Having a single mother who suffered severely from epilepsy was enough to see Vivienne taken into care at age 12.
She remembers the matron at the Salvation Army children’s home in Melbourne as being extremely cruel. ‘There was one girl, she was 18 and went to work every day … One night at tea time the matron stabbed her with a fork for being out late on a date; every part of her body was bleeding.’
‘When I missed kitchen duty one time, she’s got this wooden ruler, whacked me around the hands and legs. By the time she finished the ruler wasn’t straight, it was like a big smiley face.
‘I started laughing … Ten o’clock that night she pulled me out of bed, stripped me naked and set me to scrubbing the stairs with a toothbrush and a bucket of water. Get down to the bottom you had to go up again, back and forth until 7 o’clock in the morning … Twice she done that to me.
‘It was really hard … Three or four girls committed suicide.’
One Christmas Vivienne was sent to stay with a family in rural Victoria. They, in turn, sent her to another property to help clean a house. On the way home she was assaulted by the man whose house she had worked on; he first tried to kiss her, then touched her breasts and genitals. When Vivienne screamed, he left her by the side of the road.
‘I tried to tell the matron but she called me a liar. So I just left it alone.’
And so it stayed for 50 years. Vivienne’s daughter came to support her mother at the Royal Commission: ‘You never told us any of that,’ she said.