Hillary's story

‘It was like everywhere in my life was violence and abuse and I knew no better.’

In the late 1940s, Hillary was taken as a newborn baby from her mother and placed into the care of a Sydney couple, Doreen and Clem White. The Whites formally adopted Hillary when she was 10 years old and what still remains unclear to Hillary is whether her original placement with the Whites had been a formal foster care arrangement or something more informal.

Doreen White was a severe disciplinarian who’d beat Hillary with brooms, planks of wood and leather belts. Visible bruises were explained away by Doreen as being part of Hillary’s clumsiness.

As a young girl, Hillary was sexually abused by a neighbour who would take her into nearby bushland and digitally penetrate her. She was also sexually abused by the male relatives of a neighbour as well as an adoptive cousin.

When Hillary was about 13, her birth mother came looking for her but was turned away by the Whites. She wasn’t seen again and Hillary had questions about the legality of the adoption because when she found her file, she noticed that her birth mother’s signature had handwriting identical to that of a witness to the document.

In the early 1960s, Hillary ran away from the Whites and was brought before the Children’s Court and put on probation. A year later, at 16, she was admitted to the children’s ward of a Sydney psychiatric hospital. At her private session and in a written statement to the Royal Commission, Hillary recalled being given an injection in the hospital after which she felt ‘very weak and strange’.

‘Sometime later that night I was raped by a female nurse in my room. I was in bed, the light was off and all I could see was a large female in a hospital uniform.’

Hillary described the nurse lying on top of her and digitally raping her. The next day, Hillary ran away to Kings Cross. Picked up by police, she tried to tell them what had happened but they didn’t believe her and called her ‘a crazy slut’.

Returned to the psychiatric hospital, Hillary refused to participate in group therapy sessions because there were ‘child molesters, drug addicts, alcoholics’ and other adults in with children. Men and women were accommodated on the same ward and men would often walk into female rooms. ‘I often heard screaming in the night and if you got out of bed the nurse would come and inject you with some kind of medication.’

Hillary was discharged and sent back to the Whites who were told that hospital staff ‘could not find anything mentally wrong’ with Hillary. When told of the abuse, Doreen and Clem told Hillary that she should ‘forget it and put it behind’ her.

That same year, Hillary was sent to a Sydney girls’ shelter where she was stripped naked and ‘thrown into a room where two female staff bashed and verbally abused me’.

Forced to have a vaginal examination, Hillary began bleeding heavily and was put into an isolation room where there was a ‘dirty horsehair mattress on the floor that reeked of urine’. She was given a mug of water and a slice of bread, and told to clean up her blood from the floor.

From there, Hillary went to a government-run girls’ home and training school and over the next year stayed there for one period of seven months and another of three months.

During the time she was in the home, Hillary was beaten by staff members and saw the same behaviour meted out to other girls. She recalled being punched in the face, body and back and repeatedly kicked by one man, Warren Dixon, who she later reported to New South Wales Police. At the time of speaking with the Royal Commission, her matter was still being investigated and Dixon was before the court on separate charges of sexual assault against other girls.

As well as sustaining beatings in the home, Hillary was approached by a female staff member who tried to touch her breasts and kiss her. When she objected, she was slapped and punished. She recalled being forced to have a further internal medical examination and again bled heavily afterwards.

After leaving the home, Hillary lived on the streets and ‘was extremely traumatised, felt degraded, violated and useless’. She drank heavily and engaged in petty crime with her life ‘spiralling out of control’.

Over a few years however, she travelled around New South Wales and was ‘working very hard’. She then decided ‘I need to go back to school’ and studied and attained degrees in human services, after which she started working in youth welfare and child and family services.

Hillary told the Commissioner she was concerned that many of the risk factors she’d experienced as a child were still present in contemporary care. She’d seen adults housed with young people when there were no vacancies in adult supported accommodation. She was also aware of situations where children had been placed in foster arrangements with people who were unsuitable to care for them.

When she reported her concerns about a child being sent to the home of a ‘known drug dealer’, she was told to ‘be quiet’ and that ‘at least the kids are with her, they’re off the street’.

Hillary hadn’t ever had counselling but had become involved in a care leavers’ group which she found helpful and supportive. She considered herself a survivor.

‘Nobody’s going to beat me, and I sort of still have that thing – you see there’s an injustice, I want to be there. I want to fix it.’

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