Soon after her birth in the late 1940s, Sharon was placed in the care of Shirley, a woman living in country Tasmania. Sharon remembers about 10 different children coming and going in Shirley’s house over the years, and they were all sexually abused by Shirley’s partner, Trevor, and her son, Wayne.
Sharon told the Commissioner that when she was eight, several older children were removed from Shirley’s care. Sharon and another girl, Lisa, remained, though Sharon wasn’t sure if anyone knew they were there. The girls rarely attended school and no one came to check on them. Sharon said that Trevor and Wayne started sexually abusing her at about the same time. The abuse continued two to three times per week for the next eight years.
‘They’d drink and carry on, and there was always a gun around, so they’d threaten to shoot us if we didn’t do what they wanted.’
Sharon and Lisa slept in one of the sheds and weren’t allowed in the house, except to do chores. They tended cattle and cooked and cleaned for Shirley, Trevor and Wayne, another son and daughter, as well as Shirley’s grandchildren. For food, Sharon and Lisa scraped the plates for something to eat and were often made to steal neighbours’ crops for food for the others.
At the age of 12, Sharon told Shirley that Trevor and Wayne were interfering with her. ‘She gave me a belting and I thought, “That’s it, I’m going to go to the police. There’d have to be somewhere better than here”. I walked 13 kilometres to the station to tell them, but they wouldn’t listen. They put me in the car and drove me back, and said, “Don’t come here again”.’ I ran away when I was 15 because I was sick of it. I was hungry and I had no clothes. I took some things from the shop and got caught.’
When Sharon appeared in court on a stealing charge, someone must have noted she was pregnant, because soon after she was sent to a Catholic girls’ home. She did cleaning and laundry chores through the day and at night cared for some elderly residents of a nearby retirement home.
Sharon said it was better than where she’d been, but that she didn’t receive any information about being pregnant, and wasn’t really aware that she was. One evening, she developed cramps and didn’t go to the evening meal. Her labour started soon after. Sharon said she tried to leave her room, but found the door was locked and she couldn’t get out. By the time her screams brought attention, she’d given birth to a baby girl. The baby was immediately taken from her, and Sharon was later given conflicting messages as to whether the child had survived. A death certificate stated the baby was stillborn, but Sharon said she’d heard the baby cry, and she thought there was a possibility the girl was still alive.
Sharon later married and had two children. She didn’t tell her husband about the baby until the government apology to the Forgotten Australians in 2009.
‘There were so many people there just like me. It was a real eye opener.’
She carried a great sadness that the other children she’d grown up with had found their birth families and she hadn’t. ‘I think that would have helped, to know who I was, or to know something about where I’d come from.’
In 2010, Sharon received $55,000 from the Tasmanian Government redress scheme. She said the payment meant a great deal to her. ‘They believed me, and I’d never been believed before. That was the first time.’