Melody Jane's story

Melody remembers having caring parents and being well-fed enough to be ‘a bit chubby’ in 1950s Sydney. However, her mother and father were both alcoholics and the family was large. When Melody was 11 years old she and her sister were made wards of the state and taken from their home to live in a Catholic convent in Sydney’s inner west.

‘They were very cruel, those nuns’, Melody told the Commissioner. She had little schooling and was made to work in the laundry full-time for an allowance of ‘two and six’ (25c) a week. The girls were kept in line with constant psychological and physical abuse.

In her mid-teens, Melody was moved to a state run girls’ home in the western suburbs. This home was worse than the convent and was run like a prison.

‘I wouldn’t take orders. If I was asked something, that’s fine, but when they start grabbing you by the hair or punching into you … then I just flatly refused. So I spent most time in the dungeon.’

The superintendent of the home was Mr Rainier. He took a ‘hands-on’ approach to disciplining the girls. Rainier regularly humiliated and sexually abused Melody when he was alone with her.

‘Rainier used to drag me down and rip all me clothes off and make me stand there like with nothing on and then he used to laugh.’ Rainier would tell Melody she was repulsive naked and that ‘nobody would want that body’.

Melody was also regularly bashed by one of the supervisors, Alan Rampling, and others. ‘A lot of the women [staff] were just as cruel as the men.’

‘Those officers seemed totally committed to taking away my sense of identity and humanity. There was no privacy as we were supervised 24/7, including in the showers with no curtains or doors, often by male officers.’

Melody tried to report what was happening to her but was punished for it.

‘I tried to tell them, I tried to tell ‘em. And all I got was bashed for it, and then stuck in the dungeon and locked up until you admitted, “Oh no, I was wrong”. Then you think was it really me? Was it me that did it?

‘You think, “Who’s going to listen, who will believe you?”’

Melody was labelled ‘uncontrollable’ and sent for a term in an even more brutal girls’ home in western New South Wales. This actually was a converted prison, and the girls were housed in the old cells which had been renamed ‘cabins’. Melody describes the place as a ‘concentration camp’. The inmates were not allowed to speak and had to march in lines, raising their knees high as they marched.

‘Your eyes were down, you never looked up. If you looked up, you were thrown into the thing and fed bread and water. So everyone was scared to even do it … When people go there - after they’ve been to [the home] they just want to block everything out, they just don’t want to know of anything. I think this is where people have mental problems.’

Melody admits she was a troublemaker and believes an inner toughness has helped her survive. ‘The more people in the homes used to bash me or lock me away the more I’d get – I want to say cranky – the more I’d get determined: you’re not going to get to me, you’re not going to beat me down, I’m not going to stoop to your level. I don’t know where it comes from, because I’m the only one in the family like it.’

Melody has shared a lifelong bond with many of the women who came through those institutions with her, but she has lost many friends too. ‘Very few got out of it and went on the straight and narrow. Very few. A hell of a lot died of drugs, drugs or alcohol. A lot of them lived on the street. A lot of them committed suicide, a hell of a lot.’

Sex work kept Melody alive when she escaped the homes at 18. She was ashamed of her body at the time, which Melody blames on her abuse and the lack of privacy and constant humiliation she endured growing up. She distrusted men and took pleasure in devising ways to cheat them and steal from them. The sex work provided a living and eventually Melody ‘moved to the phones’ and continued to make good money. She lived with a man for three decades and had children of her own.

Melody loved her children fiercely. She was very protective, and gave them all a good education. They lead successful lives, and now have children of their own.

Melody kept the details of her ordeal in the homes to herself for most of her life. Even her partner only ‘knew the basics and that was it’. She recently shared her story with her elder daughter who supported her during her private session.

Melody believes the Royal Commission is long overdue.

‘I’ve always thought: how come no one’s ever done anything? How come no one’s ever worried about what happened to us? Why do those bastards get away with everything? We’ve tried to put our case forward. No one listened.’

She only wishes the Royal Commission had been up and running 30 years ago.

‘If we could’ve been heard - and then all of those people would’ve still been alive. We could even have went up and spat in their face, you know what I mean?’

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