Jolene’s early childhood was spent living in bushland in south-western New South Wales, with Gemma and Dianne, her little sisters.
Her mother struggled with alcohol, and her mother’s brother was usually drunk too. ‘My uncle actually, he wanted me to do things with him. Which has sort of stayed in my head. I was only a little girl.’ She was never able to tell anyone about him sexually abusing her.
Jolene didn’t know her father for many years, until he contacted her after her mother died. By then Jolene was in her mid-20s, with kids of her own.
Mostly, their nan looked after them, and Jolene was ‘the mother figure, to Dianne and Gemma, before we got taken away’.
The three girls were removed from the family by Welfare when still very small, and sent to live in a children’s home run by the Child Welfare Department. They weren’t called Jolene and Gemma and Dianne at the home, but only referred to by the numbers assigned to them – 63, 64 and 65.
Jolene was sexually abused by older girls at the home. ‘While I was there, I was actually being fondled’, she told the Commissioner. ‘I was bullied, besides groped.’
She tried to stop girls sexually abusing her sister Dianne too.
‘I remember sort of going over the top of these girls, trying to get at her. I remember that like it was yesterday ... There wasn’t anyone around to help us.’
When Jolene was 13 years old, the three of them moved into foster care, with Terry and Tonia Newman. The Newmans had a few kids of their own, all of them very young.
Tonia would often be out of the house, going away to play pokies, ‘and leave me at home ... to look after the rest of the kids in the house’. Jolene doesn’t remember Welfare ever coming to check how the foster placement was going.
Terry sexually abused Jolene when Tonia wasn’t there. ‘A month after I was in with fostering, he [Terry] started taking me out the back and doing things.’
He continued to sexually abuse her for a few years. He said that if she spoke to anyone about this, ‘he’d send us back to the home.’ She doesn’t know if Terry molested her sisters too.
Jolene left the Newmans when she was 15. She was heavily pregnant and sleeping on a park bench when a priest found her, and sent her to a hostel ‘to give away the baby’.
She moved back to the Newmans, got her own place for a while, and went back to them again.
That last time she went there, Terry was alone in the house. He offered her a beer. She drank a small amount, but woke up naked in Terry’s bed the next morning.
It was apparent she had been drugged, and that he had raped her. ‘I said, what the hell did you do to me? I just got my clothes, and I got the hell out of that house.’
A few months later, she found out she was pregnant again, this time to Terry. ‘I did fall pregnant, not of my own accord’, and she gave birth to a son.
Terry is dead now, and Jolene wants nothing to do with Tonia. When she confronted Tonia about what Terry had done to her as a child, ‘she just more or less blamed me, you know. I was only a kid.’
Jolene isn’t sure how her son is these days, as their relationship broke down after he discovered how he was conceived. They used to talk, ‘but he come in and heard me talking about exactly what happened’, and this caused problems. She recently wrote him a letter, and hopes they can somehow start speaking again.
Jolene lives with low self-esteem and depression, and has come close to suicide. After a break-up with her partner, she began drinking heavily. ‘I just didn’t care anymore, I just totally lost it.’
It is hard to for her to trust anyone, especially people in authority. ‘The only thing that keeps me going is my grandkids, mainly. You know, something to look forward to.’
Recently, four decades after she was sexually abused, Jolene started speaking about these experiences. She told her Aboriginal caseworker about some of it, and now has the support of a psychologist too.
As to whether she thinks of herself as a survivor, she told the Commissioner, ‘I’ll probably survive, put it that way. I’ve got to keep going. I’ve kept going all these years mate, and I’m still doing it.’