Tamara's story

As a small child Tamara lived with her mother and older brother, Peter, in a rural NSW town. It was the 1960s and when the children were abandoned, they were charged with neglect and being destitute.

Peter was adopted by a local family. Tamara, who identifies as Aboriginal, was made a ward of the state. She was placed in foster care with their former babysitter, Martha Murray, and her husband Joseph.

Martha died when Tamara was four years old, and Joseph remained her official foster carer. They moved to the city to live with the Murrays’ daughter, Emily, and Emily’s husband Mathew.

Emily was in her early 20s, and pregnant with her first child. She and Mathew informally took over Tamara’s care, and so were not vetted as carers. ‘She resented me. She blamed me for her mother’s death. She was just a horrendous woman. ... She used to beat me quite badly, she’d drag me around the house by my hair.’

She was emotionally cruel to Tamara, telling her ‘poor little orphan Annie, if it wasn’t for me you’d be on the street’.

Mathew never hurt Tamara, and she still maintains a good relationship with him. She doesn’t know if he realised how badly Emily treated her.

Emily had periodic nervous breakdowns and was eventually hospitalised. Tamara was sent to a children’s home, but then returned by the Department of Community Services (DOCS) when Emily was released.

Mathew worked seven days a week at his shop and could not care for Tamara. His parents, the Thompsons, often looked after her.

Mr Thompson sexually abused her from when she was five years old. He touched her genitals, and made her stroke his penis. She reported this to Emily, who told her not to ‘tell stories’.

Tamara doesn’t know if Emily confronted Mr Thompson about the abuse. The Thompsons moved away soon after and died within months of each other. She has never told Mathew what his father did to her, and does not remember telling DOCS about it at the time.

‘DOCS would come once a year to check on me. I’d be sent outside, and they’d ask me how am I on the way out. There was no discussion about how I felt at all, and I probably wouldn’t have dared say anything.’

Tamara began spending time with Mathew at his shop when she was 11 years old. A man from a neighbouring residence, David Wall, befriended her. He soon began sexually abusing her.

She ran away from home three years later. DOCS asked her why she left but she couldn’t tell them about any of the abuse, just that she could not live with Emily.

She stayed with another foster family for a while, before moving to a share house. Struggling with alcohol and drug addiction, she started doing sex work when she was 16.

Some years later she left a violent relationship, and went to a women’s refuge with her kids. There she met ‘some magnificent women that taught me how to find my backbone’. She began helping at the refuge, and doing victim support for women in crisis situations.

This time was life-changing for her. She reported the sexual abuse in her childhood to police, and charges were laid against Wall.

Tamara’s experiences with the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and criminal justice system were poor. She had legally changed her name as some protection from Wall, but the DPP revealed her new name during proceedings.

She requested to give evidence by video link, but this was denied. ‘I would have been a better witness if I didn’t have to sit in a court room with him.’

Wall’s legal team repeatedly delayed the matter. Tamara was given over a dozen dates to appear before finally giving evidence, and was worn down by the delays. ‘I just fell to pieces, and I didn’t win the case for myself.’

Although Wall was acquitted and she felt ‘ripped to shreds’, Tamara is pleased she took him to court. ‘For me, it was making his family aware that he is this person, and to watch your children around this man ... His whole family knows this guy is dodgy.’

Tamara received compensation from victims of crime for the abuse by Wall, but her partner at the time spent the money. Her eldest child knows something of her experiences, seeing her go through the court case and watching her mental health decline.

Today, Tamara still smokes cannabis and takes Valium to cope with her PTSD symptoms. She is on a disability pension because of her mental illness and has little money to live on after rent is paid. She would like to apply for government housing and dreams of moving out of the city.

Tamara thinks the government should provide compensation to kids who were abused in their care. ‘I was a state ward, I should have had the best education, the best support network, the best of everything considering the government was my parent.’

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