‘Right through life it’s been the same thing. If I don’t do something then nothing gets done. I mean, to stop the abuse I had to take to my father with a knife. To stop being abused at school I had to bully them back. There hasn’t been anyone there to help. Mainly because my parents were the abusers I had no one to go to.’
When the authorities came to remove Tricia and her neglected siblings from their parents in the early 1960s, they found two-year-old Tricia in bed with her father.
Tricia and her sister ended up living in an Anglican children’s home in south-western Victoria, a place she remembered for its cruelty. ‘I had to get up at six o’clock in the morning and stand under a cold shower for five to 10 minutes every morning because I wet the bed and that was to stop me wetting the bed.
‘They put me in a cupboard, but I enjoyed it. I made it into a cubby house. And I spent hours in there. They didn’t come looking for me or anything … I lived in my own little world.
‘I’d sit by the phone, day after day, waiting for phone calls because everyone got phone calls. And I never got one. Couldn’t understand. You didn’t know what was happening to you, didn’t know what was going on.’
But if the children’s home was cruel, the family home was terrifying. Whenever Tricia was sent to visit her parents, she would be sexually abused by her father.
‘My mother stood beside me when it happened. That’s why I hated her but, she was also a bipolar schizophrenic.’
Tricia said she was probably six or seven when she first told staff about the abuse. And her files show that both she and her sister reported being touched by their father.
‘The home knew that. And they still continued to send me to them.’
Even worse, when Tricia was 10 she was sent back to live with her parents full time. Her father continued to sexually abuse her, and her mother’s mental health continued to deteriorate.
Tricia remembered jumping out of windows to escape, running away and telling neighbours what was going on at home. ‘And I didn’t get any help whatsoever, so it was useless.’
It wasn’t until her early teens that Tricia was finally able to stop her father. ‘I was going to cut his throat. Told him, if he touched me again he’d be dead. I was just so angry.’
In the next few years Tricia became a young wife and mother, but the marriage didn’t last. ‘He just liked other women. Constantly.
‘When he left, it was like my whole family had gone. Everything I’d built up and dreamt of, even if it was fantasy which I know it was, had gone. He was my world, and when he went everything went.’
In the years since, Tricia has had to call on her strength to deal with depression and severe anxiety. She tried counselling but gave up after a number of poor experiences. ‘Most of the psychologists and all that sort of thing, they don’t understand.’
She has a new partner but said she still feels like she’s on her own. ‘I’ll never trust anyone fully, I’ll never give myself fully. That just the way you had to survive through life.’
Tricia has never reported the abuse to police, but several years ago she received some compensation from the Victorian Government. She even took on her own lawyers about their high fees and had some money returned.
Tricia was also offered a ‘general apology’ but had no interest in it. She said the only apology that would have any meaning would be one that addressed her story and acknowledged her pain.
Like many survivors of sexual abuse, Tricia didn’t have a childhood. ‘I’ve never been young, I’ve always been old’, she said.
She missed out on so many things, like a grandmother and grandfather. ‘I watched them on TV and everyone had a grandparent that had the best words of wisdom and the biggest cuddles, and I had none of that. So I always wanted a grandparent.’
When she spoke to the Commissioner, Tricia apologised for not telling her story in more detail. ‘I’ve never really sat down and had a proper conversation with anyone about what went on. You only ever touch the surface, you never go deeper.’
But she said it was important to come to the Royal Commission, so someone with the power to make a difference would listen.
Tricia recommended better training for legal, medical and other services dealing with those who have been abused in homes and institutions. She also hopes that, as they go through life, survivors will get help and compassion rather than bureaucratic red tape.
Tricia said, ‘I honestly don’t know what keeps me going day by day because every day’s a struggle’. But she thinks it may be a combination of determination and pure stubbornness.
‘I’ve always told everyone I’m going to live to a hundred just to annoy them.’