‘No mum. Apparently she walked out and left … when I was only about five, six weeks old. My father, I know for a fact, wasn’t a picnic. My grandmother … was due for retirement. So … Mum walked out one day and just decided she wasn’t coming back … My grandmother turned up and found us three kids on our own.’
Melita spent most of her early childhood being passed from relative to relative. During the times she lived with her father, ‘it was usual for him to come home drunk as a skunk from the pub’ and pack the kids up for another move. During her early teenage years, Melita was living in a cardboard box, with a horse for company, until a kind real estate agent and his wife gave her some work and set her up in a small bungalow.
In the late 1960s, when she was 14, Melita was working in a disco in Melbourne. She and a friend were sitting in the city square after work one night when they were picked up by the police. After being bashed by a police officer at the police station, Melita was deemed to be ‘in moral danger’ and was sent to a youth training centre for girls.
The first day there, Melita was raped by one of the male workers. After watching her undress before she went to have a shower, the worker walked into the room, grabbed her by the scruff of the neck, pushed her head down, and assaulted her. The same thing happened when Melita returned to the centre after she’d been taken to be checked for venereal diseases. ‘Head down, scruff of the neck, banging against the wall.’
Melita was placed in the secure wing of the centre and while she was being booked in, other girls stood in the doorways of their rooms, holding toothbrushes and smiling. ‘I had no idea what the hell, you know. I’d just been traumatised enough … The next day … three girls came in … My knickers were taken off me, and I was penetrated by the toothbrushes.’
Melita told the Commissioner, ‘I was normally a placid person but that place brought something out in me I didn’t think I was capable of, and after copping the abuse from him and those three girls, I started to fight back and it seemed like the only thing that got me any peace in the place was to fight back’.
After 12 months in the youth training centre, Melita was released, and managed to get a job the next day. She has always worked, even when she fell pregnant at 16. She had her child, and when she fell pregnant again not long after, she was forced to have an abortion. She was then unable to have any more children.
She told the Commissioner that she doesn’t like to be idle. Apart from working day and night to pay her bills, Melita has spent much of her adult life helping others. She began starting clubs for single mothers, with the help of a social worker who ‘installed in my head, you know, education is the way to do it’. She helps ethnic groups in her community when they need help filling in forms or writing letters. She is involved with social justice projects, and she is raising her grandchild.
Melita told the Commissioner, ‘I know [the youth training centre] is done and dusted, but God help … I hope to Christ that there’s some sort of answer in all this, that it’ll never happen again, because what happened to us girls should never have happened to dogs … I just hope it doesn’t get swept under the rug … because it took me a long time to get up the guts and gumption to do this’.