Margot doesn’t recall much of her life prior to being placed in care by her parents in the mid-1960s. ‘All I can remember is that Dad was an alcoholic. I can’t remember anything about Mum at this time. I can’t remember my siblings or anything else.’
As a middle child in a large Catholic family, Margot never understood why, at six years old, she was sent to live in a Melbourne orphanage run by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd while her siblings went to live with family members.
‘I get very sad because I would have loved to have a mother, and no-one has ever been able to give me answers as to why I was put into care and not my siblings. I would like to have grown up with my siblings.’
Margot did not enjoy her time at the orphanage. They were fed poor quality food, she was bullied by older girls, the nuns ‘played favourites’ and ‘treated us like pieces of dirt’. If one of the Sisters passed away ‘the nuns would make us go and view the body in the coffin and kiss the face … Some of the girls were very scared of the dead body’.
From the age of seven, Margot’s father starting coming to the orphanage. ‘When my father would visit me he would take me for walks in the garden to the garden shed and he would have sex with me. I was about seven years old when this first started.’
A year after Margot’s father started raping her, her mother committed suicide. ‘The nuns took about three months to tell me that my mother had died, and told me to go to church to pray. They showed no compassion towards me regarding my mother’s death. They also waited seven years to inform me that my younger sister had passed away.’
Meanwhile, Margot’s father continued to visit every six months and sexually abuse her. ‘He told me I was his princess and this went on for years.’ Margot was 10 when she told the Mother Superior. ‘Mother Superior’s response was that he was my father and I must respect my parents, and said that my father was a good Christian man and went to church every day.’ The Mother Superior never took any action and Margot noted that ‘my father was paying the nuns money for me to stay there’.
When Margot was 11 her father stopped paying, so the sisters made her a ward of the state. She continued to live at the convent and her father continued to visit and abuse her every six months.
When Margot was in her mid-teens the convent was closed and she was sent to a different orphanage in regional Victoria. Unlike her previous experience, she enjoyed living there. Her father didn’t visit and the abuse stopped. But after 18 months she was sent to live in a girls’ hostel.
‘I was sent there because there was nowhere else for me to go. I started sniffing glue in bedroom cupboards. I started using other drugs with other girls from the hostel. I ran away after three months.’
After being picked up by the police, Margot was sent to a government-run training facility for girls.
‘During my time there I ran away four times. It was a horrible place and I would hate it to be open today for children … They put me in isolation in a single room for a week. I didn’t see anyone for a week. I did get fed but it was horrible food. Every time I re-entered [the institution] after running away, I would be taken to a clinic in [town] to give me internal examinations.’
Margot found the internal examinations so traumatising and invasive that she’s only recently been able to allow a doctor to give her a physical examination.
Margot remained a ward of the state until she was 21. After leaving the institution she was able to find work and she met a man who became the father of her children. Although ‘he was good to me’, Margot told the Commissioner that she ‘hated him’ and physically assaulted him on numerous occasions. By the time she was 24, ‘I attempted to take my life a few times and I was referred to CASA [Centre Against Sexual Assault] for counselling.’
Margot disclosed her father’s abuse to her counsellor who encouraged her to report it to police. Although her father was dead by this time, Margot did make a report. However the police did not believe her and implied she was making it up for financial gain.
Margot has been a heavy smoker for many years. She has numerous health concerns, including a speech impediment that started in her mid-teens, which she believes is caused by a nervous condition.
‘Sometimes I get really sad and I cry.’
Recently Margot obtained her welfare file but has not finished reading it because it contains hurtful information. ‘Just puts me down. Says that I’m hopeless and I’ll get nowhere in life and that I’m stupid.’ She has never sought compensation for the abuse she experienced while in care but may do so in the future.
Currently Margot is supported by a local social service. She told the Commissioner, ‘I don’t like support groups because of my speech. I have a few good friends and that’s all I need. I’m not one to talk about things with people.’ She has several pets who ‘are a huge comfort for me’ and also a GP who ‘is fantastic … I see her every two weeks just for a chat’.