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Lila May's story

‘Then my aunty and uncle started getting me out of the girls’ home and taking me there, and I was made to work all the time I was there, on the weekend.

‘My uncle started sexually abusing me after the second weekend. I went back to the home and the matron knew there was something wrong, and I ended up confiding in her, which was the worst thing I could have done in my life, because when I confided in her she said I’d be all right, I wouldn’t have to go back there with them anymore.

‘But that weren’t true. She kept me the first weekend there and I was locked in the dormitory – not to mix with the other girls, and the second weekend after that, my aunty, my uncle, my father came – they all came and got me from the home. I was taken back to my uncle’s and aunty’s.

‘I was beaten by my father, my aunty, my uncle, her husband and my aunty’s daughter’s husband and her daughter. I was only supposed to be there for the weekend. They returned me five days later after I weren’t black and blue. And after that, every weekend I was forced there, and the matron always knew what was going on at that home.

‘And so then I started running away from there more and more … well, that’s when I became a ward of the state, because I kept going and going and going.’

As a child, Lila was sexually abused not only by her uncle, but by her cousin’s husband as well. Despite telling the matron of the Salvation Army girls’ home in which she lived and staff at the local hospital, she kept being returned to her relatives’ home for weekend leave.

In the early 1960s, Lila was transferred to a Catholic girls’ home in an adjoining area of Tasmania. She was about 10 when she arrived and in the nearly five years she was there she received no education and was made to work all day doing laundry that the nuns took in from ships, the military, hotels, motels and hospitals.

Lila described one of the nuns, Sister Clement, as ‘one of the most cruellest, most vicious people I’ve ever met in my life’.

‘She burnt me with cigarettes on my arm; I still wear the scar today … She shaved all my hair off to stop me running away, so called, but then she poured kerosene all over my hair. I had burnt eyes and face – for nearly three weeks I was locked in the infirmary.’

While she was in the home, Lila was sexually abused by a laundry man on about five different occasions.

At one stage her mother took her out on a day trip, but when she returned to take her for another outing, Sister Clement told her that Lila wasn’t there. Lila only found this out in her adult years. Her mother said that Sister Clement had told her that Lila wasn’t allowed to see her again and to stop coming.

While she was in the home, Lila became pregnant and ‘then they stole the child from me’. She had a brief reunion with her son in later years and found out that he’d been told that she was dead and that he too had been sexually abused in institutions as a child. He died suddenly before Lila got to know him well.

As soon as she could, Lila left Tasmania and moved to the mainland. ‘I got work in a nightclub. I became an alcoholic. I got on the drugs. I will tell you everything because that’s how it went, you know. And then – that probably happened for a couple of years and then I levelled out.’

Lila had several more children who have ‘never been in DOCS’ and she’d ‘never had any drama of any description whatsoever’ with them. When they were adults, she told them that she’d been sexually abused as a child.

Although she’d been drinking heavily and using drugs while her children were young, Lila ‘just one day snapped out of it, said “I’m over this, I’m sick of it”, you know? I’d been punished enough in my life’.

Sister Clement had told her that she’d always be in and out of jail. ‘Well, I’ve never been in jail in my life.’

In the early 2010s, Lila received $40,000 compensation, possibly from the state government. She’d accessed some of her welfare files but found they had ‘a lot of filthy lies’ in them.

Lila described herself as ‘honest but stubborn’.

‘I’ve been a loner all my life. I’ve had to do everything myself. So that’s just the way I am. I can’t break that mould.’

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