In 1960 at the age of four, Selina’s mother placed her four children in a government-run orphanage in Victoria. The siblings were separated and Selina and her older brother Frank were sent to the children’s section while the two youngest were placed in the babies’ home. It was a place, Selina said, where ‘cruelty was endemic’.
The shared understanding Selina and other children had of the sexual abuse they were subjected to was ‘an undercurrent’.
‘If we take the word of “sex” out of it and get back to that level, back to a childhood thinking, we knew there were people you didn’t want to go with or near’, Selina said. She remembered one woman at the home who’d ‘offer the little boys musk sticks to fiddle with them in the toilets’.
One of the whispered warnings was about Nurse Booth. On one occasion all the children were made to stand in line with their tongues out while the nurse went along hitting each child in the jaw so they bit their tongues. As a young girl, Selina was made Nurse Booth’s ‘tea girl’, which meant she had to attend the nurse’s private quarters and serve tea. At these times, Nurse Booth would sexually abuse Selina by fondling her genitals.
Physical abuse was also meted out by older girls who were put in charge of younger children while staff absented themselves. On one occasion, Selina was rendered unconscious after being nearly drowned. On another, she was stabbed with a mathematical compass and spent days in the sick bay. Older girls also had an initiation ceremony for younger ones which involved tattooing them with glass and other sharp instruments. Selina managed to avoid this because of her brother Frank’s intervention.
In the early 70s Selina and her siblings left the orphanage and returned to live with their mother, who was drinking heavily and ‘still a bit wild’. Selina left her mother’s home at the age of 17 and returned a few years later to retrieve her younger sister.
The orphanage closed in the late 60s. When Selina tried to retrieve her records, she was frustrated that although her siblings all had files – some of them quite detailed – there were few notes about her.
‘I’ve got some basic stuff but from the orphanage, but no state – you know, ward of the state records or anything. It’s all gone. So that’s one area that I feel like I need some, you know, justice on that.’
In the decades before speaking to the Royal Commission, Selina had come to notice the effect the orphanage and the physical and sexual abuse had had on her life. As a child she’d become withdrawn, fearful and untrusting of people, particularly authority figures, and she now worked hard to prevent this carrying over into adult life.
‘The orphanage leaves you with a feeling that you’re very isolated’, she said. ‘You’re very controlled by people and you have nowhere to go. All you can do is talk to the other kids and try and duck and weave situations. They’re the ramifications. And of course I’ve had full psychiatric analysis and it came up with the usual: PTSD … I’m not so interested in the psycho-babble of it all. I’d rather just get on with life. I’ve found a niche in what I do and that helps me cope.’
Selina told the Commissioner that she worries about having to go into residential care as she gets older. ‘I do not want to be put back into an old person’s home … To me that would be just like the start of my life and the finish of my life. It would be very traumatic.’
In coming to the Royal Commission, Selina said she was speaking for her brother as well as herself. Frank took his own life in 2001 and Selina was sure he’d been sexually abused in the orphanage. She wished the Royal Commission had come earlier.
‘If we could go back in time 30 years ago, before I had children, it would have been very valuable. Thirty years ago when Frank was still working in his trade, still had issues, but I think it would have been extremely valuable for him as an individual to have had counselling and somebody listening and going through it. He was in and out of mental institutions in his life, and he tried to suicide a couple of times. He was very troubled. So yeah, based on that it would have been good if we could have gone back in time. But it’s not too late. We can still make a difference.’