In the late 1950s, when Melinda was five, she was placed in care in South Australia. She spent the next 13 years in and out of foster care, children’s homes and a girls’ remand centre.
No one told Melinda that her mother died two days after she was placed in her first foster home. ‘I still think it was very wrong they didn’t tell me.’
Melinda’s first foster parents were very cruel. ‘I was never wanted. He was going to put me in the well. They made me sleep in the shed, on the floor with hessian bags.'
‘I didn’t go to school, and when the welfare came to the house, my father would pick me up [and say] “You shut your frigging mouth. You go in that house. You say hello to your mother. You go and show ‘em what they want to see”.’
Melinda had to pretend that she slept in a nice warm bed inside the house. ‘As soon as [the welfare officers] had to go, I’d be in the shit, in trouble, and then I’d get locked in the shed again.’ The only clothes Melinda ever had were the ones she had when she arrived at the foster home, provided by the welfare department.
When Melinda’s brothers came to visit she showed them where she was sleeping, ‘and next thing, I’m removed by the department for neglect … and then I go to the [next foster home]’.
Melinda lived with Mr and Mrs Gilbert from the age of eight to 14. Mr Gilbert sexually abused her the whole time she was living with them. The abuse occurred at their home and when they were on holidays.
Mr Gilbert would get into Melinda’s bed and force her to masturbate him. If Mrs Gilbert wasn’t there, Melinda would often sleep in his bed, or he would sexually abuse her on the couch in the living room.
Melinda was always scared that someone would see what her foster father was doing. ‘I was scared I was going to get caught on the lounge with him. He was going to kill me and he woulda killed me … He wanted to kill me … I was always in trouble.’
Melinda told the Commissioner, ‘I was scared. It was awful. I’m so confused, you know. Come from [the first foster home], the way they treated you, and then to the Gilberts’ [house] …’
After Mrs Gilbert accused Melinda of causing trouble, she was sent to a children’s home. She spent several years going back and forth between this home and a girls’ remand centre. She was sent to the remand centre after she was assaulted by some boys, and told the police who were investigating about her foster father. They didn’t believe her, and nothing was done about either the boys or her foster father.
The remand centre was ‘a terrible place … all bars and that and there’s all girls in there, some nasty girls that done nasty things’.
Melinda was assaulted at the remand centre. ‘This is embarrassing. These girls were picking on me … trying to interfere with me … They hit me real hard. Hit my vagina, so hard, it bled. It was purple. I couldn’t even have a natural birth because of all this, and I shouldn’t have been there … There were some girls there done lots of bad things. I’m there for telling the truth, for God’s sake.’
Melinda told the Commissioner, ‘I had no childhood. None at all … It’s a bit hard [to talk about it]. Everyone’s got a story, though, haven’t they?’
After not being believed when she was a child, Melinda didn’t talk to anyone about the abuse for over 40 years. ‘No one’s ever listened to me. [My psychiatrist] is the only person I can talk to about anything and everything’.