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Regan's story

‘I was the one who was maltreated and whatever and so I ran away. And that’s where the nightmare began.’

Regan was made a ward of the state in the mid-1960s after running away several times from her abusive and neglectful mother. ‘I was 12 and my mother didn’t want me. I was in her way … Went through court. I remember my mum standing across saying that she didn’t want me.’

After being removed from her home, Regan was placed in a youth detention facility in Victoria where she was immediately subjected to an inappropriately conducted vaginal examination, allegedly to check for pregnancy and venereal disease.

‘The staff stood behind me and promptly pulled my pants down. And the next minute I’m on a table and there’s this man, doctor. He puts instruments in you and, so you’re fighting and you’re kicking and you’re screaming. And the staff lay across you and tell you to “shut up, it’s for your own good”. Again, you’re only 12 years old. And then he uses his fingers.’

Within 24 hours of arriving at the centre, Regan was ‘up and over that wall and gone because of what they did’. However she found that the police would pick her up and return her to the centre every time she absconded. Although the vaginal examination was intended to happen only once, Regan was subjected to it every time she was returned, and she continued to run away because of the abuse.

‘And then it happens again. You get caught, they pick you up, put you back in there. And it’s just a vicious circle. And the further you run you think the safer you are … But the police still get you.’

Conditions at the centre were harsh. In addition to physical and emotional abuse, Regan received no education and was forced to perform manual labour.

‘You have to work in the home scrubbing floors, doing laundry … cooking … I remember this staff, her name was Mrs McKellar. And she used to get great pleasure in walking past you for no reason and giving you a clip across the back of the head because you deserved it or you’d done something she didn’t like and looked the wrong way. It didn’t really matter because you were good for nothing … you’d amount to nothing. Her favourite words were “You’re a rotten egg. Nobody loves you, that’s why you’re here” … They drugged you also … That was to stop me running away ... And that knocked the wind out of me for a while.’

In spite of her sedation, Regan continued to run away, get picked up by the police and returned to the centre where she was subjected to further invasive vaginal examinations. ‘There was no one to tell ‘cause who the hell was gonna listen? The people you were gonna tell are the ones that are doing it to you anyway. They’re not gonna believe a child, because you were bad and that’s why you were put in here.’

When she was about 16 Regan attempted to take her own life. ‘One time when I was on the run, as they used to call it, I thought that it would be easier if I wasn’t around … knowing at the end of the day if I got caught I’m going back there ... I just remember the piece of glass and I just remember pulling at that big vein … I’m glad it didn’t work now. Back then that’s all I could think would be the easy way out to stop the pain.’

During one attempted escape, Regan became pregnant and gave birth to a daughter six months before her release.

‘The government of the day sent around these people to talk to me when the child was born … “How can you look after this poor child? Your mother doesn’t want you. You have no job. You’ve still got time left here. Do the right thing by the poor little thing and have her fostered for six months. And then when you get out you get your job and you care for this child”. It took a while but they finally wore me down and I signed the papers.’

After six months Regan tried to claim her daughter only to find she had been adopted and Regan had no means of contacting her. ‘So I went through my life not [only] having my childhood ripped away from me but also having hers.’

Regan was released from the centre was she was about 18, and described her life afterwards as ‘an absolute runaway train. I destroyed everything I got my hands on. I went through life like a wrecking ball … I ruined three marriages … And when your marriage fails the words of what they said to you come back. You know, “No one will love you, nobody wants you”. And then you say to yourself “See, they were right”’.

In addition to emotional struggles, Regan turned to alcohol to numb the pain. ‘I hate going to new places when there’s too many people around. I hate being alone. That’s when the brain takes over and the only way to stop that … is to crack open a bottle. And that sounds desperate but it does help until the next morning. I can proudly say I’ve never done drugs, I don’t do that type of thing. But over the years I have been a big drinker.’

In the mid-2000s a number of personal tragedies triggered memories of her childhood and led to a breakdown. ‘It was horrific. And then my husband at the time had to be told. And nightmares started of course, sleepless nights.’

Regan disclosed the abuse to a counsellor who helped her contact a service that reconnects adopted children with their birth parents. Through this service she established a relationship with her firstborn daughter and explained the circumstances under which she was adopted. ‘She’s very wild, probably a bit like me, was. So like I said, they just didn’t destroy my life, they destroyed my child’s life, ripped everybody apart.’ Regan has two other children, with one of whom she has a very strong relationship.

In 2009 Regan obtained her welfare records only to find the contents were inaccurate and upsetting. ‘The lies in there are incredible … [They] made me out a raving lunatic. I don’t remember that child. I remember a defiant child, yes. I remember stubborn. And I remember yeah I did run away every chance I got. And that was only because of the way I was treated.’

Regan is supported by Care Leavers Australia Network (CLAN) and Open Place, who helped her obtain her vocational certificate a few years ago. ‘I had no education, nothing. And everything I’ve learned I’ve taught myself. But that makes me angry because you want to grow up and be able to get a job or career or something … Quite a few years ago I decided “Enough”… So I got my certificate. I passed.’

Regan has never reported the abuse nor sought compensation. She has received counselling previously and would like to re-engage with it. ‘It’s just now been a constant open wound that won’t heal. It just keeps oozing out. So you just cope probably the best you can. There’s no cure.’

She credits her resilience to the support from CLAN, Open Place and her youngest daughter, as well as her drive to not let ‘the bastards win’. All Australians should be aware of the abuse inflicted on Forgotten Australians, which will help to heal the past and prevent it from recurring in the future, Regan believes.

‘If the whole big bubble was burst and everybody knew and everybody was safe and they accepted and understood, that probably would make me a bit safer too.’

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