‘When my children were little, because I couldn’t tell them anything, I wrote a book’, Jane told the Commissioner. ‘When my husband left me I started to write it again.’
Jane has been urged by her psychiatrist and psychologist to get her now-adult kids together one day and give them each a copy. ‘They think it’s important, because it would help [the kids] understand.’
The story Jane has written is about her childhood, and the abuse she experienced growing up in residential homes in regional Queensland in the 1960s and 1970s.
Jane was one of a very large family. Every time her mother had another baby, the older children would be sent to a home for ‘bush kids’ for six to eight weeks, while the new baby got settled in. These homes were ‘fine’, Jane said.
When Jane was about 10 her mother gave birth again and this time, when she brought the baby home, the other kids didn’t go anywhere. They were old enough to look after themselves and each other by then, Jane said. When the baby was about 10 weeks old Jane’s mother hurt it, deliberately. The police were called but by the time they arrived Jane’s mother had gone.
‘We have never ever seen her again’, Jane said.
After this the children were separated. One was taken in by a neighbour, and the others ended up in different residential homes. Jane and several of her younger sisters were first placed in a Salvation Army home. It was a brutal place where Jane was often punished for trying to protect her sisters.
‘I was stripped of all clothes, tied over a chair and smacked by a leather belt, several times, and then left naked on the chair for hours, or overnight, depends what I did wrong’, she wrote in a statement to the Commission.
She was also sexually abused by the officer in charge, Captain Reynolds.
‘I didn’t realise it was a serious crime but I knew that you don’t take your clothes off to anybody … He just always said, you know why you’re being punished, don’t you … If you don’t repent it will happen again.’
In the early 1970s, when Jane was 12, she and her siblings were moved to a home run by Assemblies of God (now Australian Christian Churches). This placement, where physical abuse was again commonplace, lasted some months. The next move was to a residential home managed by the Churches of Christ, where Jane and her sisters were reunited with other siblings.
To start with, this placement went well.
The house parents, Mike and Hannah Johannsson, ‘always showed love towards you …
‘We were given set jobs to do and we were all very happy. It was just like a real family’.
But the Johannssons left and were replaced by another couple, Ron and Barbie Henty. All was fine at first, but after a few months Ron Henty started coming into the bathroom at shower time. ‘He’d just come in, all the time, no knocking, just walked in and fumbled you, whatever. I was just like – this is not right.’
When Jane found ways to avoid him, he came into her bedroom instead. He ‘started touching me or making his private part go in my mouth. He told me I had to be quiet, that this is good for me’.
When Jane was about 14 she tried to disclose what was happening to her, to the Churches of Christ minister at her local church. He told her to stop lying.
‘He told me that I was making things up. The minister said I was making it up.’
Jane left school at 16, found work and moved out of the home. She married young, and the relationship lasted close to 30 years. Her husband was a member of the Churches of Christ, and very religious. She tried several times to tell him about Henty’s abuse but he refused to believe her.
‘He sort of said, you’re not telling the truth. The Churches wouldn’t do that. And I said, you know, the Churches aren’t squeaky clean like you think they are. And he goes no, Christian people do not do that.’
Soon after Jane left the home, Henty was moved on to another role in the Church. He was later expelled after further allegations of abuse were made against him.
Jane told the Commissioner that she first became really aware of the consequences of the abuse when she became a parent in her early 20s. She suffered severe post-natal depression, and was put in touch with counselling services. Some years later, when her first child was about 10, she realised she was on a path to parenting her kids in a way she would regret. She said to herself, ‘No more. This is it. I have to get more help’.
She has been seeing a psychiatrist regularly ever since.
‘I think I wanted to stop the cycle’, she explained. ‘Specifically, you’re born into a broken home basically, and they say that it causes a broken home down the track. And I was wanting to stop that cycle – that no, it doesn’t always have to be that way. So that was my driving force.’
Jane has not sought redress or made any further attempt to report the abuse she experienced. She came to the Royal Commission because she had a message she wanted heard.
‘Because I haven’t been able to tell my children what actually has gone on, and my husband being such a Christian, I wanted the world to know – because I couldn’t tell my husband – that it’s not only the Catholic Church that’s bad. It’s other Churches. And everyone goes on about the Catholics – and yes, they may not be very good, they might be bad, but there are others who are just as bad.’