‘I’m Rachel, and I’m a survivor, but I’ve still got a lot of years in front of me and the memories will never go away … Time heals. Counselling helps. But some things you just can’t talk about, because it’s just too hard … I’ve carried this baggage with me, I’ve dragged it behind me my whole life. It’s time to bin it and try and get on with my life.’
Rachel’s father died in the early 1970s, when she was six. ‘My last memory of Dad, Mum took us to the hospital … and he was wearing striped flannel pyjamas and he horsed around with us kids on the bed, and we got told he got taken to Sydney, and then we got told he was dead.’
Their mother had a breakdown so Rachel and her siblings were placed in care for several years, before returning to live with their mother. When she was 12, Rachel was called to the principal’s office at school one day. ‘There was this bloke there and I got told to go with him.’
Rachel was taken to the courthouse, before being driven home by a Department of Community Services worker. ‘The car pulled into the driveway at home. Mum didn’t even come out. My suitcase and teddy bear was on the front verandah and we drove to the … airport.’
Rachel was sent to a children’s home in Sydney, before spending time in two other homes in regional New South Wales. As an adult she discovered that she had been sent to these homes because her mother had deemed her uncontrollable.
‘It says that I was uncontrollable, but … when I look back on it all, I was grieving for my dad. I didn’t believe that Dad was dead. I mean we didn’t get to go to his funeral. I never really accepted it until I was taken to … [the] cemetery … when I was 13.’
At the first children’s home, the children were taken on day trips to a national park. ‘That’s where I was first touched up … The first couple of [trips] … it was good … and then one trip, I got asked to stay behind at the bus to help carry the esky and yeah, after that, you just didn’t want to be singled out to stay behind to carry the esky …’
Rachel told the Commissioner, ‘The first time it happened to me, I spoke to one of the workers, but they didn’t believe me. They called me a liar and they punished me’.
Rachel experienced further sexual abuse at two other homes. At one, the worker ‘used to wake us up, his favourite girls, with, “Wakey-wakey, hands on Snakey”. Funny how you remember that. I remember it clear as day. I’ve always wanted to stand in front of that man and ask him, “Why?” He’s probably dead now’.
When Rachel first arrived at one of the homes, ‘the other girls said, “Hey, make sure you’re not caught with this dude and this dude, and by that stage, I’d sort of, well, with what I’d gone through … you’d try your hardest, but sometimes they’d just … you’d be singled out …
‘You’d get treated like you’re extra special and when you’re living in an environment, where, you know, it’s not your family, and someone takes extra interest in you, you think they’re being nice, but they’re only grooming you, and because of what I went through … in those homes, it impacted big time on my life.’
Rachel has trust issues, because ‘I don’t know if I’m being treated nice because I’m a nice person or whether I’m being treated nice for bad things to happen and it’s been a real problem … You learn not to trust, because if you trust somebody, you’re going to get hurt, and I’ve gone through too much …’
As well as sexual abuse, Rachel experienced emotional and physical abuse in the homes. ‘If you didn’t toe the line … you might be lucky if you … just got your privileges taken off you … If you weren’t lucky, then you’d get the strap or you’d get boxed around the ears …
‘If I had a cent for every time a … worker called me useless and dumb, mate, I’d be taking us all on a round-the-world trip … You tell a child she’s useless and dumb … often enough, it’s just going to start [thinking], “Well, maybe … I am useless. Maybe I am dumb”. I didn’t have self-confidence or self-esteem.’
It took Rachel a long time to regain her self-confidence. ‘I can’t stand in front of a mirror and say that I like the person that looks back at me, because at times I still feel that I am useless and dumb, but I know I’m not. I know I’m extremely intelligent.’
Rachel was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder nearly 10 years ago. She sees a counsellor regularly, and after initially resisting being put on a disability pension, she has now accepted it.
Rachel commented, ‘Some people get this picture of me as this really strong, happy-go-lucky person, because that’s what I want them to see … When I first heard about this Commission … I thought, “Yeah, maybe [I] should contact [it]” … Then I thought, “Nah, they’re not going to believe anything. They’re just going to treat you like you were treated when you were a kid”’.
Rachel spent five months camping on a riverbank, before she finally picked up the phone and rang the Royal Commission.
‘I’m most likely going camping [soon], because I’m going to need time to pull this in the right places, so I can get on my way … and my way of doing that is to go walkabout.’
Rachel told the Commissioner, ‘No child should have to go through what myself and thousands of other kids went through. What we went through was wrong and it’s sad that it’s taken so long for welfare to realise their mistakes and even now they’re still making the same mistakes. They haven’t changed. They’ve just got politically correct …
‘[But], a spade’s a spade … You don’t abuse kids. You don’t abuse anybody. And if … what I’ve told you and all the others have told you can bring the changes that will safeguard future wards of the state, then I am proud to be sitting here, because I know that I was part of those changes.’