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Joyce's story

‘I’m 85 and I never told anyone about this before.’

Joyce still doesn’t understand why she and her younger brother and sister were removed from the family home in the early 1940s. ‘The court said it was because of morals. The only thing I can think is because my older sisters were dating servicemen. But there was nothing wrong going on and the men never stayed in the house. Our Mum always looked after us.’

The court order placed Joyce, then aged 14, and her siblings in a state children’s home. After a few months Joyce was placed with a foster family in Brisbane, from where she went to work in a clothing factory each day. They were among many families who welcomed servicemen into their homes, providing short term accommodation for them during the war.

Joyce said she came out of work one day to find one of the servicemen waiting for her with the offer to walk her home. ‘I thought, that’s nice, someone looking after me.’ They had walked a short distance when the man forced Joyce down a dirt track and raped her. That night, he came into her bedroom and raped her again. Joyce said she didn’t tell anyone because she didn’t know how to, nor what she would say. ‘The next morning he was gone, and none of them could work out why.’

Joyce told the Commission that she asked to be moved back to the children’s home, but was sent to a Salvation Army girls’ home instead. She said her first sight of the building was frightening. ‘When I looked up I saw this big place with bars on the windows. I didn’t know where I was going, because no one had told me. It was a terrible place.’

Life in the home consisted of six days’ work in the washing and ironing rooms.

Sunday morning was church and on Sunday afternoon the girls were given a couple of boiled lollies and the afternoon off. ‘I was on my feet non-stop for three years. When I had my teeth out, I thought I might get the afternoon off, but it was straight back to work.’

Joyce and other girls ran away from the home many times over the years, but they were always brought back. A Salvation Army document recorded that she’d absconded six times, but Joyce thought the number was higher than that. When a girl was brought back after running away, she’d be locked by herself in an exposed wire cage for 10 to 14 days.

‘The other thing they did if you’d been gone overnight was send you to the clinic, and you had to be examined inside. I don’t know what that was for. It frightened the life out of me.’

The only visitors to the home were Salvation Army officers. ‘You couldn’t talk to them, because they were part of it. I had no one to complain to.’ Joyce said she’d tried to tell the police about conditions at the home.

‘I remember them saying, “You poor little buggers. We’ll take you the long way back”. Then when they’d pull up at the home, they’d say, “Here they are, they just need a good belting”.’

Joyce left the home when she was 18.

She had trouble reuniting with her family. ‘We were all strangers. I think my mother died of a broken heart. I’m just getting together with my sisters and brother now, at our age.’ Joyce married and had children, and has many grandchildren of whom she’s proud. She said she can’t believe it’s 70 years since she was removed from her mother. ‘I’ve got no bad memories of my home. I’m still mystified as to why they took us.’

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