In the mid-1960s, when Linda was very young, her mother walked out on the family. In the aftermath, Linda’s father cared for Linda and her siblings on his own until Welfare intervened.
‘The welfare picked us up when I was on the way to school’, Linda recalled. ‘When we went to court, the judge’s name was Mr Harry. He had a big hammer and said “You cannot take care of these children, Mr Lewis. They’re going into children’s homes”.’
Linda’s brother was sent to a boys’ home while six-year-old Linda and her sisters were sent to a Protestant girls’ home in western Sydney. The home was run by a cruel and callous woman named Mrs Clifford who would slap and insult Linda and the other little girls and force them to do long hours of domestic labour.
Mrs Clifford had no regard for the children’s needs, even when it came down to matters of life and death. Linda recalled many nights when her sister suffered severe asthma attacks. Linda would rush to Mrs Clifford’s room and beg for help.
‘She would come round and push us around and tell us, you know, if she doesn’t stop it she’s going to make her walk around the block. So I used to have to sit up with my sister all night. All night.’
Linda was very protective of her sisters and of the other young girls in the home. She said that the only good memories she has of that time come from the moments she spent looking after the smaller children.
When Linda was about eight or nine years old a woman named Ellen came to work at the home. One night after Linda had put the little kids to bed she went downstairs to polish the shoes. There Ellen cornered her. She forced Linda to touch and kiss her breasts and mouth, then moved aside Linda’s pants and touched her vagina.
Afterwards, Ellen threatened Linda. She said that if Linda ever mentioned the abuse to anyone she – Ellen – would report Linda to Mrs Clifford. Linda, who was terrified of Mrs Clifford, took this threat to heart. It played on her mind every time her grandmother came to visit.
‘I remember thinking “I should tell Nan”, but I was too scared to tell Nan, ‘cause if she went up there and said it I was going to get into trouble.’
Linda’s grandmother was the only relative who ever came to see her at the home. There was no one else Linda could turn to. And so she kept quiet and endured many more assaults until, after about a year, Ellen stopped working at the home.
All up, Linda lived at the home for five years. At age 11 she moved in with her grandmother. She was 15 when she moved out on her own, and 19 when she had her first child. Over the next few decades Linda raised several happy, healthy children and built a successful career as a carer.
To the outside world Linda seemed to be in control of her life. Inside, however, she was wracked with anxieties.
‘I don’t like being naked. I’m very self-conscious about being naked. I don’t know why. I don’t have much confidence about myself. Although I’m great with people and caring and stuff, but inside here I’m, I don’t know, I’m lonely. I’m very lonely inside. I feel like this little girl that was never allowed to be a little girl.’
Linda kept the abuse to herself for most of her life. Recently her son – who knew a little of what she’d been through – suggested to her that she contact the Royal Commission. ‘He was onto me’ Linda said. ‘He was right onto me. I said “Oh, okay then”. I probably was avoiding it.’
Linda contacted the Royal Commission and ended up speaking to a counsellor and to a legal service. Linda is approaching the legal process in the same way that she approaches most things in life: as a carer, focused on the needs of others. She said that if there are other victims out there who need her help then she’ll pursue legal action but ‘for my own self I don’t think I want to go through that’.