‘I still don’t know how this all happened. I’m finding, trying to get research, but I’m not going very far … like a brick wall.’
Laverne doesn’t know why she was placed in an orphanage in rural New South Wales as a baby, but has little recollection of being there. She clearly remembers the next place she was sent to in the early 1950s however – a Catholic orphanage in Sydney. ‘I remember what the nuns were like. Oh my God … vicious.’
The children at the orphanage were subjected to physical and emotional abuse. The nuns used to hit them with a cane, ‘I mean, really hit you’.
‘You only had to look at the nuns and what they would do … lock you in a little cupboard … for eight to 10 hours. In a little cupboard … under the stairs. And you didn’t get out.’
Her red hair was a particular source of trouble. ‘The abuse … because they didn’t like a redhead. I can remember vividly, today … people would come to get the foster children. They’d say, “Not the redhead. No way. Not on your life” … other things … “Redhead. Bad tempered. No, no, no, no”. I can remember that.’
So, ‘I learned from them. Right, you don’t put up with this. I became a real redhead. Pull the habit off their head when they went to … hit me and punch me. I got the cane and hit ‘em back. Because that’s called self-defence in my books, even as a little child’.
Laverne attempted to escape from the home. ‘I tried to get out of the windows and in those days … they had big windows … with the big cord. I had my hands half-way out the window and they slammed it and broke both hands. They did this sort of thing … These are nuns.’
When Laverne was nearly seven, a couple called Jean and Harry Bayldon wanted to take in a child. They took her and another girl home for a trial period, to decide which one would stay with them. ‘She was sort of a friend, actually, but became an enemy because they couldn’t decide which one they wanted.’
Laverne decided to take matters into her own hands. ‘I set fire to the back shed. And I blamed her. Which is probably not really funny, but it’s funny, you know, when you think … you’re a child … six and a half … I thought, “I’ll blame her”.’
The Bayldons kept Laverne, and Harry sexually abused her ‘all the time … he was doing all sorts of things’.
Harry said that if she told anyone he would make sure she was sent back to the orphanage, ‘and he’d make sure they’d punish me a lot more than what he was doing’.
‘I should have called his bluff. But you know, sometimes we hide things. Unfortunately we actually do hide. I don’t know why we do.’
When Harry took Laverne to the park, he would buy ice creams for all the children there, except her. ‘He used to say, “Not you. You’re someone else’s leftover S-H-I-T” … Lovely man. Beautiful.’
When Laverne asked Jean if she knew what Harry was doing to her in the bathroom, Jean said she didn’t. Laverne told Jean, ‘He’s touching me where he shouldn’t be touching me and she said “Oh, he’s only trying to dry you”’. Laverne noted that ‘A horse can wear blinkers and pretend he doesn’t see anything too’. This abuse only stopped after Jean and Harry separated when Laverne was 14.
Laverne was also sexually abused by a priest when she was eight or nine. She and her friend Belinda would be at their Catholic church sitting on either side of the priest ‘in his big chair … and I could feel his fingers and I thought this doesn’t feel good. It really didn’t feel normal’. This happened frequently, for about two or three years. After Belinda died, Laverne told Belinda’s mother, who said, ‘Children. You imagine things. You don’t talk like that about a priest’.
When Laverne was 10, Jean used to travel quite a lot for work, and paid the mother of Laverne’s friend Caroline, to mind her. Caroline’s father began sexually abusing Laverne when she got up at night to use the outside toilet. This went on for about two years then Caroline told her mother what was going on.
From then on, Laverne wasn’t allowed to see Caroline anymore, ‘because I was telling lies’. Jean told Caroline’s mother ‘She’s got a vivid imagination. You know children’.
When she was about 13 or 14, Laverne was ‘a bit of a loose cannon … I think I was a bit unbalanced … I wanted to have a bit of fun and live life’. She began spending time with a friend whose brother was a bikie, and was set up to be gang-raped in a park. She never told anyone about thus attack, because the bikies threatened her. ‘You tell anyone … they’ll kill your mother. They’ll kill your father … I was too scared.’
As an adult, Laverne has been in an out of relationships, ‘looking for someone who would love me. Just who I am, not how I look. Someone who will say, “You’re a good woman … Come on, let’s build a life together”. That never happened. I’ve never been married. Not really’.
Laverne has suffered from ‘serious depression’ in the past and consulted a psychiatrist because, ‘I couldn’t handle life … I thought of killing myself several times … Thank God, I got enough sanity to pull back, thank God, and enough strength. Some haven’t’.
She came to the Royal Commission because, ‘I never want it to happen to another child’ and now that she has told her story, ‘it’s the last time I really want to say it’. Laverne told the Commissioner that these days she’s doing fine. ‘See this back? It’s pretty strong. Pretty strong.’