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Roseanne Shirley's story

Roseanne and her older sister Glenda were made wards of the state in the 1950s, and sent to a babies’ home while their other siblings went to different institutions. When Roseanne was two, the girls were fostered out to Alfred and Marjory Spalding.

The Spaldings were ‘terrible people’ who treated the girls badly but were seen as a respectable Anglican couple by the wider community. Roseanne and Glenda were expected to help the couple maintain their public image.

‘Nobody knew what went on behind the doors, you know. But you’d go out, you’d have to put a front on. You’d have to smile when you didn’t want to smile. And they’d dress you up, well, she’d dress you up like a doll. Make a showpiece of you. And then when you were at home it was different again, they just didn’t care.’

When they were taken to visit relatives they would be locked away in a room and not allowed to play with their cousins.

Alfred physically and sexually abused both girls, raping Glenda and forcing Roseanne to masturbate him on many occasions, from when they were five and six years old. He bashed them frequently, and would watch them in the shower. ‘It was terrible. Glenda used to cop it more than me.’

Roseanne believes Marjory knew what her husband was doing. Although Alfred threatened her not to tell anyone, Roseanne tried to report the abuse to two different social workers. They both called her a liar so she kept quiet after this. A teacher at school noticed signs of physical maltreatment and called the Spaldings in. They denied that anything had happened, and beat Roseanne again.

When she was 15 Roseanne ran away from Alfred and Marjory, but her sister stayed. ‘I asked her to come with me but she didn’t.’

Glenda became pregnant in her early 20s, and Roseanne believes Alfred was probably the father. She also suspects he may have been responsible for Glenda’s death not long afterwards. It is certain that there was inaccurate information on Glenda’s death certificate, and no proper service was held for her.

Roseanne married early and had two children, and was widowed a couple of years ago. It was only after her husband passed away that she first disclosed the abuse by Alfred as an adult, telling her psychologist. She has never made a police report but both of her foster parents are now deceased.

‘I didn’t share it with my family till just now ... Just this year I told them about it. I didn’t want them to go through what I went through ... Now they’re old enough to understand and so I told them a bit. And they reckon it’s terrible. We had it bloody hard, I tell ya.’

Roseanne told the Commissioner of numerous impacts of the abuse, including a loss of education through being unable to concentrate at school, poor physical health, anxiety, depression, nightmares and being unable to trust others.

At the moment she is seeking her welfare files and considering taking civil action. ‘I don’t want to make money out of it. But I just want things to be right for the future.’

The memory of Glenda, and the sadness of her early passing, is ever present for Roseanne. Her greatest strength comes ‘from my heart, ‘cause I love my sister. And she didn’t have much of a life, that’s for sure. And I miss her’.

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