Margaret was 11 years old when she was placed with her siblings in a Salvation Army children’s home in Western Australia. She said it was common knowledge among the children that Captain Reid was sexually abusing boys and girls. ‘Not only did he do it, but he set kids up to abuse each other. He’d tell them what to do, and then stand back and watch.’
Soon after her arrival at the home in the late 1960s, Margaret was sharing a room with another girl when someone tried to get in the window. Margaret screamed, and Reid, the cottage supervisor, told her she was a ‘dobber’. As punishment, he put Margaret in a large dumpster bin with the pig slops. When she still wouldn’t keep quiet, he locked her in a boiler room. ‘Then he set two boys on me and they did it. He also used my brother to do the same thing.’
Margaret told the Commissioner that Reid manipulated the children’s behaviour until they were subservient to him.
‘He made sure that everyone was sexually active in one way or another. He’d found the perfect place to be a puppeteer.’
She didn’t disclose the abuse to her school teachers or the welfare workers and psychologists who came to the home. ‘He’d call me a “piece of trash” and make a lot of threats that I had to keep my mouth shut. The only person I would have told was the cook, but I didn’t. I think my brother might have told her a bit about what was happening to him.’
The sexual and psychological abuse continued until Margaret left the home at 14. She said she was always anxious and her behaviour became that of a perfectionist.
‘I became a straight A student at school and a faultless child in the home. I always did the best I could so I wouldn’t get in trouble. People say to be aware of kids who are acting out, but sometimes it’s the ones who are too well-behaved that are in trouble.’
In 2008, Margaret applied to the Western Australian redress scheme, and three years later was awarded $45,000. She found the assessment process traumatic, particularly when a woman rang without notice and interviewed her for two and a half hours over the telephone. Margaret had wanted a support person to be available for the interview, however the woman said the call couldn’t be deferred. ‘They rang my brother when he was on the bus coming home from work and they wanted to do the interview with him there and then. He hung up the phone.’
Margaret had spoken with her children in general terms about growing up in the home, but said they probably only recognised the full impact of her experience when the Australian Government made a formal apology to the Forgotten Australians in 2009. ‘The Prime Minister said that it had affected not only the ones who were in the homes, but their children and grandchildren as well. They heard that and said, “He’s talking to us”. It had affected them, of course it had, and I think they really only realised the extent when they heard that. It was only two sentences, but it meant so much to them.’