to not be the person to go and help him.’
When Carol was about 14 she discovered that if she ran away from the home, she would be sent to a detention centre for six months or a year and then be able to go home, instead of waiting to be released from her state wardship at 18. So she ran away, and was sent to a girls’ training school for a year. Once she was released, she returned to live with her mother.
Girls at the training school were regularly called to the superintendent’s office at night for ‘punishment’, and Carol would see them returning to the dormitory, crying.
‘I was sent up a couple of times. His idea of punishment … he had a cane and he used to make you lie over his desk and he’d pull your pants down and he’d hit you with the cane and then he’d rub your bottom … and after the first time it got a little bit more … touching you and wanting to play with you …
‘I was pretty nasty about it, actually. There was a thing on his desk. It was like a glass paperweight or something. I threw it at him … He bashed the shit out of me. Absolutely flogged me … I was bleeding everywhere.’ Carol spent a week in an isolation cell.
‘He never tried to take me back into his office, but he targeted me and he had his form of punishments … He used to give me a bucket and a toothbrush and I had to do the whole assembly area … He used to do it to me every other night.’
Hannah believes that the trauma she endured during her childhood ‘has made me a lot wiser and stronger, [but] it took me a long time to trust people, especially adults. [Basically], I’ve learned to live with it. I just get over it and move on’.
Elizabeth also has trust issues. ‘To this day, I don’t choose to have a lot of friends … I don’t trust people.’
Carol told the Commissioner that she has always kept to herself, especially after ‘I had to sort of hide all the time from Dave, and I basically stayed to myself. I still don’t associate with people. I don’t like people’.
Although Carol has been with her husband for over 35 years, he has learned ‘not to invade my space … I’ve got more of a rapport with animals [than people]’.
When Elizabeth applied for compensation from the Anglican Church, she ‘pretty much felt violated by the damn bloody priest, rector, whatever they like to call themselves, and his comments [that] we should have been grateful that we were brought up in a home and had a roof over our heads … the dickhead said it to the solicitor … the diocese bastard’.
Hannah told the Commissioner that she wanted to come to the Royal Commission because, ‘People need to know … [The matron from the Anglican home] … needs to have her [community service award] stripped from her, [because] people think she was a wonderful person’.
Elizabeth added that she was ‘hoping some of the other girls might have come in about that mongrel, [Dave] … And can that [matron] get that [award] taken off her? That’s one thing I do really want. And if it’s buried in the grave with her, dig it up and take it back’.