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Roma's story

As a child Roma kept running away from home because her grandfather wanted her to ‘touch his private parts with my mouth’. Although Roma told police and her mother and anyone else she met, ‘nobody listened’. A magistrate one day ‘had had enough’ and made her a ward of the state, ordering she be incarcerated in a girls’ detention facility outside Sydney.

Roma arrived at the facility in the early 1970s when she was 16 years old. Her sister came a year later and during the time they were in the centre, both girls were subjected to physical and emotional abuse. Roma was also sexually abused and though they never spoke about it, she thinks her sister, Daisy, was as well.

In a written statement and in her private session with the Royal Commission, Roma said she wanted also to speak for Daisy who now had dementia. As a child, Daisy had been more outspoken than Roma and in the detention facility ‘got some horrendous beatings, especially around the head’.

‘I want to stand up for my sister and give her a voice, and have her experience and truth acknowledged.’

As well as being forced to undergo a vaginal examination by a male doctor, Roma was sexually abused by Kevin Bingham, the manager of the facility. She described how he would touch her breasts and put his hands down her pants, and together with other staff, he ‘leered’ at girls as they showered.

Roma said Bingham ‘had this thing’ about Aboriginal girls.

‘When I first arrived at [the centre], Bingham asked me if I was Aboriginal and when I said, “Yes”, he hit me across my head which knocked me down.’

Bingham then called her a ‘dirty half-caste’ and told her she was ‘disgusting’.

In the year she spent in the facility, Roma was sent to solitary confinement – ‘thrown down the stairs to the dungeon’. She’d heard that Bingham raped girls in the dungeon and spent the whole time terrified he’d do so. She wasn’t allowed to go to the toilet and when she eventually came out with soiled underwear, Bingham encouraged other girls to laugh at her. ‘I knew they weren’t laughing at me’, Roma said.

In visiting hours on Sundays girls wore ‘pretty dresses’ but once the visitors left, ‘it all went straight back to normal’.

‘If you were lucky enough to get visitors, you knew that [staff] were looking at you because the minute you opened your mouth you knew you were going to get flogged.’

Roma told a welfare officer about Bingham who told her to ‘pull your socks up’. When she disclosed the abuse to her mother she received a similar reply.

‘No one wanted to do anything. Don’t rock the boat, I suppose that’s the attitude they took.’

In later years, Roma found her welfare files and became aware that her mother had had a mental illness.

‘My papers have made me realise a lot about my mum even though she lost us a lot of times. But it’s made me [see] how hard it must have been in them days for her to try and rear five children, and it would have been hard for her. And I can’t tell her thank you, because she’s not here to say it anymore. I say it in my heart to her, but mental illness is such a horrible thing. She must have done something right, because I’m sitting here.’

At 17, Roma found out she was pregnant and was threatened with being sent back to the detention facility and having her baby taken from her. However, she met a man who accepted the baby and they married and had several more children.

Although Roma had spoken to her eldest daughter about the physical abuse in the centre, she hadn’t mentioned the sexual abuse because she was ‘embarrassed’.

Her marriage had been happy but it had taken Roma a ‘long, long time’ to trust anybody. She said she ‘wasn’t a good mum’ and had been ‘very hard’ on the children.

‘I don’t know why. Quick-tempered. And rather than hit them, I’d scream, and that’s worse. It’s only been the last – well, since they’ve had their own children and I’ve actually explained to them that it’s hard being a mother, but it’s even harder when you’ve been somewhere and you’ve had someone scream in your face and you think that’s normal.’

In the year before coming to speak to the Royal Commission, Roma saw Bingham mentioned in media reports that described different girls’ accounts of their treatment by him while they were in the facility. This encouraged her to start the process of making her own report to NSW Police.

Roma said the passing of her husband had been very difficult and though her greatest joy was her grandchildren, memories of the detention facility sometimes still resurfaced.

‘Don’t get me wrong, my home is my haven. When I’ve had a really bad day or bad night, I can roll my blinds down and nobody knows what I’m doing. I can cry, I can throw things, smash things, do what I like. When my blinds are up, then you know I’m as happy as a lark …

‘My safety’s my home. That’s where I go, like my kids know my blinds are down … just leave me alone. Don’t ring me, don’t knock on the door. And then when it passes I’ll put the blind up, I’ll ring them, let them know. But yes, no, my home’s my haven, it definitely is.’

 

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