Tami left her mother’s care at two months and was institutionalised until after her 16th birthday. At age 10, she was moved to a Protestant children’s home in Sydney, thus beginning six years in ‘my hell hole’.
There were two tormentors, the matron and the minister: both liked punishing and touching young girls who were wearing no clothes.
‘We’d get sent to the locker room by the matron,’ Tami says. ‘She used to make us stand in there naked and hit us with our shoes. If you moved, you’d get hit – and then she’d be always touching you and feeling you. It happened every day.’
Beating and fondling seemed to go together. ‘The reverend had access to the home. We were all likely to be left alone with him. He seemed to like girls with big, ah, top sections. When I started to develop, he began playing with my breasts.
‘Any time he thought I was naughty – he was always belittling me – staring at my breasts and saying “Oh, aren’t they nice!” and giving me obscene messages.
‘Girls who had been naughty had to stand in the hallway to see a board member – and he was one of them. He made sure that the girls didn’t have their underwear on. He lifted your dress to check that you had no panties, then he’d give you a whack.
‘Then we’d all go round the table and get belted. But then he’d take you into the office, and give you another little talking to, and tell you to bend over and start all over again.’
There was no privacy in the home. ‘The toilets had no doors, no curtains around the baths … The matron was always hovering over you – and she always seemed to pick on me.’
And there was no safety outside. ‘At the church there was a room where the reverend would talk to you, call you names and tried to touch you – I think I’ve blanked some of this out.’
Such blanking may have been chemically assisted. ‘I remember him giving me pills, they were green … It was just him and her that gave them to me. They said I wasn’t allowed to have it for school because people would work it out, so I had to have it in the afternoons and on weekends.
‘It made me feel drowsy, not really with it, sort of dazed. Sometimes I woke up and I wasn’t where I’d started.’
Eventually, the matron left. ‘We all celebrated – she was a nut case! And he didn’t come as much after that. But abuse from him didn’t stop until I left.’
After turning 16, Tami was taken back to her mother. ‘But she kept locking me outside and I was living on the streets.’ In desperation, she actually applied to return to the children’s home, and stayed there for some months.
‘When I left the home, I thought it would be nice, but it hasn’t been – it’s just the same merry-go-round.’ Starting in her mid-20s she had several children to an abusive partner. ‘Every time I’d move, he’d find me. They didn’t have all these shelters and things then.’
Then things got worse. ‘All I wanted was to be a better mother than my mum was and not give up on my children. I thought I did that – but I didn’t, because I lost them.’
Tami, now in her mid-50s, hasn’t been forgiven. ‘My grandchildren – my daughter won’t let me see them by myself because she blames me for when the welfare took her and the others.’
Her efforts to seek redress and counselling have been frustrated by long delays, waiting to receive crucial documents, and by conflicting opinions from different government departments about who was responsible for that little girl. The Commissioner explained the options now available; Tami wearily asked about phone numbers.
‘I just get confused,’ she said. ‘If the psychologists and counsellors could understand what it takes to walk out the door every day and understand this stupid world, that would be nice.’