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Marjorie Denise's story

‘We had a grandmother that just so much wanted us, but they just wouldn’t give us to her, and she wanted to bring some of our culture … I believe she died of a broken heart. That’s the stories we get from our people.’

Marjorie never met her Aboriginal father. She and her sister lived with their mother and violent alcoholic stepfather. In the mid-1950s they were made wards of the state in Victoria and sent to a government-run children’s home. Marjorie was five, and remained in care until she ran away at 18.

‘We were fed under the table, like dogs … children’s services come around and found us filthy and undernourished. But [our mother] allowed it. So you’ve got that as well as the institution[s], and plus the not caring for us in the institution[s]. They took our rights away. Our voices weren’t heard.’

At the children’s home, ‘the superintendent there had molested me, but not penetrated me. He used a cane’. On one occasion, he made Marjorie ‘bend over his desk while I had my periods … and he was fiddling with my vagina with the tip of the cane, and when I stood up he just whacked me and told me to bend down’.

The superintendent warned Marjorie that ‘if I told anyone he would remove me from the home and I would never see my sister again’.

Another time, ‘he made me stand up on my chair in front of the dining room and pulled my pants down and smacked me in front of everyone … He had a very sadistic nature about him and he done it to a lot of girls and … boys. Very humiliating it was’.

Marjorie reported the abuse to the matron but, ‘I got a slap in the face and was called a liar … and then I was given the hall to polish on my knees, which was a very long corridor’. After the third time she was sexually abused, Marjorie and five other girls ran away to report it to the police.

She doesn’t remember much about talking to the police, but does remember the girls being told that they shouldn’t tell lies about the people who were caring for them because, ‘our parents didn’t want us and love us and how can we do this and run away from the only home that nurtured us, and all that type of stuff, but … some of us had been so adamant in reporting it’.

Because she hadn’t been believed by the matron, Marjorie doesn’t think she spoke about the sexual abuse. ‘I think I just mentioned stuff like: soap was rubbed in my mouth for telling lies.’ There was no subsequent investigation of the home.

When she was 14, Marjorie was separated from her sister. ‘No one knows the emptiness and loneliness a little child feels who cuddles in close to her only sibling for safety, each crying together in their loneliness of despair … trying to understand why we were treated that way when we hurt no one.’

Being separated from her sister was very hard and ‘I just became uncontrollable and I didn’t like where I was, so they … just kept moving me around’. Marjorie was shunted around to so many homes that she doesn’t even remember some of those listed in her records.

At one children’s home in New South Wales, Marjorie was raped by a teacher. ‘He asked me to stay back one afternoon … So that’s when he got me in the storeroom and started touching me and handling me.’

The teacher told her not to say anything or she would be moved to another home. ‘And then, on the second time, he raped me, penetrated me, and he told me that no one would believe me. He said he’d done it to a few girls that were there. I never found out who the girls were.’

When Marjorie reported the rape to the matron, ‘she got scissors and she just cut all my hair off because she said I was causing problems and lying’. Marjorie locked herself in her room and tried to take her own life.

‘We had little gas things, so I turned on the gas and tried to kill myself and I had the ambulance and the fire brigade knock the door down and revive me.’ No one asked her why she’d done it, and within weeks, she was moved to another home.

Marjorie ran away from institutional care at 18. She had a long-term relationship with the father of her two children and when that relationship came to an end, she met her current husband. He has been ‘the backbone of my existence. He’s just pulled me through so many things.’

The impacts of Marjorie’s childhood sexual abuse have been significant. ‘I can’t make friends. I’m a bit of a shy person. I sort of stick to home. I can’t join clubs or groups because I don’t know how to, you know, blend in, because … I think I have that fear that they’ll find out about me … So I just stay to myself.’

Marjorie suffers from depression and anxiety and takes anti-depressants and calmatives. She has seen a number of psychiatrists and psychologists since she was labelled as uncontrollable at 14, and currently visits a psychologist twice a month.

‘Some days are good … We talk about different things. But then other days, I’m just … I blurt something out and it’ll be so traumatic.’

Marjorie was contacted by a solicitor about joining a class action against the superintendent. This time, the police were supportive. ‘You know, you just want to forget, put things aside over all these years … [but they] sort of stir up the wounds again, bring it all forward again.’

It would have been too difficult for Marjorie to face the man during the committal hearing, so she was able to do it via video link. She is now waiting to hear about a trial date.

Even though she tries to push the memories aside, Marjorie finds that, ‘to this day, I’ll have sudden outbursts and anger. If there’s something on the news … in the supermarket I see a mum chastise a child, or smack her … [it] triggers something’.

Marjorie told the Commissioner that she would be happy if she could forget everything that happened to her, ‘sort of go and get hypnotised and forget … clean my whole mind out. But see, it’s always there, isn’t it?’

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