Lenore Deborah's story

Lenore has three university degrees and numerous awards. She can look back at solid achievements that have inspired many.

She can also recall a childhood of horrors when she was sexually abused by her father, flogged and rejected by her mother, consigned to a Salvation Army children's home at age five and attacked on her first night.

'We three girls suffered incest from our father – with our mother's knowledge. We saw her watching … Then one day at school I was taken to the headmistress's office, there were a man and a woman there, and the headmistress said I had to go with them.'

Lenore is uncertain what precipitated the family breakup – her sisters and brothers were scattered to different parts of the state – but her new home wasn't an improvement. That first night a Captain Thomas abused her. 'She pulled me out of bed, stripped me, took me downstairs … there was a post that was all broken and splintered, and she picked me up and jammed me on it.

'It tore my flesh – I still have scars. Eventually she pulled me down; I had big splinters in my bottom, I was bleeding. She took me into the kitchen, made me bend over the chair, and she pulled the splinters out and poured iodine on me, which burnt like hell.'

The punishments continued.

'Every day there was terrible brutality … You could be shut into a tiny cupboard, where you couldn't sit down, for hours and hours. Or scrubbing the floor with brushes that had hardly any bristles, our fingers used to bleed – and at every floorboard we had to sing choruses to God.

'This woman lieutenant was constantly bashing us … You never knew if you were right or wrong. If you replied, you were backchatting, if you didn't answer you were ignoring them. So you got hit anyway.'

Then there was the male major.

'He gave us Bible lessons … He used to smirk at my friend and I, and tell us what darlings we were, and that God had sent him to look after us. He used to take me out the back to this room where there was a sink and a bunk …

'He told me that as I was old enough to become a woman, and because I had no father, he would do this for me. He made me remove my undies, inspected my under-formed breasts and my vagina. Then he pulled down his trousers and forced my head down on his genitals – and the smell repulsed me. He made me do it to him – and I was sick and ran to the sink to wash my mouth out.

'The next week was the same – except he ended up having intercourse with me.

'This went on for months … I hated it and couldn't understand it. But I came to believe that this was just what men did, and that we were there for them when they wanted to do this. After all, my dad did similar – and he was always right.'

And her father was waiting, ready to resume the abuse when Lenore was returned to home for an attempted 'reunification'.

'He molested me again … the abuse was intolerable. My mother hated me so much: apart from flogging me, I'd walk past and she'd smash a glass in my face … So I ended up going back to the home.'

Some years later there was another attempted reconciliation.

'They sent me to work at a bakery. And because I was 10 minutes late coming home, my mother locked me out; she accused me of being with men.

'From that time on I slept rough – railway stations, wherever I could. I don't know where I got money from, I probably stole it.’

At the age of 15, Lenore caught a train upstate. 'The station master said not to worry, he'd look after me – I was looking for a hostel. He gave me sardine sandwiches, put me to bed – and then he raped me.'

'I was passive; I thought that was what you were supposed to do.'

One bad thing led to another.

'The next morning, he'd gone to work, and I took a yellow lace dress, put it on and went to the station. And two detectives came up – and that was the start of my criminal record.

'I ended up at the children's court. My mother told them she didn't want me, all my dad said was, "Don't tell them what I was doing, that's between father and daughter".'

Lenore was sent to a girls' home where a doctor examined her for signs of sexual activity. 'He started asking, "How long have you been fucking around", and I said, "I don't, I don't". And then he raped me.'

The same pattern, over and over, 'when all I ever wanted, was for someone to love me, to care for me, to give me a hug and tell me things would be okay. I wanted so much to be needed'.

Released from the home, Lenore had nowhere to go. 'I stole to survive. Sometimes I was arrested for things I knew nothing about, but I always pleaded guilty because I thought I was worthless and needed to be punished.'

She pulled herself out of this spiral and became a hospital nurse. She met a young man called Bob. 'We became engaged … We never lived together, I never had sex with him until two weeks before the wedding – and believe it or not, I became pregnant from that one time …

‘And then two policemen were at the door, and they were very nice and they were after Bob … I asked if they would like to come and see my wedding gown. They looked at each other, and one of them took my hand and explained that I wouldn't be getting married.

'They were after Bob for maintenance – for his wife and four children.'

Lenore scrimped and saved, working all the overtime she could get at the hospital, and bought a set of baby clothes. The day she gave birth, 'they gave me some document to sign … Little did I know that I had signed his adoption papers'.

Many decades on, 'I've got all his papers, but he's not looking for me. I don't know what to do from here …'

Eventually Lenore formed a new relationship – 'on the rebound' – then found herself trapped with a 'very cruel man'. They had a child who was fatally injured during a violent altercation.

Lenore attempted to kill herself several times. 'I cut my wrists … Or I took Valium overdoses, thinking they'd take me to hospital and then they'd fix me.' Eventually she escaped from the relationship but resorted to stealing once more – 'and I was jailed for three months. So ashamed … you've got no idea'.

She came out determined to work. Lenore was accepted as a mature university student and went on to top her class, and work in the welfare field. Many years later she has retired, and her sometimes strained marriage is on an even keel. 'My husband has changed dramatically and we're very much in love – we hold hands in public!'

Other relationships are less fruitful. 'I don't feel accepted as an Aborigine. And I feel completely isolated – I don't have any personal friends except the neighbour, and I'd love to have someone. I'm very lonely.

'I've pictured my life like a ladder, this old big long ladder, with a puddle underneath of slimy muck. And every time something bad happened to me, I'd just go up one rung. The ladder's been very long, but I'm still climbing it.'

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