Tamzin wanted everyone to know why she was wild.
‘I didn’t like the idea of me being told I was a mental case, I was borderline autistic, I was, you know, half brain damaged, ‘cause that’s what they all said to me. And every time I went into a home, that’s what I was labelled … that’s how I got treated. Well, excuse me. I’m not mental, I’m not crazy. I’m someone who’s trying to lash out and say, “Hey, I need help”.’
As a young girl in the mid-1960s, Tamzin began to act out because two male step-relatives were abusing her. She was sexually abused by Gus, who would threaten to kill her if she ever told anyone. She was physically abused by Ray, who would call her an ‘uncontrollable child’ and lock her in her room with only ‘a bed and a potty and one Barbie doll’. ‘I was only ever allowed out to go to school’, she said. When Tamzin began to wet the bed, Ray would hit her on the head and rub her face in the wet sheets.
One day in her early teens, Tamzin went to school with a ‘big handprint’ on her face, and was pulled into the office. Wanting someone to stop Ray but also fearful of the consequences, she eventually explained what was going on at home.
Welfare officers then came to her house. They saw the locks on her door but did nothing other than tell Tamzin’s mother to get rid of Ray. ‘I ended up having to go back in my room. In fact I got belted for it.’
Tamzin lashed out and threatened her mother. Instead of asking her why her behavior had changed, Tamzin was sent to a government-run reformatory in South Australia where she was abused and ‘locked up’ all over again.
In the reformatory, Tamzin was sexually abused by Doctor Clinton who conducted medical examinations on his own, and ‘for his own benefit’. ‘You’d go in there with a cold and end up having an internal.’ She was also made to undergo one each time she ran away. Having previously been interfered with, she didn’t understand that this was wrong. ‘To have something like that done, it was normal’, she said.
Another thing that felt ‘normal’ was being punished for wetting the bed. ‘I’d have to stand there in the morning when all the girls were allowed to go down for breakfast’, she said. ‘They’d make me stand there naked, holding up my wet sheet … I just couldn’t handle it.’
Tamzin also remembered an officer who would tell kids to put their hands in his pockets if they wanted a lolly. ‘Sometimes there was a lolly, and sometimes there wasn’t a lolly. He’d have a hole in his pocket. And we used to walk off saying … “dirty old bastard”. But if you tried to report it, no one would listen.’
On weekends, Tamzin was sent back to her mother’s house where her step-relatives would continue to bash and interfere with her.
Around this time, in the early 1970s, Tamzin was put into a mental hospital where she reported the sexual abuse to a psychiatrist who took no action. Later in life, when she reported Gus to the police, she hoped that her disclosure to the psychiatrist would serve as proof. However, Gus had died by then, so the police wouldn’t listen to her complaint.
Being ignored and returned repeatedly to sexually and physically abusive circumstances, turned Tamzin into a ‘different child’, and changed the course of her life. Her education stalled, her first child was born in her teens, and her ability to trust people was diminished. She also tended to ‘draw the wrong people’. ‘It’s happened to all my children too,’ she said. ‘All my children have been sexually abused. It’s like I walk around with a sticker on my head - touch me, touch my children.’
To cope, Tamzin has relied on alcohol and on prescription and illegal drugs. She also blocks out many memories and thoughts. ‘It’s still the way I cope now. Yeah, I still do it today ... Then when it comes back and hits me in the face, it’s like a double wanger. But yeah, it’s just my way of doing it.’
Tamzin spent the better part of a decade pursuing a civil claim against the South Australian government. Told to expect a substantial payout, it was like a ‘big shattered dream’ when she was eventually awarded a modest sum which was carved in half by the lawyer’s bill. The stress took its toll. ‘I ended up having a heart attack through it all, and a double bypass, ‘cause it really started getting to me’, she said.
Nowadays, Tamzin is supported by a down-to-earth social worker and is exploring ways to create an Adelaide-based support service for survivors of child sexual abuse. She remains single for fear of forming relationships with men who might touch her grandchildren. While coming home to an empty house can feel ‘horrible’ and ‘lonely’, there is satisfaction in knowing that her grandchildren are safe, and in enjoying a freedom she did not have in the past.