Pearl was born in the 1940s and until she was 11 years old believed Mr and Mrs Brandon to be her parents. When the sudden death of Mrs Brandon left Pearl in the sole care of Mr Brandon, her life changed overnight. ‘He just seemed to go from a loving father to this monster. That’s the only way I can describe it: monster.’
Mr Brandon was well-educated and took Pearl out of school to home-school her, then began a process of grooming which escalated to him raping her. He called her his ‘concubine’ and chastised her for the abuse, telling her she was making him do it. About a year after the abuse started, a circus visited her area and Pearl befriended several of the workers. She then took off with them when they packed up to leave. She was soon discovered by police having been locked up and sexually assaulted by the workers. ‘I didn’t know at the time I had venereal disease. I didn’t even know what that was.’
Taken into custody, Pearl sat opposite Brandon in court. When the magistrate asked what action he wanted taken, Brandon replied that Pearl should be locked up. She said no one asked her why she’d run away and she didn’t feel able to tell them. Nor did she think Brandon was concerned she might disclose the abuse. ‘Who’s going to believe me if I tell them why I ran away from home? I don’t think he was worried. He knew I was too broken to be worried.’ It was during the court proceedings that Pearl discovered Mrs Brandon had in fact been her maternal aunt and not her mother.
Pearl was sent to a government-run girls’ home in New South Wales. Although only 12, she was accommodated with senior girls aged up to 18 years, some of whom were ‘prostitutes’ and ‘murderers’.
‘If you were meek and mild you got bullied and bashed up by the girls. If you were outspoken and bucked the system you got bashed up by the bloody people in charge of you, so you were caught between two evils. It was dog eat dog, and that’s what it was. And I decided I wasn’t going to be bashed up by the girl.’
Physical and emotional abuse was extreme and girls were sexually abused by the doctor as well as by other workers. Pearl’s sentence stipulated incarceration for 12 months or until she turned 18. After a year, she accepted the option of returning to live with Brandon. ‘One reason was that the girl who was going back there was a completely different girl to the one who’d left there.’ She was with him six weeks. ‘He tried to sexually abuse me. I hit him with the mop and I ran.’
Again apprehended, Pearl was sent back to the girls’ home for another 12 months. She described being bashed on numerous occasions by staff, particularly the officer in charge, Mr Musgrave. A common form of torture was to pull girls from their beds in the middle of the night and make them kneel beyond morning on a concrete walkway. Pearl said after one of these nights she was kicked for being unable to stand and walk.
Pearl told the Commissioner that she was in an isolation cell one night when she heard the key in the lock and looked up to see Musgrave at the open door with his fly undone and penis exposed. Having heard about him sexually abusing other girls, she said she scuttled to the far end of the cell, but he ordered her to go to him and then told her to kneel. ‘He said, “You know what to do”. I grabbed him by the balls and I pulled and I twisted and he went down in a screaming heap. I couldn’t go anywhere. The front door was locked. If even I got out of isolation, where was I going to go? So I just sat back in the corner and watched him. Finally, he more or less dragged himself into the corridor, kicked the door shut, didn’t lock it. A little while later I heard him go out the front, lock that door.’
A short time later Musgrave returned to the cell and repeatedly kicked and beat Pearl, picking her up and throwing her against the wall. She lay in a ball until the next morning when a worker discovered her and sent for the hospital matron who took Pearl in a wheelchair to be examined by the doctor. Staff reset her dislocated shoulder, gave her a shower and a piece of toast, and sent her back to the isolation cell.
Once out of isolation, Pearl was in the grounds of the home one day when she saw some workmen’s scaffolding and used it to escape over the wall. She fled to Victoria and at various later points was jailed for robbery offences until deciding in her 20s that she didn’t want to live like that anymore. She subsequently married, had ‘four beautiful children’ and said she reconciled with Brandon before his death in the early 1990s. Her children had grown up knowing him as their grandfather. Only recently had Pearl told two of her children about the abuse.
In the 2000s, Pearl found out a class action had been initiated by some of the girls from the home, and after obtaining her file she approached the law firm pursuing the action. It was ultimately unsuccessful because the statute of limitations for NSW had expired, something Pearl thought needed changing. ‘People have a right to fight at the time they can deal with it.’ In a separate later matter, she received $40,000 by way of criminal injuries compensation because of the sexual abuse by Brandon. She said she was now too old to think about further action for her treatment in the girls’ home.