Raylene's story

‘I want it out there in the open so it doesn’t happen to anyone else. That’s my main concern. I don’t want it to happen in any other – like I don’t know if there’s any more girls’ homes around, I don’t know, but I don’t want it to happen to anyone even in schools or anywhere, you know. Tell somebody, but make sure they listen to you. Not like in the homes, they didn’t listen to you.’

At the age of eight Raylene was sent to live with her grandparents while her siblings remained living with her mother and stepfather.

She was ‘very uncontrollable’ from a young age and by early high school had ‘started acting up – running away and staying out for the weekends and things like that’.

She doesn’t think there was any particular reason for doing so. ‘I just think I was rebellious back in them days, I think. Maybe because my mum didn’t care about me, I don’t know. I think I might have been rebellious, didn’t want to go by the rules back in them days.’

In and out of short-term juvenile justice facilities, Raylene was in her mid-teens in the late 1960s when she was brought before a magistrate and charged with being ‘uncontrolled and exposed to moral danger’. Her mother had sought the order, requesting that Raylene be incarcerated until she turned 18.

She was told that wasn’t possible, but for the next three years, Raylene was sent to a girls’ home for long periods with short intervals of freedom spent with her grandparents.

During the time she was in the girls’ home, Raylene was physically and emotionally abused, and in a facility affiliated with the home, she was raped.

In the home, girls were made to work in the laundry and scrub floors and outdoor areas. The first time, Raylene ‘did everything I was told’, but her second period of incarceration ‘was the worst’. She was ‘kicked around’, ‘pushed’ and given beatings, and sent ‘down the dungeon’.

‘You might have had a pillow if you were lucky, and that’s where you stayed till it was time to come out. They might come down there and give you a hiding or anything, and that was it, and they just walk out, you know. [You’d] come out black and blue and if you weren’t good again, you go back there or you go into isolation. That was sort of upstairs a little bit. I think it was upstairs. It was a shithole too, but the dungeon was worse than isolation.’

One day Raylene refused to scrub an outdoor area. She’d become known as ‘one of the bad girls’ and ‘they threw me in the dungeon’. Then late at night she was taken from the dungeon and driven hundreds of kilometres to another detention centre.

There, girls were made to shovel dirt and ‘march everywhere like we were the military’.

‘Eyes down all the time. We had 10 minutes talk a day, and you’re only allowed to talk about the weather or whatever, and you had to dig, dig, dig, exercise, exercise, dig, exercise, dig, exercise. We had one cell each. We had to always face the door. We weren’t allowed to face anywhere else but the door when we went to sleep, and then it was just horrific.’

When Raylene one day ‘refused to dig’, she was ‘dragged to isolation’ and left there for two days. During that time one of the male officers came into her cell and raped her. Despite sustaining severe injuries and bleeding heavily, she was returned to digging work, until eventually being taken to hospital.

She has no recollection of going to the local hospital despite her records reporting that she had. She does remember the Sydney hospital she was admitted to where she tried to tell staff about the abuse and treatment in the centre. They ‘didn’t believe it’, Raylene said. ‘[It] never happened.’

From hospital, Raylene was sent back to the original girls’ home and she continued staying there on and off till she was 18. She’d had little education by that time and had ‘come out a blithering mess’.

‘It’s affected me ever since, actually ... I just went out and I don’t know what I did, but I didn’t go to jail or nothing. But I ended up in two psychiatric hospitals. Ended up getting married, had three beautiful daughters. I left them with their father ‘cause I wasn’t a mother. I couldn’t, I couldn’t show love to them because I never had any love given to me and I couldn’t give them any.’

In later life, Raylene reconnected with her daughters and she told them about her experiences in detention. They were ‘shocked at the treatment’ she’d been subjected to, and had accompanied her on a visit to look at the girls’ home.

Reading her welfare files in later years, Raylene found ‘there was a lot of lies in there’ and much of the content had been redacted.

Over the years she’d seen mental health professionals and had been admitted to psychiatric hospitals, but only recently did she feel that she was ‘getting a bit of support’.

‘Because I do need it because back in the early stage I did try to commit suicide a couple of times. I have tried to commit suicide a couple of times.’

She told of living ‘a real peaceful life, you know what I mean’ now, and hoped other children were listened to and believed if they ever spoke up about any kind of abuse.

‘The world’s pretty cruel out there. The bullying’s coming in now and I hope my grandchildren do not get into trouble like I did, you know … I don’t think they will, but they could, you don’t know.’

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