Myrna was born in central Queensland in the late 1940s. Her father was an alcoholic and her mother left the family when she was just three months old. Her father requested his parents look after Myrna’s older brother while Myrna was placed in a girls’ home, but they insisted on looking after both children.
Myrna’s grandparents were very kind but elderly, and not always able to care for them. The children were often sent to different homes in Queensland and New South Wales. One of the first homes Myrna was sent to was run by the Sisters of Mercy in Queensland.
‘There was a priest out there, he wasn’t very nice … Father Keppel used to set us up on his lap and wanted to play with your boobs. Reckons if he did that they’d grow.’
When Myrna was 12 years old her grandfather died. Her father remarried a year later and Myrna went to live with the couple, but her father tried to sexually abuse her. ‘He tried to get into bed with me and everything. I reported it to the police[man] there … but he used to drink with my father.’ Myrna ran away to her grandmother’s house, but couldn’t live with her permanently because of her grandmother’s advanced age.
Eventually Myrna was made a ward of the state but doesn’t recall what age she was at the time. Most of the girls’ homes she was placed in had very harsh conditions. Myrna was frequently beaten, forced to work and treated poorly. At one such home in Queensland, she told the Commissioner, ‘Men there, they used to bash into me because I said “You’ve got no right to lock us up like that”. I said, “You wouldn’t lock your animals up like this, just a little mattress on the floor”'.
Myrna was approximately 16 when she was placed in a government-run girls’ home in New South Wales. Upon arriving she was subjected to an invasive vaginal examination. The girls had no privacy, even when washing. ‘You couldn’t even have a shower. Blokes used to stand there watching you having showers. That was degrading.’
A senior staff member there, Mr Feeney, would discipline Myrna by locking her in a solitary underground room, known as ‘the dungeon’. There he would brutally kick and bash her, at one stage even giving her a black eye. Feeney would also play with her breasts, try to kiss her, and on one occasion stripped off her clothes and tried to rape her.
‘He’d say to me if I opened my mouth that I’d get it worse. He said “You’ll be locked up longer”. He said “No one’s going to listen to you here”.’
‘He said “You open your mouth up and you’ll be back in”. You wouldn’t be game to open your mouth up there.’
After leaving the state care system, Myrna briefly worked on a cattle station before returning to live with her grandmother. At 19 she married her husband and had two children, however her husband was a violent alcoholic who would burn Myrna’s face with his cigarettes. The marriage lasted three years before Myrna was able to escape.
Recently Myrna reported Feeney’s abuse to the New South Wales police, but found the experience distressing. She received $13,000 through the Queensland Redress Scheme but did not mention the sexual abuse she suffered, only the violent mistreatment.
Myrna believes she was treated badly throughout her life because no one wanted her. ‘We didn’t do much at all. Because no one wanted us they stuck us in a home and that’s what happened to us.’
With trust issues and trouble forming relationships, Myrna prefers solitude to the company of others. ‘My marriage broke up because I just can’t stand being with anyone. I like it on my own.’
Myrna has suffered from depression since she was a young child and has been seeing a psychiatrist for some years. ‘I have to go to the psychiatrist most of the time because I’ve tried to take my life a couple of times. ‘Cause it just all gets to me. I get bad memories.’
‘They tell you that you gotta put it behind you and get on with life. You can’t … I just can’t.’
Myrna has not had contact with her older brother for over 35 years but has worked hard to form strong relationships with her children, both of whom live in the same state and have children of their own.
‘It took me years to have a relationship with my children. I just couldn’t get close to them.’