‘I was taken to court at the age of two I think it was, and I was charged with vagrancy. That says that in my file. I just thought, that’s stupid. … My parents were asked to leave the home they were in because they were behind in their rent, because Dad had problems after the war, and because he did his back in it was hard for him to find work, and consequently we ended up on the street.’
In the 1950s, Lorraine and her siblings were made wards of the state and sent to different babies’ and children’s homes in Victoria. At age six, Lorraine’s file records her as being a happy, healthy girl, but a year later reports about her had changed.
‘The abuse started at the orphanage. I was being abused along with several other girls that were in the dormitory with me. We’d be laying in bed of a night; we were all scared because we knew what was going to happen. Next thing the door would open and you’d hear this person come in and he’d say, “Who’s the lucky one tonight?”.
‘And this went on night after night, and we were threatened that if we said anything to our parents that they’d stop them from visiting. So we ended up, we couldn’t say anything because we were too scared, cause we used to cop hidings and everything else. We were made to, at one stage there I even had my head shoved in the toilet, bashed around the head and this must have been when I started wetting the bed, because I was classed as a very bad bed-wetter.
'They said in my file that I was sexually inclined. I don’t understand why they put that because how does a seven-year-old become sexually inclined? The abuse just kept going and going. It just didn’t stop.’
Lorraine’s older sister tried to protect her younger siblings and often took the blame for what they’d done. ‘I remember one night, I wet the bed and she changed my bed and put the sheets on her bed’, Lorraine said. ‘And they belted her head up against the wall and rubbed her nose in it and, oh God.’
When Lorraine and her younger sister were assessed for school, they were both classed as ‘backward’. By the late 50s, when they were sent for psychological assessment, both girls were displaying regressive behaviours. They were withdrawn and rarely spoke, except to each other and a few other girls.
When Lorraine tried to tell workers at the home about the sexual abuse, she was told that she was naughty and a liar. At school she’d stopped participating in lessons because she wasn’t interested in ‘the world of adults’.
The girls were transferred to a ‘special school’, both now categorised as ‘educationally retarded’. Here Lorraine excelled and her file notes that she was a ‘successful product’ of the home. Further sexual abuse was perpetrated on the girls in the school and in houses they were driven to where other men participated in raping them. ‘You just got so used to being abused and sexually assaulted that you never used to kick up a fight’, Lorraine said. ‘You’d just lay there and take what was given to you. It’s a dreadful thing.’
Lorraine told the Commissioner that after her attempts as a child to disclose the abuse weren’t successful, she didn’t tell anyone else for a long time. She felt embarrassed and ashamed and as she got older and understood the scope of the abuse, it made her feel ‘dirty’. Her mother, when she told her, was devastated. There’d been several requests by Lorraine’s parents over the years to retrieve the children, but each time government workers refused them.
Despite suffering nightmares and still feeling shame about being in the orphanage, Lorraine had built a successful life, training in a professional role, marrying and having children. The reason she’d been so strong she said, was because she never believed the authorities who told her she was ‘backward’ and she didn’t ever doubt her parents’ love.
In the three years before coming to the Royal Commission, she’d become involved in a support group for people who’d been in institutional care and had found it helpful, especially meeting other girls who’d been in the same home. She’d also reconnected with her brother she hadn’t seen for 37 years.
‘My childhood is on paper’, she said. ‘But my childhood was robbed. I didn’t have a childhood.’
She wanted her story known so it might help others. ‘The reason I wanted my story out there is because I think of these places now and I know in the back of my mind that somewhere along the line there probably is a child getting the same treatment that we went through. You’ll never stop it - honestly, you will never stop it - but you might be able to prevent a lot of it …
‘We definitely have to deal with it for the rest of our lives 'cause you can never turn back the clock. Never. But maybe you can prevent a lot of it from happening again because the orphanage I suppose when you look at it, it was probably understaffed, they weren’t trained. I don’t know. It’s a dreadful thing. And back in the 50s, 60s, I mean, there wasn’t a lot of trained staff back then …
‘I’ve sat down at times and thought about it … and I think to myself, how did they ever get away with it, and you know, what I really feel sad about is the fact that if they are still around and they are married, how can they live with that, knowing what they’ve done when they were younger to all those kids that suffered in the orphanage. I couldn’t live with myself if I did anything like that. It’s a dreadful thing. I just feel sorry for them really.’