Marguerite's story

Marguerite was born on the cusp of the Great Depression. After her parents separated her grandmother cared for her and her siblings, but they were soon placed in a Victorian government children’s home. There she witnessed dreadful violence, before she and her sister were fostered out to a single woman who treated them very well.

Unfortunately this woman could not look after them for long, and so they were placed with Mr and Mrs McDonald when Marguerite was nine. The couple’s own family were grown up and they fostered eight children in a filthy house with no bath, an infestation of bedbugs, and inadequate meals which the children had to eat out on the verandah. Soon, Marguerite was covered in lice. Mrs McDonald made the children work hard, treating them like ‘slaves’.

The first time Marguerite met Mr McDonald she was chatting with the other kids, when she felt him watching her. ‘He said to me “You, come in here, I want to inspect you.” Well he got me there, and he was drinking beer or stout ... He grabbed hold of me, and he felt me up here, and he felt me down there.’ There was another man in the room, and Mr McDonald told him, ‘I don’t think we’ve got any worries there yet’. He then ordered Marguerite to ‘stand there, lift up your dress’.

Having always been taught ‘don’t show your legs to men’, she was hesitant to follow his instructions.

‘And here’s this man shouting to me, lift up your dress when you’re told. So in the finish I did. I was scared stiff, I didn’t know this person ...

‘He pulled my dress up over my head so I couldn’t see. And he mauled me up and down, pulled my pants down a bit, pulled them up. And the man said to him, stop it. He said, you’re upsetting this kid, she’s only a baby, she’s only a child.’

The man walked out, and Mr McDonald ‘started to laugh. And he said to me oh, I didn’t think I was upsetting you. And here have a glass of this stout’. Despite her protests, he forced her to have the drink. Mrs McDonald had been in the room the whole time (‘she’d never said, don’t do that’), and then told Marguerite to leave.

Mr McDonald continued to sexually abuse Marguerite for the next two years. When his wife was out of the house he would get her to come and talk to him, sitting her on his knees and molesting her. On one occasion another female foster child was there, and they were both made to touch him.

This abuse soon escalated. ‘It got worse. He showed his penis, and he made me sit there and play with it, until he wet, you know. Time after that he got a bit more willing, pushing at me with his penis and that.’ He attempted to rape her a number of times.

Marguerite does not recall ever being visited by a welfare worker during her time in care. The hard work, poor nutrition, and sexual abuse continued until she went to live with her mother and stepfather. She married in her late teens, and had several children.

Her first husband was a returned soldier who was physically abusive to her. ‘I think a lot of the brutality was to do with the war. He would smack me in the face for nothing really.’ He drank heavily, gambled, and sometimes appeared to ‘go into a trance’ when talking about the war.

When he wouldn’t seek treatment for his mental health she left him, and began working as a housekeeper to support herself and the children. ‘I had to do something ... I wasn’t going to put my kids in one of those welfare things.’ She went on to marry twice more, and is now widowed.

Marguerite told the Commissioner the abuse had significant impacts on her personal and social relationships. Sexual intimacy was difficult, particularly in her first marriage.

‘I couldn’t bear a man to feel me down below, that just threw me, couldn’t do that. My first husband had a bit of a job, trying to convince me that the thing he had in his pants – this is rude but it’s the truth – I thought they were slimy things, I didn’t know. And he had to sort of coax me, to say no, we’re not like that at all. But I was terrified.’

When her kids came along, she was extremely worried about any man being near her kids. ‘I couldn’t stand it, every time a man picked my children up I’d sweat. And I’d get into an anxiety state, and I’d feel sick.’ Her husband ‘had to ask my stepfather and all, don’t pick up the child whatever you do’.

At this point she sought help from a psychiatrist, but he was unable to help her very much. Later in life she sought other treatment for depression, and is now supported by an organisation which provides assistance to care leavers.

Overall, Marguerite has tended to lead a quiet and isolated life. ‘I’m all right with company, I just can’t trust people to sort of get close. It takes me quite a while.’

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