‘I remember the first day I was here in this country. I remember my little brother was taken away from me. He was pulled away from me. We were holding hands’, Izzy told the Commissioner.
Izzy was a child migrant who came to Perth by boat from England. She arrived there as a six-year-old, in the mid-1950s.
‘It was stinkin’ hot, flies everywhere’, she recalled. At the institution she was taken to, girls gave her shorts and a T-shirt and took her to look at the cow sheds and the pigsties. ‘I was crying because my feet were burning. It was March. I was really scared and I was worried about my brother.’
On her first night in her new home, Izzy wet the bed. On her second night the mattress, sheets and her pyjamas were taken away. She slept naked on the bedsprings.
‘I was so ashamed of myself. And after that life just didn’t seem to get much better.’
The childhood Izzy described to the Commissioner was characterised by abuse of all kinds. The children at the institution lived in cottages. Izzy stayed in several during her time there. At the first she was badly bullied by two older girls. They made Izzy and other younger children strip and do handstands. She had to polish the banisters by sliding down them until she could hardly walk because of the bruising to her crotch. She was made to walk through an ‘archway’ of children who beat her.
Eventually the older girls left. ‘I was so glad’, Izzy recalled. But their departure meant she was re-housed, this time in a cottage where the supervisor, Mrs Sculthorpe, was strict and cruel. The girls in her care had to do manual labour and were physically punished for any perceived failures or infringements.
There was other abuse to contend with too.
The principal punished Izzy by making her pull down her pants and bend over the couch. Then he’d ‘whack you on the bum’, she said. ‘I didn’t realise till somebody told me, that’s assault.’
One of the cooks was known for masturbating in front of the children. ‘He was always playing with himself, pulling himself off and everything.’ One day when Izzy was playing on the monkey bars he grabbed her nipples and told her, ‘You’re getting to be a big girl now’.
There was no one Izzy could tell about these incidents. ‘No, because nobody listened.’
Her unhappiness at the institution was underpinned by homesickness and loss.
‘The whole time, I was writing to my dad. My dad was lonely; he missed us. I just wanted to go home and be with him.’ Izzy didn’t see her father again. He had died by the time she returned to England as an adult, much later in life.
When she was 12 or 13, Izzy embarked on a series of attempts to run away. The first time was after Mrs Sculthorpe attacked her one morning. ‘The wood was wet, the fire wouldn’t start … [Mrs Sculthorpe] lost her temper because we couldn’t get the fire going to cook the porridge for brekkie and she hit me with the poker.’ That day when Izzy went to school, she ‘just got off the bus and started walking’.
She was found and brought back, but she kept trying. She and a friend hoped to get to Fremantle, stow away on a boat and return to England.
‘That was our main aim when we were that age, was let’s go home. England was home still. It wasn’t home where we were.’
They didn’t get there. Instead, Izzy was taken back to the institution and later to several other placements, including her older sister’s home - where she was sexually assaulted by her brother-in-law - and eventually a foster home in Perth, living with Mr and Mrs Mitchell.
‘Then it started all over again. [Mr Mitchell] used to stick his fingers inside me, and suck me on the breast – I just didn’t want him to do it.’ The assaults took place most days for the two or so years that Izzy lived with the Mitchells. Izzy tried to speak to Mrs Mitchell about it, and to her child welfare officer, but found it impossible.
‘So I just got angry, and I just got all my school books and said I’m not doing this anymore, I’m stupid, I’m no good.’
Izzy has struggled with low self-esteem and lack of confidence throughout her life. She married young and was a victim of domestic abuse. She has suffered from depression. ‘Lots of times I’ve just thought “This is it; I don’t want to live any more”. I’ve tried a couple of times – when I was being abused by my husband and that – but something always dragged me back to earth.’
She has several children, and now grandchildren. Her first child, born when she was very young, was a ‘lifeline’, she said. ‘She just made me feel like I was needed, and I can love this little girl without question and she’s going to love me.’
Izzy received $28,000 from the Western Australian government redress scheme and has had financial support to return to England and seek out relatives there. Her children know she was a migrant and that she grew up in a home, but she hasn’t shared other details of her childhood experiences.
‘I don’t tell my kids stuff’, she said. ‘I’m ashamed. I don’t want them to know what a horrible person I was. I just want them to know I love them.’ That’s a comfort she herself never had.
‘I just wanted someone to love me, you know. To listen to me. I don’t know exactly what I wanted, but basically that was it. I just wanted someone to care about me – to say one day, “you’re a good girl”. Something. Something nice.’