Lynette Marie's story

Lynette grew up in New South Wales in the late 1950s with her mother, ‘who I don’t remember’, and her stepfather. ‘The thing I do remember about them is that they drank a lot. The thing I remember about him is that he was very touchy-feely. So it started long really before I went into an institution, in a way.’

Lynette’s mother left her husband because he was physically abusive. When she was six, he’d put Lynette and her younger sister into a Protestant girls’ home. ‘It was pretty awful. They would line us up in the nude. Beat us if we tried to protect ourselves, like hide ourselves … If you wet the bed you got your nose rubbed in it. Beaten with a bell … a big bell that you ring … For nothing. Just for being kids, really.’

When Lynette was nine her stepfather decided to convert to Catholicism so he moved her and her sister to a Catholic girls’ home. ‘Hence another nightmare began.’ Lynette told the Commissioner, that this ‘was the beginning of years of it, it was a more sadistic abuse … So there was starvation … There were beatings … I would also run away all the time’. Lynette recalls taking food out of garbage bins at her primary school because she was so hungry.

During school holidays girls at the home were sent to foster homes where they were treated as domestic help, and often sexually abused by some of the younger men who acted as respite carers or foster parents.

When Lynette was 12 she remembers waking up downstairs at the home, with no idea of how she and four other girls had got there. ‘There were rumours that some guy had broken in. It was all hushed up.’ They were told that nothing had happened, that, ‘You dreamt it. It’s a nightmare. Don’t worry’. Lynette thinks that she and the other girls may have been drugged and molested, because they all felt ill, and all suffered from soreness in the vaginal area. The incident was not investigated and nothing more was said about it.

At 14, Lynette was sent with her sister to live with their stepfather. He had schizophrenia and was ‘a heavy drinker and a child abuser’. She began locking her sister’s bedroom door, but her stepfather would come into Lynette’s bed and molest her. Eventually, Lynette asked to be returned to the girls’ home.

When Lynette was back at the home and tried to report what her stepfather was doing ‘I got told that I was lucky. That I was really lucky to have had somebody who paid for me to be at the girls’ home. I was told that there were people worse off than me … Nothing was ever done about it’.

When Lynette left the girls’ home she ‘got a job straight away … first boyfriend. Drugs. Alcohol. Self-harm. Jail’. It was only when she found a Buddhist retreat where ‘you don’t speak … no eye contact … you just meditate. I did 10 of those camps … I think it’s the thing that saved me. I don’t meditate now. But I was in crisis … I was cutting myself. Using heroin, and ending up getting arrested’.

Lynette had a negative experience with a psychiatrist, who acted inappropriately, and a psychotherapist who breached her confidentiality, so she now shies away from counselling. Another reason for this is that ‘I think my, because my problem is that I’m cut off emotionally a lot of the time … and I’m scared that if I start I’ll fall apart. And I’ve got to function in the world’.

Lynette told the Commissioner that her coping mechanism was to be ‘angry all the time. I was angry with the world … I think that gave me energy. And when I was angry I turned it inward and it took quite a few years and actually going back again to be self-destructive so early in life … It has been energy that I’ve learned finally to turn into something positive, rather than keep hitting myself over the head’.

‘People meet me and they think I’m a warrior and I’m strong … but there’s also this really vulnerable part of me … that’s angry with the world … It’s been a long, hard road.’ Lynette told the Commissioner, ‘I don’t regret anything I’ve ever done but the one thing I do regret now … I’ll start crying … is my inability to have intimate relationships’.

Lynette was never told she was Aboriginal when she was a child. ‘I was denied my culture right up until 1988 actually. So, look, I do identify and I am accepted.’ The one stipulation Lynette insisted on before coming to the Royal Commission was that her Commissioner be Aboriginal. ‘I think that’s a really big plus for the Commission that that’s happened.’

Lynette told the Commissioner that ‘I thought a long time about it but I came to the conclusion that if people don’t come forward then nothing’s going to change, and my original reason for not wanting to was I don’t trust anybody … But now, it’s not my problem, if that makes sense. And that’s the other conclusion I came to, that it’s not my fault and it’s not my problem. So I decided to come forward both as an Aboriginal person and a survivor, not a victim. I really like to think of myself as a survivor because I don’t want it to happen or continue to happen, and I do have quite a big sense of social justice’.

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