In the mid-70s when Marcia was about five, there was a ‘raid’ on the children’s home in regional Victoria where she was a ward of the state. The raid on the Anglican Church-run home was by police and welfare officers, she remembered. After the raid, staff at the home were replaced and life became easier for the children who lived there.
The new superintendent, known as Aunty Bett, was ‘like God sent’, Marcia said. ‘She was like an angel.’ Until Aunty Bett’s appointment, Marcia’s life had been unrelentingly tough.
The second youngest of a large family, she and all her siblings except the youngest were placed in care. Marcia was 18 months old at the time. She was placed first of all in a Catholic-run home that had facilities for babies. She could remember almost nothing from her time there, except the flap of the nuns’ black habits. As well, she recalled a long spoon being pressed onto the back of her tongue, perhaps with medicine to treat the oral herpes and other infectious diseases she had contracted at her family home.
When she turned three, she was moved to the Anglican Church-run home where she stayed for five years. The supervisor when she first arrived there was Nigel Hart. Marcia was raped by Hart, who sexually molested other children at the home as well. Marcia was also assaulted by Hart’s friend.
‘I was four years old, I had my little pyjamas on, I was taken to Mr Hart’s office – I think they were drugging me as well …. He had sex with me on the desk there’, Marcia recalled.
She was also raped by a doctor who visited the home. ‘He had put me on top of him like it was a game’, she said. She ran into a corner of the room and hid, while he ejaculated onto the carpet – ‘I could hear everything’, she said. This episode was one that haunted Marcia, returning to her in repeated flashbacks that were symptomatic of the post-traumatic stress disorder she has since been diagnosed with.
Until Aunty Bett took over, Marcia had a room to herself at the home. She believed this was so she could be abused as she slept, perhaps while drugged. This memory has also stayed with her, she said. ‘Even now I wake up with one leg out of my pyjama pants … I hold my private part as I sleep, on my tummy, to protect myself, and I lock my feet to my ankles.’
Marcia suffered internal injuries as a result of the abuse. These meant she frequently wet the bed. When she did, Hart made her rub her face in the urine-soaked sheets. Eventually the injuries were noticed by a school nurse, and Marcia underwent surgery to repair them.
Hart also administered cruel physical punishments and made the children work. As a four-year-old, Marcia was polishing floors, cleaning shoes and climbing onto the tops of tall cupboards to dust them.
Hart’s departure from the home was cause for celebration. ‘I remember when he left, and I realised that he was gone, I put on my gumboots and I went and wrecked all the rhubarb. Because he used to make me eat rhubarb, he forced me to eat. I was always at the table two or three hours later out of everybody’, Marcia told the Commissioner.
When she was eight Marcia was transferred to a foster home. From there she returned to live with her parents and then, as she began to get into trouble with the police for shoplifting, truancy and running away, to several more institutions. When she was 14, she’d had enough. ‘I didn’t like it, I was so depressed [at the hostel]. So I packed my bags, I walked down the stairs and I threatened a staff member – if she doesn’t let me out I’m going to kill her. So she had to let me out. And then I took off again.’
Marcia spent some years living rough, sleeping on the street, squatting in empty buildings, staying on friends’ couches. When she was 16 her state wardship came to an end. She was able to access government benefits, and eventually found a place to live.
The abuse Marcia experienced has proved impossible to recover from. Until recently she self-mutilated. She can’t concentrate and finds it impossible to study. ‘I just grew up a very angry person, with a lot of problems. Eating disorders. Dreams – I get a lot of dreams.’
In recent years she has found support from her GP and a psychiatrist. ‘I got a lot of strength through the therapy and my doctor – if it wasn’t for them I don’t think I would have made it.’ With help from her psychiatrist, she has sought and received compensation from the Anglican Church. She was initially offered $20,000, but has now accepted a payment of $32,000. ‘I said to them, “Seriously, this is my whole life. This is my whole life that’s been destroyed”.’
Fractured family relationships are another consequence of Marcia’s troubled childhood. She is hardly in contact with her family at all. Marcia suspects that as the youngest of the family in care, her older siblings blame themselves for not protecting her from the abuse. ‘My sister the other night apologised to me. I said to her “It’s not your fault. You were a child. Not one of you is to blame. We were all kids”.’