Rita was taken into care when she was two years old as her mother was an alcoholic who could not look after her or her siblings. ‘I met my father, but he didn’t play a part much in our lives.’
Her first placement was in a Catholic orphanage in regional New South Wales in the early 1950s. During her years at the orphanage she was sent to stay with a family who lived on an orchard. An older man, who Rita thinks may have been the grandfather, sexually abused her there.
‘After the lady would take me in for a bath, she would leave me in the care of this old man ... He would stand me on the lounge chair, facing the window, so he could see when everybody was coming back.’ The man would then put his hands inside her underpants and ‘touch me’.
‘He did it quite a few times, and I didn’t do anything, I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. I was only a little kid. I never told anybody ... And he did it every day when the lady bathed me ... I was only a little kid.’
Rita and her siblings then moved back in with her mother. ‘We only stayed there for about 12 months. My mother was drinking more and more, and she’d just neglect us.’ The younger children, including Rita, were then placed at a Catholic children’s home on the outskirts of Sydney when she was around eight.
When Rita was in her early teens she had to move on from the home. ‘Christmas holidays they used to send us to foster people. And this Christmas the workers told me [the home] was going to close ... So they told me I had to go to another orphanage, and that would have been my third orphanage. But before I went to the orphanage I had to go out with some people, called Mr and Mrs Miller.’
The couple still had children of their own living with them. ‘I stayed there for the holidays, which was good, but during the holidays something started going wrong and they started getting cruel and calling me names and things.’
When the holidays where ending Rita was asked if she wanted to stay living with them. ‘I chose to go to another orphanage, ‘cause I didn’t like the people. They weren’t really nice.’
Rita was placed in a Catholic girls’ home in suburban Sydney, and her decision irritated the Millers. ‘They told me that I was an ungrateful girl, and I was going to be sorry. And I was sorry when I got there because they used to, they [staff] would bash me ... I never made any friends in there, and I didn’t want to. I hated it, and I was that lonely and depressed.’
In the next holidays the Millers came back for Rita, and asked again if she wanted to stay with them.
‘And I didn’t like ‘em but I went. Because it was my escape to get out of the orphanages, and that’s what I did. So I went there, and it was alright for a little while. And then as I was starting to get older and the girls [the daughters] they used to steal off me and read my mail ... They were very big girls.
‘And then they started arguing who was going to sleep with me that night. And they used to take turns of getting into my bed, and they would just touch my boobs and sometimes their mouth might of went near me, and I used to just lay there and I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. I was embarrassed.’
This kind of thing had happened to her before, in the second home. ‘Girls used to get in my bed and when you’re in the orphanage you don’t say anything, ‘cause nobody would believe you. I never said anything.’
Rita has ‘followed the Royal Commission a bit’ and looked at the CLAN (Care Leavers Australia Network) website. ‘It actually started me off, I started doing a bit of investigation for myself, for my past, trying to get records – which I did [for some of the orphanages].’
She told the Commissioner she came forward with her story ‘to help other little children’, although at first she did not understand that her experiences were actually sexual abuse.
‘I was going to do it a while ago but it kept just saying “sexual abuse”, and to me sexual abuse was penetration. And I thought “well, they’re not going to want to listen to my bloody story”. That’s how I actually thought. And I just thought it was all about a priest or somebody in institutions actually raping or molesting or something like that, children, and little boys.’
Also, ‘I didn’t think my story was worth it. ‘Cause everybody else has had worse times, people touching them and raping them, and I thought mine was very trivial. But I had to talk in the end’.