‘I used to have a lot of nightmares when I first came home. Just the anxiety, the fears I had … I sort of live in a state of anxiety.’
Sandra was 15 when she began rebelling against her Seventh Day Adventist parents.
‘When I was young, I just wanted to do my own thing … they were good people.’
She tried to run away a number of times and was eventually picked up by police. Sandra was labelled ‘uncontrollable’ in 1965 and sent to a New South Wales state-run girls’ home for several months. She found the home intimidating and frightening.
‘I just knew I had to behave myself because I wouldn’t have been able to cope. Mum sent me letters every week and if I didn’t get them … I’d get myself in a really big emotional mess … It was just more fear than anything.’
Sandra experienced intrusive and humiliating abuse from the staff, and physical abuse from a couple of the other older girls. She remembers having to scrub concrete with a toothbrush and undergoing full body examinations every week.
‘We had a shower, and then we had to come and stand at the end of our beds, naked, and just hold the towel over and open it up. Then they pushed your arms around, and your legs and made you turn around … it was unnecessary.’
One meal time, Sandra revealed her fear of one of the guards.
‘I said to one of the girls that I was frightened of him and I didn’t like him. And the officer said to me, “Don’t say that again” … he grabbed hold of my hair and he just said, “You’ll see how much you like me after I’ve finished with you”, and he cut half the side of me hair off.’
Sandra also feels debilitating guilt from an incident that occurred in the home with her best friend.
‘We were both in the same sewing room … she went to another sewing room and when the teacher asked me where she was, I just said she was in the other room. I didn’t know it was wrong. Anyhow she got into a lot of trouble and they put her down in the dormitory. I don’t know what happened to her. We never spoke again.
‘I’ve always thought about her. She was such a nice girl.’
Sandra has accessed her welfare file and has found it to be largely inaccurate.
‘All of it’s not right … They said I was well adjusted in the home. But I know I wasn’t well adjusted.’
She also has no memory of being seen by a doctor or a psychologist as her file alleges.
Sandra has had great difficulty since she was released from the home. She didn’t re-engage with school; she married young and had children early. Her anxiety has affected all aspects of her life.
‘I couldn’t even mix with my friends when I come home. I tried to hide from them … I thought I wasn’t good enough.
‘If I was to go to my friend’s house, I used to have to stand in the doorway, and she’d say, “Come in”, and I’d say, “I don’t know if I can or not”.
'I’d stand there for a while, I’d have to think about it, and sometimes I could go and sit, then other times like I’ve just got to say, “I’ve got to go now, I’ve got to go home” to a safe place.
‘I need help with my anxiety. I'm frightened of some people – I don’t mix with anybody, really.’
Sandra has had therapeutic counselling and is now receiving assistance from Knowmore, a legal support service. Sandra’s family are also very supportive and encouraged her to attend the Royal Commission to tell her story.