Meredith was with friends in the local milk bar when her brother came running down the street to tell her their mother had just killed their father. The two children returned home to see their father dead on the floor and their mother being led away by NSW Police. Later sentenced to 12 years jail for manslaughter, years of domestic violence was cited as a mitigating factor in their mother’s sentencing.
At 10 years of age and the youngest of many children, Meredith stayed with an older sister, but one day skipped school to go to the Sydney Royal Easter Show. She and a friend were stopped by police. The friend was let go but Meredith was taken before a children’s court and sentenced by a magistrate to nine to 12 months in a girls’ correctional facility.
As a transition point before going to the facility, Meredith was sent to a girls’ shelter. After being told to take her clothes off, she was given a full body search which was witnessed by male and female guards. When she protested, the guard told her if she didn’t do what she was told she’d ‘get more’.
Her hair was cut short and when her brother came to see her he burst into tears. ‘You never saw him crying. He said, “I can’t stand to look at you” so he left. He could see I’d been through a lot.’
Meredith told the Commissioner that conditions when she got to the correctional facility were tough, but she felt better able to cope than other girls because she’d already experienced trauma and bullying. ‘When my mum done that I was going to primary school and my friends, their parents wouldn’t let them talk to me in case I did what my mum did.'
While in the institution, Meredith did her best to stay out of trouble but became involved with other girls in a riot where they set fire to mattresses and had to escape onto the roof. Other girls were sent to a maximum security jail afterwards, but Meredith stayed where she was.
Two weeks before her release date, Meredith was asked by another girl whether she’d been in solitary confinement, and Meredith replied that she hadn’t. The girl told her she was lucky because it was something all girls were subjected to before leaving. A week later, Meredith was suddenly put into the underground isolation cell.
The superintendent, Bill Drury, came to the cell and put a cup of black tea in front of her. ‘He said, “You better drink that cup of tea because that’s all you’re getting for 24 hours”. I reckon there was something in it because the next morning I was in my bed in the dormitory. I didn’t spend 24 hours in there. I had no memory of it. I do know that something happened while I was under.’
From her physical symptoms and other girls’ reports of Drury’s history, Meredith realised she’d been drugged and raped. She didn’t report it to anyone then or afterwards, and she had never taken civil action against the institution.
Over following years Meredith made a living doing seasonal work and sent money to her mother who’d been released from jail and was receiving treatment for a mental illness.
After marrying, she had two children and her home came to be seen as an open and safe place for other children who stayed for varying lengths of time, often when they were in trouble. Meredith raised her granddaughter from the age of two in a formal custody arrangement and was proud that the now 18-year-old was working, studying and living independently.
One day two boys who’d absconded from a boys’ home arrived on Meredith’s doorstep. She took them in. ‘They didn’t want to go back. My house was a safe house. If anyone was in trouble they came … The stories they told me were just as bad as where I was.’ The boys stayed for a few weeks until police arrived and took them away.
In the 2010s Meredith was watching a television program about the correctional facility she’d been in when she had a sudden memory flash that took her back to the sexual abuse. The woman being interviewed said that girls were only ever referred to by their numbers, and Meredith instantly recalled her own number. ‘I thought I’d blocked it out of my mind', she said. ‘I thought I had closure till I saw that program.’ She said she’d never had counselling, nor felt the need for it, but was reconsidering whether it might now be helpful.
She told the Commissioner that her main way of coping was through family and seeing her own and other children do well. She’d recently been approached by Queensland family services staff to become a foster carer. ‘They said did I want to do any more, because my granddaughter turned out so well. I don’t know. Maybe. I want to protect all the kids.’