Lizzie has been piecing together her childhood in north Queensland from whatever documents she can find. She doesn’t really know why she and her siblings were put into a child welfare home in the early 1950s. But she does remember her mother getting into a train and leaving the kids with her father. ‘Deep down, I think we feel that we were neglected and my mother couldn’t cope.’
Lizzie was only three years old when she went into care, so her memories are hazy. But she remembers some ‘horrific’ treatment, such as being made to eat food she didn’t like, then being forced to eat it when she threw it up. Kids weren’t meant to stay long at that place so, with nowhere else available, she and her sister were moved to a nearby orphanage run by the Church of England. Lizzie was four by then.
The girls were treated badly there as well. The matron in charge was particularly cruel. Lizzie says she endured all three forms of abuse that the Commissioner mentioned – emotional, physical and sexual. The matron used to line up the children and cane them for wetting the bed. Lizzie was nearly drowned in the bath when her head was held underwater. Ever since then, she cannot stand being under the water and she has never learned to swim.
Lizzie was sexually abused by the gardener, a man who she thinks was in his twenties or thirties. She was six or so when it started.
‘I remember running, trying to get away, a few times. You’re sitting there on the grass and they’re trying to touch you in places … You’re only a little girl. I knew something was wrong and you tried to get away and run.’
Telling anyone was out of the question. ‘We actually didn’t know where to go ... Who do you talk to about it? And will they do any good?’
Every now and then there were picnics, where Lizzie was allowed to mix with children from other homes. She heard terrible stories from them about what they were going through.
Then, when she was eight years old, her parents took both sisters out of care and moved to another town for her dad’s work.
That was the end of the abuse but not its effects. Lizzie believes the trauma from her childhood influenced many of the bad decisions she made in life. ‘You make very bad judgments and very bad choices because you don’t have those role models … And emotionally … you don’t grow up with any love and emotion. You’re looking for it but you never find it.’
She was married very young but left her husband when he became violent.
Lizzie has a lot of anxiety and was highly strung for a long time. ‘I think I still have it but I manage it.’
She hasn’t had counselling. Nor has she used alcohol or drugs as a way of coping. She has a strong will to ‘move forward’ and has done several courses as a way of patching up the flimsy education she got when she was a child.
Lizzie didn’t find out until she was 16 that her family background was Aboriginal. It was one of the many things that was left unmentioned back in her childhood. She did discover from her files that her dad was paying to keep his children in the homes, even though ‘we didn’t see any of that for anything’.
She’s keen to chase up more facts about her years in care.
‘I would just like to know more about what actually happened to my childhood. And how it happened. And why … We felt like we were floating out there and no one cared.’