‘Sometimes when I was younger, and I’m thinking by myself or late at night, I’d think “Why me?” and just burst into tears.’
When Nanette came to speak to the Commissioner, she brought her extensive welfare records from community services in Victoria. Her records are confronting reading and ‘bring tears’.
Nanette was born in the early 1960s in Victoria, and her mother ‘deserted’ the family when she was very young. When she was two and a half years old, both she and her brother were taken into care due to neglect by their father. They were made wards of the state.
‘When the police went through the house, the house had been boarded up, no windows, there was no clean clothes for us, no food in the house, sleeping on pissy beds [and] blankets.’
At about the age of six, Nanette was placed into a Salvation Army girls’ home in Melbourne. She stayed at the home for almost five years.
‘When I first went there we had a matron and she was a bitch.’
As a younger girl in the home, Nanette was frequently sexually abused by the older girls.
‘During the day. And also in the backyard, there was heaps of trees and there was a shed out the back … too … There was staff around but they [the girls] always had someone watching because they played “doctors and nurses”.
‘There was one [boy] about my age … they got him and I downstairs underneath one of the beds to try and have sex … We just thought it was a game. And … if you did tell anyone you’d end up getting bashed anyway.’
Throughout her years at the home Nanette would be made to go on holiday with a range of people including relatives and respite foster carers. Frequently, as a vulnerable child, she would be sexually abused on these trips.
After one holiday with her father, Nanette was raped on her journey back to the Salvation Army home. On another vacation with an aunty, she was sent back to the girls’ home early after being sexually abused by a relative. Her aunty blamed Nanette. She was also made to stay with a foster family for respite care where she was regularly sexually abused by the foster father.
‘I don’t know whether the other kids were sexually abused and … when I got older … I thought, maybe I should have said something in case those kids were [abused] and [they] weren’t saying anything.’
Nanette didn’t want to go on any of these trips.
‘All the other kids got excited. I didn’t get excited. I just didn’t want to go.’
Notes on her welfare file record that, ‘Any suggestion of weekend or holiday leave with holiday hosts terrified Nanette, she would plead, “Please don’t send me away”.’
The Salvation Army captain, nor any other staff at the home, ever tried to find out why Nanette didn’t want to spend time outside of the girls’ home.
‘Who [could I] I turn to?’
When she was about 11 years old, she was discharged into the care of her mother interstate.
‘I wanted a mother … worst mistake.’
Nanette’s mother began to routinely sexually abuse her and included her stepfather in that abuse. Another of Nanette’s close relatives and his friends gang raped her.
‘[My mother] made me out to be a big liar.’
Nanette left school at the beginning of her final year and moved interstate, away from her mother.
‘[Mother] found herself a new boyfriend and she was leaving home … I would have been left with my stepfather.’
Nanette has found strength and resilience entirely from within herself, driven ‘because I didn’t want to be my mother’.
She married early and had children but the relationship didn’t last.
‘He had the same … upbringing as what I had, raised in homes, foster care and all that type of stuff … I don’t know what it was between him and I.’
Nanette still feels shame and dismay at what happened to her in her early years and feels the impacts of the extensive and prolonged abuse every day.
‘A lot of hurt. A lot of anger. The guy that [drove] me home, I have visions of him in my face. Flashbacks. My mum’s deceased and my father’s deceased but today I wish they were alive so they can answer [my questions] … I loved my mother but I hated her.’
Nanette can’t understand why the welfare authorities ‘didn’t check her [my mother] out thoroughly’, and is pleased that there is now a process to gain ‘working with children’ accreditation now.
She raised her children by herself and now cares for her grandchildren.
‘I raised my three boys by myself and I tried so hard not to [send] them to welfare and I did it.
‘And that’s what I did with my grandkids … welfare were going to take the kids off [their parents] … and I said “I don’t want them to go through what I went through”.’
Nanette was hyper-vigilant with her own children and still is with her grandchildren.
‘Even with my own kids, my grandkids, I’ve been upfront and honest with them – “Anyone touches you, you tell me”. And that’s [been] right from the word go. I’ve explained to them that you’re not the one who’s in trouble, it’s the other person … [and] if they threaten you, you tell me.’
She believes that ‘children need sex education as young as possible’, that they need to trust at least one adult to be able to talk about sex with, and that all carers, even if they are related to the children, need to be thoroughly checked before being allowed to look after children for the state.
‘The only thing that keeps me going [is] my grandkids … I want to be around … and I’d like to see my great grandchildren.’