Until the age of five Mary lived with her family in a tiny hut with a dirt floor. She remembers the place as small, simple and safe. Then in the early 1960s, Welfare arrived, removed Mary from her parents and sent her to a Lutheran children’s home in a nearby Victorian town.
Some of Mary’s siblings were sent to the same home, including her brother Gavin. He started sexually abusing her about a year into their stay, when he was seven or eight and she was six.
Mary told the Commissioner: ‘In the backyard Gavin would use sticks and other things to stick into my vagina and go through the motions of having sex’.
The abuse continued for the next four years. During this time Mary was also abused by a visiting tradesman who put his hand down her pants, and by some older boys who, on four occasions, took off her pants and touched her.
Mary didn’t report these incidents to anyone. It would have been pointless – they already knew. One staff member had even confronted Mary about it, berating her as if she’d done something wrong.
‘I remember this woman shaking me and saying she knew my brother did things to me … I felt terrible. She didn’t hug me or try to console me. Instead I was just made to feel dirty.’
At age 10 Mary was fostered by the Monaghan family. At the Monaghans’ house she was safe from sexual abuse but had to face physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her new foster mother. At 18 she left and struck out on her own.
The next three decades were fraught with suffering, both within the confines of Mary’s mind and in the community around her. She was hospitalised several times. Usually this was because of severe depression. On one occasion it was because she had descended into a psychotic episode where she relived the experience of Gavin raping her.
In the mid-1990s Mary’s young daughter reported that she’d been sexually abused. Then, to make things worse, Mary’s friend phone her up in the mid-2000s to tell her that Joanna – Mary’s younger sister – had recently been raped by Gavin.
Mary felt ‘so dirty’ when the friend relayed some of the things that Gavin had said to Joanna while he was abusing her. ‘He was telling her when he was raping her that that’s what he used to do to me. And I felt so bad. I should have told her.’
Throughout her life, Mary has tried to see the positive side of everything but she can’t see anything positive about what happened to Joanna. ‘I suffered a lot of guilt about this’, she said.
‘I wondered if I had said something about what Gavin had done to me as a child that this could have been avoided. The Lutheran home should have helped Gavin. They knew what he was doing to me but nothing was done.’
When Joanna came to the Royal Commission to tell her story, Mary was there by her side. Mary is proud of Joanna’s strength. She is also proud of herself. It’s taken a long time to get there, but she’s finally realised that she’s worthy of a good life.
‘In my life, because of my lack of belonging and feeling not worthy, I have seemed to choose lame ducks. However, in my 40s I stopped seeing them, and it was not until I was in my 50s that I decided that I deserve the best.’
In her 50s she met Bill, and now they’re happily married.