Jacqueline's story

Jacqueline was born into a large family in Sydney and recalled a happy childhood up until she was eight. In the early 1960s, her mother left the family and soon after her father had ‘a nervous breakdown’. The children were separated, with some going to live with family members while others, including Jacqueline, were placed in various orphanages.

Jacqueline was sent to a Protestant institution where, she estimated, there were at least 50 children. One of her assigned jobs was to ‘feed the donkey’, which meant stoking the fire in the boiler room. When she was first told to do it, she went looking for a donkey in the yard. She was found by the gardener.

‘He came up and said, “What are you doing?” I said, “I’m looking for a donkey, I’ve got to feed a donkey”. So he said, “No, no, come in here with me; it’s the fire they’re talking about”. Well, it was; it was the fire, that’s what they called the donkey. So he said, “Come here and I’ll help you”.

'That’s how I encountered him, and then it was my job to go and feed the donkey every afternoon. And then he got friendlier and friendlier – till he got too friendly.’

Soon after Jacqueline started doing her afternoon chores, the man exposed his penis and began to fondle her genitals. The abuse then escalated to rape.

After six or seven months of repeated assaults, Jacqueline told the matron of the home – who called her a liar and locked her in a cupboard.

The abuse continued for another two months until one day the matron saw the gardener touching Jacqueline and told him to leave the room. Thereafter, Jacqueline’s chores were changed and she didn’t see the man again.

One of the things she’d struggled with was conflicting feelings about the man. ‘He was really, really gentle and I think that’s what made you feel safe with him’, she said. ‘And even when he was doing things to you, you still – I know this sounds sick and horrible, but you still felt safe and warm with him even though these things were going on. That’s what made you feel even dirtier … We knew things. I mean, I wasn’t a baby but it still made you feel comfortable.’

When Jacqueline was 12, the home started to accept boys, and after she saw girls ‘doing things’, she and a friend decided ‘we’re not going to have any of that’ and absconded. They were found by police and charged with being in moral danger. Following stays in two different facilities, Jacqueline was briefly put into foster care but this arrangement broke down.

Several years later, Jacqueline was sent to a notorious girl's home in western Sydney where she experienced a lot of abuse. It included being penetrated with a broom handle by older girls, and being groped and fondled by three staff members. She didn’t disclose any of the incidents because she was afraid of being sent to Hay Girls’ Home.

At 14, Jacqueline left Parramatta, found lodgings and got a job. She became pregnant and had her daughter, Louise, at 17. Government welfare services tried to take Louise into care but ‘a lovely magistrate’ remembered Jacqueline from childhood days and told her she had three months to demonstrate that she could care for Louise. This she did successfully and she was able to keep Louise in her care. ‘I was very lucky’, Jacqueline said.

Jacqueline told the Commissioner that she’d often been in relationships with ‘no hopers’, in whom she’d 'seen the good and tried to better them’.

‘I know that sounds weird but I think if you can give somebody a break, it helps them. Maybe I was trying to help myself by helping them, 'cause I’ve done nothing really but nurse and look after people … I always try to help other people because I know what it’s like to be crapped on.’

Louise accompanied her mother to the Royal Commission and recounted that her mother had told her about the abuse. ‘The only time it’d really come out is if Mum had had a few drinks and then sometimes she’d get really down and I’d wonder why. I mean, she tried to kill herself a few times.’

Jacqueline said she’d never had counselling, because ‘who do you trust?’ She was aware of her own triggers and thought it best ‘just to get on with life’.

‘I try not put myself in the position where it’s triggering’, she said. ‘You can’t keep saying to people, “Oh god!” You can’t, you’ve just got to get on with life. I’ve never been a person to want – I don’t know how to say this: I don’t want people’s sympathy.

'I’ve come forward because I want them to be very aware of what people can do to children, and how they can wreck kid‘s lives. They’re children, for god’s sake. Children will be naughty. We weren’t bad children, we were naughty children. We weren’t evil children. We couldn’t help it if Mum and Dad split up, that wasn’t our fault.’

Jacqueline said she was looked after by ‘the man upstairs’, who was ‘very important’ to her, and she valued her relationships in the community.

‘I’m a good friend to a lot of people. I’m loved by a lot of people in my community where I am now and where I’ve been, I can always go back and I’ve got the respect of them. And it did take me to my 60th birthday to realise all that.’

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