‘Children were seen and not heard, that’s the way it was. No one really cared about kids, then.’
Lack of care was certainly uppermost in Marianne’s experience of childhood. She was four years old when her mother died, and she and her three older brothers were placed in a Methodist-run group home in regional Queensland. There were eight or nine kids, house parents and a housekeeper.
When Marianne was six, in the late 1960s, the house parents left and were replaced by Peter and Margaret Marsh. They had their own adopted children, as well as responsibility for Marianne, her brothers and the other kids who lived there.
Marianne said Peter Marsh was indiscriminately cruel to them all. He punished them violently for the most minor of mistakes, and often blamed the foster kids for things he himself had done. ‘We’d all get lined up with our pants down and get belted. I think he got pleasure out of it’, Marianne recalled.
Marsh’s sexual abuse of Marianne began when she was eight, and occurred regularly for years. He would take her on Saturdays to buy KFC – a special treat – and sexually assault her on the way. He chose her to watch TV alone with him – another special treat, and another opportunity to sexually assault her.
Marsh told her that if she said anything about what was happening he would brand her and her brothers with a branding iron.
Marianne doesn’t remember what happened exactly, but thinks eventually she must have said something to one of her brothers. He reported it at school. She was examined by a doctor, who found she’d experienced sexual trauma. ‘You’ve ruined our life’, Margaret Marsh told Marianne.
Marianne’s brothers were moved on to a boys’ home. She was sent to a new foster home, with a family on the Gold Coast. She knew them already, and knew she didn’t want to live with them. She’d been sent to them for respite care, and the father, Reverend Tom MacDubbin, had raped her.
‘I didn’t want to go. I kept telling them I didn’t want to go with them, but I had no choice’, Marianne said.
Her father, an alcoholic, had remarried by this stage but he wouldn’t take her back. ‘He just cared about alcohol’, Marianne said.
‘There was nowhere else for me to go.’
She lived with the MacDubbins for the next three years, till she was 15. It was as dreadful as she’d feared. The bullying and sexual assaults continued. ‘Things that you couldn’t imagine. I still can’t believe it actually happened’, Marianne said.
‘I was so angry. I never did well at school, I used to bash people up; I was mean. I used to run away that much – the police would bring me back. They had to put bars on the windows [at the house] because I just kept running away.’
People in the Church community told her she was ungrateful. No one asked her why she was running away. ‘They just kept taking me back. But I didn’t really say anything. By that time I just didn’t care about life. Didn’t care about anybody. Who would believe me anyway, so what’s the point?’
At 15, Marianne left the MacDubbins, left school and got a job. After a brief and unhappy stay at her father’s place, she lived for a while in a caravan. ‘I had a black and white TV, and I had TV dinners, and I was so happy. … Finally, I was free.’
Marianne’s adult years have been troubled. She’s had various jobs, and several abusive relationships. She has four children and told the Commissioner, ‘If I didn’t have my kids I wouldn’t have lasted this long’. Having had sons she was delighted when she had a daughter, but as her baby grew into a girl, Marianne’s past resurfaced. ‘All the memories came flooding back, all the flashbacks started, and I had to go on medication and the kids couldn’t understand why I’m like this’, she said.
She suffered terrible anxiety and moved the kids from school to school to protect them from people she suspected were paedophiles. She is deeply sad for her lost opportunities and her children’s.
‘I always wanted to be a midwife. I always wanted to be – something, you know? And because I never had any education – I always mucked around so then I got kicked out of class, you know … I know my kids could have been more than what they are, because I just had so many panic attacks so I’d just go to bed’, she told the Commissioner.
‘I kept running away from myself … I’ve been off my tablets for three years and I can’t go back on them again. But I can’t live like this.
‘I truly believe I’m just not meant to be happy. It’s just the way it is.’
Marianne received compensation of $31,000 from the Uniting Church but regrets accepting it. ‘I thought, is that all I’m worth? … I wish I’d been more courageous and said “No”.’
It was offered to her at a meeting with officials she didn’t know, where she felt overwhelmed and intimidated. ‘I was a mess’, she said. ‘I just thought that I would feel different [afterwards] but I didn’t even get a genuine “I’m sorry”.’
What she’d hoped for was a place to live. ‘That’s all I’ve ever wanted, is just my own home. It could be like a shed, but it’s mine. If someone said, “You deserve that” then it’s like my life has meant something, you know?’
Speaking to the Royal Commission was extremely difficult and painful for Marianne. ‘If my son hadn’t brought me, I wouldn’t have come today. I’ve been up all night throwing up. Just – yeah’, she said.
‘But I’m glad I’ve done it. I am.’