Verity’s mother fell ill shortly after giving birth to her in the 1940s. Her father worked full time and could not care for Verity and her siblings, so they were sent to stay with her mother’s sister and her family.
One afternoon when Verity was still an infant the children were dressed up in their best clothes. They believed they were being taken somewhere lovely by their father but were instead taken to an Anglican orphanage in suburban Melbourne. She never saw this aunt or her cousins again.
At the orphanage Verity was discouraged from knowing about her family. She didn’t have any photos of her mother or extended family and they never visited.
When Verity was five years old a worker told her that her mother died. She was upset that her father wasn’t the one to give her this news.
Verity immediately disliked Louise Barrington, the woman in charge of the home. Barrington was cruel and often emotionally abused her. She was forced to participate in hard labour which included scrubbing the floors and other cleaning chores.
This treatment did not change when Barrington married Verity’s father. Verity was six years old when this happened. She and her siblings were kept at the orphanage and only allowed to visit them on weekends.
Verity remembers being visited by her father’s sister, Aunt Julie, several times. She liked Julie because she brought her beautiful clothes and liked to dress her up.
‘I remember she’d dress me up in lovely clothes whenever she visited. She was a socialite. I would always try and show the [orphans] because I was never dressed in nice clothing, but as soon as I got to the home I had to take everything off.’
Verity was sent to stay with many different families when she was at the orphanage. She disliked moving from family to family and just wanted to be with her father. Whenever she returned to the orphanage, Verity kept to herself but Barrington always found a way to punish her.
On one occasion, Verity was locked in a small room for one week because she reported a foster family for being abusive towards her. Neither Barrington nor the other workers believed her so she was punished for ‘lying’. She was only let out of the room to cut the grass with scissors or scrub the floors of the orphanage.
When Verity was 11 she was sent to stay with another family during the holidays. There was a small factory on the property and Verity walked around it every day. One afternoon she saw a male worker inside the factory with a puppy. She was excited when he gave her permission to come inside and pat the dog.
‘The other door was shut and I looked up to see the man with his pants down. I was very frightened when he stood me up and moved behind me. He had his penis between my legs, I’ve never forgotten the fear.’
Verity kicked the man and managed to escape. She ran through the factory as the machines were going, which frightened her more. Shortly after this incident she returned to the orphanage and disclosed the abuse to one of the workers.
‘They locked me in a room with just a bed for a week. I remember hearing footsteps in the hallway and it was the family. They had come because the workers wanted me to apologise for my behaviour. I remember I couldn’t talk, I refused to talk.’
Verity refused to be placed with any other family for holidays again. When she left the home at 14 years old she was given one gift and told it was from her mother. This gift was a doll with a handmade dress. She has kept it throughout her life and it has helped her ‘get through a lot’.
Over the years Verity has had difficulty in explaining or standing up for herself. She has been hypervigilant with her own children and can’t stand the thought of them being alone.
In her 30s Verity found out more about her family. She has experienced several of the same health issues that her mother had. Learning this upset her because she hadn’t known her medical history earlier.
Verity was very angry at Barrington for handing over her mother’s death certificate at her father’s funeral. She was also shocked to discover that her mother died in a psychiatric facility.
It wasn’t until recently that Verity first disclosed the abuse when speaking to the Care Leavers Australia Network (CLAN). She hasn’t reported her abusers to the police because she doesn’t know their names. When she contacted the Anglican Church to retrieve her file she was advised it had been burned many years ago.
Verity has not told her family of the life she lived, as she didn’t want to burden them with the horrors she endured. She has however written an autobiography and intends to pass it on to her children after her death.
‘To my beautiful children, in spite of everything, I am blessed with love.’