Marielle grew up in the loving and supportive home of her grandparents in the 1950s in Sydney. She was happy there and said she idolised them, but when she was about 11 her father got remarried and she went to live with him and his new wife.
‘If I said anything, I didn’t even have to do stuff sometimes, my father would belt me and he’d also claim that I was stealing money out of my stepmother’s purse, taking money out of his wallet and after a few years … I found out that he had a very, very large gambling problem.’
She often ran away. Each time she went in front of the court her grandparents would ask to have her back with them. But her father refused to allow it and she was sent to a residential training school for girls.
Marielle described the home as a horrible place. She was placed there at least three times, for about a year each stay, and was regularly physically and sexually abused.
Physical chores included scrubbing the floors with a toothbrush and cleaning garbage bins until they shone. Punishments were harsh and frequent.
‘I got belted in the stomach, I got kicked. I had a telephone book hit me in my head, and punched. Another cruel treatment was the taking of your glasses, because I wore very, very thick glasses. I couldn’t see without my glasses.’
The most extreme punishment was being put in ‘the dungeon’, or isolation, which is where most of the sexual abuse occurred. One particular officer, Mr Alton, would bash her and threaten her with more physical abuse if she didn’t perform sexual acts on him in there. He also threatened that if she didn’t do as he said, he would stop her grandparents from visiting and tell them that it was because she was in trouble.
The superintendent of the home also frequently sexually abused her, as did the home’s doctor. The doctor also placed her on very heavy anti-psychotic medication and tried to persuade her father that she needed to go into psychiatric care. She said because of the drugs she was like ‘a zombie’ a lot of the time, and much more vulnerable. Sometimes she wished that she were dead.
‘I ended up in psychiatric hospitals quite a bit after all that happened. And I did try to tell a nun who I had known when I was in [another] girls’ home where they were good there. I tried to tell her about what was going on but she said to me that it would make a lot of trouble for her if she said anything.’
Marielle said all the girls knew about the abuse but they could never talk about it because if they were overheard they’d get in deep trouble and be sent on to an even worse home. She never remembers any welfare officer coming to check on them.
She attempted to report to psychiatric centres, when she had stays in them, but nobody believed her. At one point she told her grandmother what was going on and her grandfather wrote letters to try and get her out of the home, but he didn’t succeed.
After she was released at age 18, life was hard.
She married at 21 but the relationship didn’t last. She went on to have other long-term partners but struggled to keep things stable. She had several children.
‘When my two youngest ones were younger, I used to drink a lot but I always made sure they were fed, clothed and everything. But I used to drink overly much and that was the only way I could function … my daughters, the two eldest, their father was good but I don’t know, I just got angry all the time.’
Some of her children were taken into care, and some of them have seen their own children go into care too.
Over the years Marielle had psychiatric interventions, but the abuse she experienced was not addressed. In the past year she has engaged with a counselling support service who encouraged her to come forward to tell her story. She has also joined a choir.
As an adult, she thought about reporting the abuse to the police. ‘But I thought, you know what, who are they going to believe? Me or somebody that was supposed to be in charge of children?’
Up until now, she has not sought compensation, but the counselling support service will help her explore her options.
‘I’ve lost so much of my life. I’ve never been able to hold a job. I’ve been on the pension since I left the home. I don’t think the government could afford what I’d ask. [And] it’s not going to bring my life back …
‘I wish … that everybody that handled all us children, I wish that they had gone through what we went through. The judges and everything. Because they were the ones that put us in the hell hole.’