Sue's story

‘My first memory arriving there is of them stripping me off and putting me in a bath. They didn’t really console me or talk to me and I went into a shutdown, apparently, and didn’t speak for six weeks.’

Sue was made a ward of the state and sent to a children’s home when she was four years old in the mid-1960s. The home was run by the Anglican Church in regional New South Wales. ‘It wasn’t a happy place’, Sue told the Commissioner. ‘They didn’t really interact with us. My main memory of the place is them issuing punishment.’

‘You’d just be bashed across the head if you didn’t hold your fork properly, or if you opened your mouth chewing.’

Sue felt there was a sexual element to the punishments meted out by Deaconess Helena Brown. Girls in trouble would be summoned to her office. ‘You’d be asked to pull your pants down and bend over while she’d strap you.’

Sue also felt humiliated by being made to take cold showers whenever she’d wet the bed. Deaconess Brown would supervise and watch her as she showered.

Sue spent her years at the home feeling lonely and abandoned, and still feels frustrated at the neglect by the child welfare department at the time. ‘We never had anybody come and see us. Nobody ever came and asked us was everything okay or not okay? Not once in the seven years I was there did anybody come and speak to us about how things were at the home.’

When she was 11 Sue was placed in the care of foster parents Betty and Victor Randall. The Randalls were kind at first and Sue was thrilled to have escaped the children’s home. But problems began as Sue grew older.

‘I used to jump into bed with them when I was about 12 or 13. It was just an innocent thing on my part – it was a novel thing for me, not having affection all my life … But then I remember waking up a number of times and he’d have his hands down my pants while I was asleep.’

Eventually Sue stopped going into their bedroom and Victor Randall’s physical abuse ceased. Sue remained fearful of him however, and he continued to make sexual comments to her. ‘It was always a bit of a joke. “Do you want me to come in and wash your back?” – while I was in the bath.’

‘Obviously my foster father was sexually attracted to me, which started causing problems with my foster mother.’ Mrs Randall became cold and bad-tempered towards her. Sue felt there was a constant threat hanging over her head: that the Randalls would send her back to the old children’s home. She never reported the abuse because of this.

Sue began to run away and wag school, which triggered the only visits she ever had from a child welfare officer. ‘And he used to threaten if I didn’t stop doing it he’d put me back in the home.’ The officer never asked Sue why she was truanting or running away. ‘I would just clam up and I wouldn’t talk to him.’

Sue was kicked out of foster care at the age of 17.

‘I was an emotional wreck in my early adulthood and relationships were difficult. I was fearful of abandonment. I guess I didn’t know how to say “no” very easily and I just attracted the wrong sort of relationship.’

Sue did have children of her own. She was over-protective of them. ‘I didn’t want my kids babysat … I did home schooling with my daughter for the first year. I suppose I see institutions and the establishment as a threat.’

Sue has trouble with depression and anxiety. She has had suicidal thoughts. ‘It got to that point where I had to deal with it.’ Sue has been working with a trauma counsellor.

‘It’s been a long haul … hard work just to get a gradual improvement, but I still struggle with my self-esteem.’

Sue has joined with some other women who lived at the children’s home in a legal approach to the Anglican Church. The Church has conceded Deaconess Brown should be called to account.

The Royal Commission is another positive step for Sue. ‘Nobody’s ever said, “How was your experience as a foster child?” or, “How was your experience being put into state care?” ordered by the court, and the government’s supposed to be my overseer. And to think, “Well, you did no better than my parents”.’

‘I think that’s important to be heard so that in the future hopefully things will be better for kids.’

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