Roseanne doesn’t know much about her parents. Her father wasn’t around, and her mother was pretty much absent as well. ‘She was an alcoholic – really didn’t know who was who – you know, I didn’t have any connection to her at all. She was just someone who was drunk in a pub, basically.’
Roseanne was placed in care for the first time when she was one. A few years later, in the early 1960s, she was made a ward of the state and sent to join her sisters at a Salvation Army children’s home in regional Victoria.
The home was run by Matron Sullivan, a brigadier in the organisation. She was a ‘shocking’ woman, Roseanne said – and violent.
‘She would do anything to hurt you, all the time … she ran it like an army barracks, I suppose. We – we didn’t have opinions, we didn’t have ideas or thoughts, we were cloned. All the same. We ran our life by bells. In the mornings, if you didn’t have a hanky with your name on it, or a comb, then you get beaten before breakfast.’
Children at the home went to local schools, where they were stigmatised. ‘We were the home kids, and everybody else was normal. And the teachers treated us like home kids … “You won’t become anything” … We had to absorb anything we could without being taught.’
In her first years at the home, Roseanne spent holidays with ‘beautiful’ people, the Schulzes. When she was 12 those visits came to end, without explanation. Instead, she and her younger sister Hazel were sent to stay with a single man, Mr Weston – Roseanne didn’t know his first name. ‘They said okay, you’re going with him’, she recalled.
The monthly weekend visits were an opportunity for Weston to ‘do whatever he wanted to’. Roseanne couldn’t defend herself against his sexual assaults. ‘We were taught to not have an opinion, not have a say, so whatever he did, that was just – we couldn’t argue.’ She’s not sure how long the abuse lasted – a long time – or why it came to an end.
At the same time, she was being sexually abused by two boys in the home, who would come into the dorm at night. ‘And there was people there, in the same building – people that were supposed to be looking after us …
‘I remember thinking that this is just normal. This must be just normal.’
There were other assaults as well. One day Roseanne, her sister Hazel and another girl ran away – ‘Down the stairs, over the bridge, we were gone’. That night they were picked up by two men and raped. The next day they were returned to the home and the police were called. Later the girls discovered the two men who’d attacked them were themselves police officers.
‘You know, the pattern. It just didn’t stop, until I was 16.’
Roseanne left state care then and moved into a boarding house. At one point, penniless, she went to a local police station and asked for some money. ‘They told me to fuck off, basically.’ As a result of her experiences with police she has never reported her abusers.
‘I didn’t have any faith in them at all … They’re supposed to help people – they haven’t helped me at all.’
Roseanne married very young, to a man who turned to out to be a gambler. She self-medicated to deal with the pain of her past. ‘Before I had the children, I used alcohol to kill it, and drugs. It wasn’t too good’, she told the Commissioner. ‘When the children were born, I made a pact then that I wasn’t going to drink or smoke … I stopped all that.’
But her husband wasn’t a good man. ‘[He] told me I couldn’t bring up the children because I wasn’t brought up. That was his statement. So – I struggled with that for a long time.’ The relationship ended, after 14 or 15 years. After that, she remained single.
‘I didn’t want my children to see me with someone. In my bed. So I didn’t have a relationship for a long, long time.’
When she did re-partner it was with a woman, and her intimate relationships have been with women ever since. Her partner came with her to the Commission; she is a source of ‘amazing’ support, Roseanne said.
Roseanne has also found counselling, accessed through specialised support service Open Place, to be very valuable. She’s been seeing a counsellor there for about a year, and says she’s fantastic.
‘She has helped me remember so many things I hadn’t remembered … Really helpful.’
Roseanne’s partner reminded her that one of the reasons she’d come to the Commission was to speak for a couple of other girls who’d been at the home ‘who didn’t make it. Who couldn’t come.’ Roseanne recalled one in particular, who’d been raped by the gardener. ‘She became an alcoholic and she drank herself to death.’
Roseanne thinks the reason she is still here, doing okay, is ‘probably my children. Seeing them grow up into decent adults. I don’t know whether I would have been the same person if I didn’t have the children, ‘cause I probably wouldn’t be alive. Because I wouldn’t have stopped doing what I was doing … Yeah, I think it was them.’