Kerry was the youngest child to be placed in the girls’ training centre in Tasmania. Only those aged 16 and over were meant to be accommodated in the facility but a shortage of places led to a judge sending Kerry there as a temporary measure until a vacancy in an appropriate place became available. This was around 1970 when Kerry was not yet a teenager.
What was meant to be a two-week stay ended up being six years. It happened, she said, because the government ‘forgot about me’ and because the ‘governor’ of the facility, Neil Howard, dismissed any approaches from staff that Kerry shouldn’t be there, and then actively hid her when people from outside the facility came to visit.
In a statement provided to the Royal Commission and during her private session, Kerry said she believed she’d be in the facility only while her mother saved enough money for petrol to come and pick her up. She told the other girls she wouldn’t be there long, but ‘weeks passed and no contact or visits were made’.
Years went by, and Kerry ‘realised that my mother was never coming back to get me’. Other girls in the facility were upset that Kerry was there and tried to protect her.
Howard was well-known for sexually assaulting the girls – something Kerry found out after she experienced it herself. When she was barely a teenager, she was working in the pantry when Howard put his hand down her pants and digitally raped her. She pushed him away and said, ‘No’.
‘I told the girls that afternoon as I was very sore’, Kerry said. ‘Girls ran me a warm bath and were crying, and scrubbing my pants to wash away the evidence as I did not get periods yet.
‘I approached one of the staff, someone who I thought I could trust. This staff member then told the governor. The governor called every girl and staff member together and said to them in front of me that I had made accusations and therefore [he] was sending me to isolation for eight weeks. No one was to make contact, look at or even talk to me. I would be scrubbing and cleaning the whole main building every day, and polishing the floors.’
Kerry already had already experienced the isolation unit. One day she’d jumped on a horse and ridden to the property’s fence line, then taken off on foot in a bid to escape and find her mother. She wasn’t gone long before she was found, but she refused to return quietly. ‘It took them two hours to get me out of a blackberry bush’, she said.
As punishment for the escape attempt Kerry had been sent for four weeks to the isolation unit, a small building with 12-foot high brick walls. ‘I was given ice cold baths each morning and there was no contact or talking with anyone. I was only to speak when spoken to and always respond with my head down.’
Throughout her time in the facility, Kerry’s education was non-existent. Teachers came and went and Kerry was never at the same level as other girls. She left at 16, unable to read or write.
‘I was always willing to get work even if it was factory work or something like that, sweeping floors. But that’s the only thing I discovered I knew how to do, because of my reading and writing.
I’ve taught myself since to read and write. I’m a pretty good reader. I’ve taught myself running writing. My printing is poorly but my running writing is good. Now I’m reading. I collect lots of books from the op shops. I just jump over the words I don’t know. Sometimes I try to break them up in syllables.’
In her teens, Kerry moved to the mainland. As she travelled, she met up with people who used drugs, and began using heroin ‘to try and forget my whole past’. However, in the early 1980s Kerry decided that ‘there must be a better life than this’, and started on a methadone program. She was on methadone for 25 years before giving that up as well. She was now drug-free.
In 2012, with the help of a Salvation Army community worker, Kerry made a statement outlining her experiences and memories of being in the facility, and giving an account of her life thereafter. She had since been referred to a legal firm and is now following up avenues to pursue a civil claim against the government of Tasmania.
In the area in which she now lives, Kerry said she is known as someone people could turn to if they needed help. She particularly enjoys working with and supporting young mothers.
Kerry recommended that people who are in charge of children be married. Howard’s wife had left him before Kerry had arrived at the facility, and the talk among girls was that the wife had done so after finding out about his sexual abuse. Kerry said that 'He should have been taken out of there as soon as the wife discovered that there was some truth in it’.
‘Hopefully in the future something good happens. The first thing I want to do is get a horse and a dog. We did have one at [the facility]. That’s how I ran away. That was my excuse … how I got down to the front gate – to exercise the horse. I exercised my legs and took off instead.’