Wendy and her siblings were placed in a government-run orphanage in regional Victoria in the early 1950s. She was three years old, and lived there until she was 15.
When Wendy was 12, a new superintendent arrived. During the two years that Mr Bradley was at the orphanage, ‘abuse became quite rampant … a male staff member also abused myself and other girls’. Bradley was physically, emotionally and sexually abusive towards Wendy and other girls.
The first time Bradley raped Wendy, he put her in a cold bath and then took her to the infirmary. When the matron came in and Wendy told her about the rape, she was slapped across the face and called a wicked girl.
Girls were taken to Bradley’s quarters during the night. ‘We lay there … waiting for the footsteps in the corridor, and prayed that it wasn’t you.’
Wendy told the Commissioner that Bradley ‘normalised touching … He would punish you and he would pull your pants down, and he’d rub your bottom and then it became sexual, much more sexual’.
When the girls were in the bathroom, naked, waiting their turn for a bath, Bradley would come in. ‘If you attempted to cover yourself or turn away, he would slap you.’
Bradley called groups of girls into his office and lined them up. ‘He would have your pants down, and you would have to slap the girl in front, and if you didn’t slap hard enough, then he would hit as well …
‘There were no boundaries … No dignity. The humiliation, deprivation … He would have you, particularly me … [clean] with a toothbrush … I was there for a full day and then he [came] up and threw dirt on it, and then he beat me because I hadn’t cleaned … well enough.’
Wendy recalled that the day after the first rape, ‘I was walking across the yard and I saw him coming towards me and I started crying … He slapped me so hard … and he said, “Why aren’t you smiling?”. I was trying to smile. He slapped me again and said, “Don’t you smile at me”. Left me there … on the ground’.
After her experience reporting the rape to the matron, Wendy didn’t try to tell anyone else. ‘I felt guilty. I felt dirty. I was terrified that I would be sent away. At first he told me not to tell anyone or something would happen to me. He was brilliant at psychological warfare.’
One day, six girls ran away from the orphanage and reported the physical and sexual abuse to the police. The girls were interviewed by the orphanage board, and shortly after, Bradley left. In recent years, Wendy was told that he was caught sexually abusing another girl at another institution.
Wendy has experienced ‘shocking nightmares’ ever since her abusive childhood. One night, she remembers ‘getting up and standing under the shower, scalding hot. I had a nail brush and I was tearing at my body, my genitals, until they bled, trying to get the touch out of me, and I would [be] coughing, gagging, thinking I was going to die, with the memory of Bradley … horrible’.
Wendy told the Commissioner that she saw a psychiatrist for 10 years, and at one time was hospitalised for two weeks, due to post-traumatic stress disorder. ‘I’ve done a lot of work all through my life to arrive where I am now. That’s not to say it’s a good place. It’s a far better place than a lot of people …
‘I tend not to allow the orphanage, and Bradley to … control the rest of my life … [but] it never goes away. I, with another girl, we were the spearhead for a court case against the Victorian government.’
The class action resulted in a compensation payout from the government, but the orphanage has never acknowledged responsibility, and Bradley did not appear at court.
Wendy spoke out because, ‘there’s a lot of people that are unwilling, that are not able to speak out. I feel it’s important to have the public, the world … know what happened to us and the pain and the damage that has happened to us and continues to happen to us. I want a voice’.
When Wendy left the orphanage she ‘slammed the door’ and didn’t want to keep in contact with anyone. Years later, she went to a reunion of girls. ‘I think it was one of the most traumatic experiences … as I stood and looked at these women … Their eyes were dead. They were so damaged … I said, [to my partner], “They’re like concentration camp victims”… I was so upset.’
Wendy has been approached by the Victorian Police’s SANO task force, and is waiting until she has completed her private session at the Royal Commission before she provides them with a statement about Bradley.
It has been difficult for her to decide to report the abuse to the police. ‘Denial, shame, guilt. Feeling responsible for what had happened to me, resulted in me for many years repressing and … denying all that had happened to me at [the] orphanage.’
Talking about Wendy’s traumatic childhood ‘brings up so much pain, my partner would prefer that I just set it aside, but I feel that … it needs to be spoken about, brought out and somebody has to speak out … I think it’s important to speak up’.