‘I was an only child. I wasn’t wanted,’ said Tilly. Her father had met her mother while visiting from overseas. ‘And from what I can gather, he’d gone back before I was born.’
Some years later, Tilly was sexually abused by her stepfather. She told her mother who said, ‘Oh isn’t that amazing? Everything always happens to you’. She went to the police, but ‘nothing was done’.
‘And that was when I went backwards. That was when I started stealing, staying out, refusing to go into the house. And that’s when I ended up in [the home]. To my attitude, if I’d been believed, it would never have happened.’
In the late 1950s, when Tilly was driven to a government-run girls’ home in Sydney, she refused to get out of the van. A male staff member grabbed her, kicked her in front of police officers, and said, ‘I’ll break you, girl’. She was barely in her teens.
Tilly was ‘always in trouble’. ‘I was big-mouthed, very big-mouthed, and I used to stick up for the other kids, like get blamed for the other kids, like when the girls absconded … I sat there keeping joey for them to make sure they got away.’ When she later obtained her files, she discovered that her ‘punishment records’ were three pages long.
Tilly was sexually abused by a male staff member, Henry Taylor. The abuse occurred in an ‘isolation block’, and was preceded by a ‘lashing’ for swearing and writing on a desk. Tilly said that when she complained to a female officer, ‘she tried to keep me out of his way, but she did actually say to me, “Don’t you dare, don’t you say a word”.’
Taylor sexually abused Tilly four times, and ‘drummed’ shame and fear into her. ‘The last two times it happened, I didn’t fight, so I blamed myself,’ she said. ‘I used to just think, “Why me? Why me?” And I thought I was the only one he sort of zoomed in on.’ However, she learned otherwise when a girl said to her, ‘I know what’s going on. I know what’s happened to you. It’s happening to me, too’.
‘I found out later on that she committed suicide’, Tilly said.
Tilly was sent to the home on two more occasions, each time after having been picked up by the police for stealing or engaging in sex work. By this time, Taylor was gone, and she had no further experiences of sexual abuse. However, the punishments and brutality continued. ‘Those last two times … I just sort of turned off … I should have fought harder’, she said.
When Tilly left the home in her mid-teens, she drank and used illegal drugs, and was a sex worker before marrying a ‘saviour’ who took her off the streets. However, for a time, the treatment she had received at the home inured her to his violence. ‘He used to sleep around, but I thought, that’s what men do. He used to bash me, that’s what men do, that was my attitude. Until once he went to raise his hand at my son, and I had an iron in my hand. I hit him over the head with the iron … and that was it.’
Tilly’s life then revolved around her children who were ‘the best thing that ever happened’ to her. ‘I worked four jobs, but I was still there to get them off to school, and I was still there to cook their meals of a night.’ To provide for them, she ‘did a lot of criminal things’, but stopped when the kids were old enough to notice what she was up to.
The arrival of grandchildren and great grandchildren continued to keep Tilly very busy. However, about 10 years ago, while reading an advertisement for a play about the home, she went into shock. ‘And the next thing I knew, I ended up in the … clinic, and I’ve been ongoing since then … I’ve got permanent psychology care, PTSD badly, but I’m coping.’
Tilly is grateful for the quality of professional support she has received. On the advice of her ‘immensely’ trusted psychologist, she has partially written down her story. ‘When I first wrote it … she said, “Let’s sit down, and you know, if there’s something you don’t want to handle, put it up in a little box there, and when you’re ready, we’ll tackle it”.’
Tilly had recently given a lengthy statement to the police, and plans to appear in court if called to do so. She has not sought redress or compensation, but is considering making a claim. She feels ‘lucky’ to have ‘really good kids’ who got her through. They know her story, and are able to pay her medical bills. ‘Otherwise, I don’t know where I would be,’ she said.
Tilly believes that ‘there should be someone kids can actually talk to who will sit and understand them, instead of palming them off into the system’.
‘We still need some places where they can be put and be safe. That’s my whole thing, safety for them’.
Tilly felt that telling her story to the Commission is ‘an end to things … an acknowledgment that something actually did happen’.
‘I was lucky it was only a couple of years,’ she said, even though, ‘that couple of years … helped me grow up in the worst way’.