As children with intellectual disabilities, Marnie and her sister grew up being called ‘sub-normal’ by their other siblings. When Marnie was 11 in the early 1970s, her mother became very ill and their alcoholic father placed the two girls in a home for children with disabilities.
For the next 10 years the girls spent their weekdays at the home and weekends with their grandparents. ‘I don’t talk much about our father ‘cause he used to bash us … Bad drinker.’
Upon arriving at the home, Marnie was subjected to an ‘initiation’ procedure by the nurses, which left her with a permanent injury.
There were approximately 30 other residents aged between 11 and 22 living at the home. At night residents were locked in cots with tall sides they could not climb over, which resulted in them often being punished for wetting the bed.
‘They used to have a cage out the back … and they only had a brick thing you could sit on … If we did something bad, if we wet ourself, we had to sit out there and they sprayed us with a fire hose.’
Marnie told the Commissioner there were three matrons in charge of the home while she was there, and while one of them was ‘okay’ the other two were cruel, threatening ‘revenge’ against any resident who told people what was happening.
When she was 14, Marnie was being punished in the cage when she witnessed the two brothers being abused by the staff. She has suffered from flashbacks of this incident ever since.
Marnie told the Commissioner she was always hungry in the home, and when the children did receive food it mainly consisted of potatoes and Weet-Bix. Marnie was once caught stealing from the kitchen and was punished for it.
‘I got boiling water over my head. I got burnt. A lighter, matches and all that all over me.’ Other violent forms of punishment included being hit in the head with the bedpan and whipped with the electrical cord. If a resident was injured they were not given medical attention and girls were not provided with adequate sanitary protection when menstruating.
Children were frequently sedated with medication and given electric shock treatment. ‘We used to get electric shocks. They put these things on our heads and shock us. I didn’t know what that was for. I’ll never find out what that was for.’
‘I can’t read and that. I only can write my name but I can’t write anything else. ‘Cause we never got taught in that place where we was. I thought we would be able to learn to read and write when we come out of there. Nup.’
In addition to physical abuse and neglect, Marnie was repeatedly attacked and raped by Cromsey, the gardener at the home.
‘I was 14 at the time and we used to have our chores, go down and take our dirty clothes to the laundry ... And Cromsey got me down on the ground and he told me, “Don’t you ever tell anyone what happened to you”, and that. And then he forced himself on me and that. He did it five times to me.’
Marnie was also raped on three occasions by the bus driver, and believes other boys and girls in the home experienced the same abuse. ‘Both of them raped me and didn’t go to the hospital or nothing. Only went home and … I told my grandparents and my grandparents said “We’ll go to the police”. They went to the police and the police did nothing.’
‘It took a while ‘fore I could get this off my chest … We was told to shut up and don’t talk about it. Tried to tell the police but I got called a liar and everything else.’
‘I saw too much in that place and I don’t want to remember it anymore. It took a long time to get back to my normal life.’
At 21, Marnie was released from the home. With no education or practical life skills she survived on a disability support pension and turned to drug and alcohol abuse.
‘I was an alcoholic, and I’ll tell you this, I was a druggie. I got on everything I could … until my sister came up and said, “You’re coming home”. She took me back and I went to the hospital and got help.’ Marnie has managed to abstain from drugs and alcohol ever since and maintains a close relationship with her sister.
Marnie has never officially reported her abusers to the police after her initial attempts to disclose weren’t taken seriously.
‘We don’t like the police. They didn’t help us. Why should we go back to them?’ She has made attempts to obtain her welfare records but to date has not been successful, believing they have been destroyed. She has never sought compensation but may do so in the future.
Currently, Marnie is supported by a social worker from her neighbourhood women’s centre.
Marnie has been married twice and credits her resilience to her sister, her current husband and an aunt who encouraged her to ‘just go ahead and fight and don’t let no one put anything over you anymore’. She has successfully battled significant health issues.
‘I’ll always be a survivor. Just to fight for my rights and everything.’