Louisa's story

Louisa and her siblings grew up in a safe, stable home in the outer suburbs of Sydney. Though Louisa’s mum could be a bit fierce with the hard end of the feather duster, she cared for the kids and her temper was often softened by the presence of Louisa’s dad, who was a gentle man.

Then in the mid 1960s, when Louisa was about 10, her father revealed that she and her siblings had been adopted. Louisa’s world fell apart. She ‘lost the plot’ and began wagging school and running away.

In her mid-teens she was sent to a state-run training centre for girls. One day she was examined by a visiting dentist who felt her breasts while she was sitting in the dental chair. Louisa tried to report him to police but the officers simply laughed at her.

A short while later Louisa left the training centre to live with her social worker. She was there only a few weeks before she started running away and staying with friends. Around this time she was raped by an undercover police officer in a pub.

These two experiences – the incident with the dentist and the rape by the police officer – only confirmed what Louisa had long suspected: that no one cared about her suffering and there was no point talking about it. So when Louisa found herself in another state-run girls’ home, surrounded by abuse, she kept her mouth shut.

Daily life at the home was degrading at every level. There were no doors on the toilets and the girls were watched as they showered. To get a new sanitary pad they had to show their old, used ones to the staff. If a girl fell pregnant she was often forced to lose the baby or it was taken from her at birth.

On one occasion a staff member fondled Louisa. On another occasion a gang of girls pinned another girl down and penetrated her with a broomstick. ‘If you didn’t help’, Louisa said, ‘it happened to you’. So she held down the girl’s feet to keep her still while the others inflicted the assault. Eventually Louisa couldn’t stand it, released the girl’s feet and ran from the room.

Louisa left the home at age 17. Less than a year later she was pregnant and married. The marriage fell apart and Louisa’s husband took custody of the child. She married again two years later and had two children.

Louisa described herself as a hard mother who often hit and yelled at her children because she didn’t know any better. She never told her kids what happened to her in the homes, but they discovered the truth in the mid 1990s after Louisa separated from her husband and, without her permission, he told them about the abuse.

These days Louisa’s physical health is in decline and she still feels guilty about her role in the pack assault on the girl. She’s always found it hard to ask for help but, as she gets older, she said, she has softened a little. Louisa has spoken to some lawyers about her options for redress and she’s on the waiting list for some counselling sessions.

In the meantime she relies on the memories of her dad’s homespun wisdom to help her keep a positive attitude.

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