Janine grew up in Tasmania in the 1950s under the strict authority of a violent, alcoholic father. To cope, she often ran away from home. Eventually these escape attempts got too much for her parents to handle. Janine told the Commissioner, ‘It kept going and going and they made me a ward of the state in the finish’.
At age nine Janine was sent to a Salvation Army girls’ home. During this time she kept up her habit of running away, though now she was running back to her family, not away from them.
‘I never stole or hurt anybody or anything like that. It was just running away and not going to school and things like that. And when you need your mum, you need your mum.’
After two years the authorities responded. ‘They made a decision to send me miles away where I couldn’t run away.’ Janine was sent to a state-run girls’ home, located 500 kilometres from her family home. She said it was a harsh place where she and the other girls were denied their education and put to work doing long hours of hard, physical labour.
Despite the remoteness of the location and the threat of brutal punishment, Janine still managed to escape the home numerous times.
‘It took me a very long time to get from there back to home. But I did it. Got there plenty of times. I paid for it, though, in the long run. But no, I’d get back and see me mum and then the police would pick me up and take me back home again.’
On these occasions the staff would give her two weeks in the isolation cells as punishment. Janine also encountered sexual abuse at the home. She said that a gardener lived onsite with his wife. The wife was a lovely woman who ‘looked after us beautifully’ but the gardener had a frightening habit of hiding in the bushes and exposing himself to the girls. One day when Janine was about 12 he tried to push things further.
‘I got grabbed and he held me tight and tried to kiss me. Honestly I can’t remember if he touched any part of me body but I remember him kissing me and trying to drag me down to the ground and I just screamed and ran away.’
Janine experienced no more trouble from the gardener after that but she is sure that he continued to target other girls. One of these girls eventually reported him to the principal. Janine was asked if she was abused too.
‘I said yes at first, and I can still remember saying yes. And then when I seen his wife I had to say no. I had to say no and I did. I seen her crying and upset and that’s all I can remember.’
Janine doesn’t know what happened to the gardener or his wife after that. She left the home at 15 and lived with her parents again until she fell pregnant to a local boy. Her parents forced her to marry him. It was a hard time for Janine. She said, ‘He was a woman-basher and a jailbird. I had three kids to him’.
All three kids were taken from her and put into care. Janine did her best to get on with life. She said she coped with the ongoing trauma of the abuse by drinking alcohol, and it was only when drunk that she could talk about the past.
In her late 30s she was hospitalised and spent six weeks in ‘the nut ward’. She received psychiatric treatment and medication. ‘I come out of it all right but I still didn’t speak to them about anything in the past.’
The first time Janine discussed the sexual abuse with anyone was about 10 years ago during a drinking session with a friend. The friend had also been raised in care homes and understood. She has been supporting Janine ever since and stood by her side during the private session.
Janine said she came forward to tell her story to the Royal Commission because of two things. Firstly, she was inspired by a TV story where some women who had grown up just like her came forward and told their stories. ‘And they were talking about it and laughing and everything when they were being interviewed, so I said, well why can’t I? And it might make me feel a bit better inside.’
Secondly, she came forward because of her health. ‘I’ve been sick for the last, going on two years. I think being sick I just wanted to tell someone everything. Don’t want to take it to the grave with me.’