‘I was a child that really, really loved my dad ... [He] protected me a lot from [my mother] because I used to get bashed and burnt and stabbed a lot by her, so he would try and take me when he could. He was an interstate truck driver … So I always, I suppose, was closer to the males, needing a dad.’
Natalie and her siblings spent their first few years in and out of care in Victoria, but they eventually returned to live with their mother. She wasn’t home a lot, so Natalie looked after her younger siblings until one day, when Natalie was nine, ‘the police were there to take us away’.
The children spent some time in a state-run children’s home in the mid-1970s, before being transferred to a second home. They were placed in separate cottages, but Natalie often visited her brothers, to comfort them when they were scared. That was how her brothers’ cottage parents, Vince and Cath, got to know Natalie.
Vince and Cath requested that Natalie move to their cottage and ‘I became the only female in the house … Eventually, they moved [my sister] up there too, and we shared a room’.
When Natalie was 10 or 11, ‘Vince started kissing me, open-mouthed kissing … I didn’t know what to do. I just let him do it … After that, [he] started … coming running with me and that was so he could do sexual things … I remember the first time he made me put my hand on his penis … I used to do oral sex as well …’
Vince started talking about sex, ‘but he didn’t want me to have sex until I had my period because he was concerned about blood being found in my pants’. As soon as Natalie began menstruating, Vince took her for a walk. ‘That was when he first sexed me and afterwards, he wiped me with his hanky. I was bleeding …
‘From then on, it was very sexual … I used to think … I loved him and I thought he loved me … After school … [in his] workshop … he used to sex me.’ At about this time, Natalie’s siblings returned home to live with their mother, but she stayed.
Natalie told a friend in another cottage about what Vince was doing, and the friend told her cottage parents. When Vince asked Natalie who she’d been talking to she said ‘no one’, because she was frightened. When Natalie was taken to see a doctor for an examination, she refused to take her pants down, just as Vince had instructed.
When Natalie saw her file in recent years, she read that the Department investigated the abuse, and the home was given three weeks to decide what to do. Vince and Cath were transferred to a boys’ home.
Natalie had new cottage parents, but wasn’t getting along with anyone. ‘I just wanted to be with Vince, because I thought he was the only one that loved me.’ Natalie believes that Cath knew what Vince was doing and as a result, ‘she used to give me a hard time’.
Vince continued to be in contact with Natalie. When she was sent to a youth training centre because she kept running away, Vince would pick her up after school and have sex with her.
Natalie was one of the youngest girls in the training centre and told the Commissioner that she was placed with ‘really scary, big girls’.
Natalie’s mother eventually took her to live with her grandmother, who was one family member who cared about her. She was still meeting Vince, and after he and Cath separated, Natalie was going to run away with him. She decided at the last minute that she loved her grandmother too much to leave her, and she never saw Vince again. She was 14.
When Natalie’s grandmother was overseas, Natalie ran away. She ended up on the streets, addicted to heroin and supporting herself as a sex worker. The heroin, she told the Commissioner, ‘gave me a rest from my own brain … It took pain away, to the point where it didn’t work anymore. It didn’t take the pain away, but it’s impacted my life so badly …’
All her life, Natalie just wanted to be with her father, ‘and they wouldn’t let me be with my dad. By the time I became an addict and a prostitute, I was so ashamed, I kept telling myself, “When I get straight I’ll get in contact with my dad then” … I never got to see my dad [before] he passed away’.
Natalie described how she has, ‘constantly interfering thoughts. I tried … to suicide … It’s impacted my children and … their children … One of my daughter’s now a drug addict and a sex worker herself. My daughter has … children, but she doesn’t have any of them with her …
‘I’m trying to break the chain because it seems to be generational. My daughter was in care as well. My daughter was sexually abused as well, when she was a child … She’s repeating my childhood and my young adulthood and now … she’s just given up.’
Natalie finds that it is ‘very hard … to function. I suffer very bad depression … I’ve never been able to make friends and I’ve been in prison. I’m very institutionalised … I’m a very loving person, but when I was taking [drugs] … I’d wake up in jail … and apparently I did bad things to people … a lot of aggression, which I’m very sorry for’.
Jail is where Natalie feels ‘very comfortable … I feel safe … This is the longest I’ve been out of prison and I’ve worked very hard to change myself as a person … trying to better my life, but I’m finding it extremely hard. If it wasn’t for [my granddaughter] …’
Natalie is distraught because her granddaughter has ‘gone through a really traumatic time and has been showing signs of sexual abuse … I suspected something … She said, “Daddy. Ouchy. Shhh” … That sort of confirmed it for me, so I reported it to the DHS’.
Natalie is determined that she will save her granddaughter. ‘I really think the chain needs to be broken. I can’t help other kids, but I need to help at least one of them …’
‘Today I’m scared I’m going to go and have a hit of heroin. I’ve worked so hard to get myself not using anymore. I am off it, but I just worry that because I came … I had to tell myself, I’m looking to chase that stone that used to make the things go away, when I first started. It doesn’t do that anymore. If I do that, I run the risk of losing my granddaughter …
‘I just want the memories to go away, because that controls my life so bad.’