Forgotten Australians, objects

Protest napkin

by Adele on 18 November, 2010

Wilma Robb nee Wilma Cassidy held up this napkin in the Great Hall of Parliament House during the National Apology to Forgotten Australians and former Child Migrants on 16 November 2009.

A white napkin in-scripted with "What about children's prisons"

Wilma Robb was first admitted to Dalmar Children’s Home, New South Wales, at the age of five when her mother became ill. During her primary school years Wilma was moved within various care settings within her family, foster care and later was committed to Ormond institution for girls as ‘Uncontrollable’ and ‘Exposed to Moral danger’. At the age of 14 she ran away from Ormond and slept in a phone box in Villawood. She was gang-raped by a group of bikies. A few days later she was picked up and admitted to Parramatta Girls Home where she was diagnosed with venereal disease. She was labeled a ‘loose girl’, without investigation of the circumstances in which she acquired the disease and never talking about her rapes till in her 50s. Her ‘unsatisfactory’ behavior there led to her being sent to two periods of detention at Hay Institution for Girls.

As a teenage girl in Parramatta, Wilma, had never been charged with a criminal offence, (only a Welfare charge) was treated she believes as a de facto criminal. She was assaulted by staff (one bashing by the Superintendent resulted in her having to receive a full set of dentures at the age of 15 after her face was smashed into washbasins. Girls were internally examined to assess the ‘status’ of their virginity on arrival to Parramatta girls home and Ormond institution for girls. –. Girls who were defiant received further punishments – solitary confinement and some put on medication with the psychotropic drug Largactil.

Because of her refusal to be broken by the system, Wilma was sent, from the Parramatta Girls Home to the Hay Institution for Girls which opened in 1961-1974 as a maximum security closed institution for girls aged 13 to 18. Girls were sent to Hay despite their having committed no crime and without a legal trial. Girls were never to speak, without permission, or to establish eye contact with anyone ever. This rule was enforced despite the fact that the ‘silent system’ was outlawed in New South Wales in the late 1800s. Girls endured a regime of hard labor without school education.

The bodies of these ‘incorrigible’ girls were controlled at all times by the system. Movement was with military precision and governed by a strict regime. Girls could only speak to each other for 10 minutes a day, while maintaining 2m distance; they were forced to sleep on their right side facing the door. Twenty minuet surveillances happened all night. Girls were surveyed 24 hours a day by male staff (who were the only ones with keys to the cells) and personal experiences such as menstruation were public and exposed humiliated and deprived of privacy . Wilma said on a visit back to Hay:

It was very Cruel, inhuman and sadistic. You can still smell, feel and hear the pain in that place still today.

In later life she took up an occupation as a housekeeper to the family of Manning and Dymphna Clark. Manning Clark was the author of the general history of Australia, his six-volume A History of Australia. Manning Clark is described in The Oxford Companion to Australian History as ‘Australia’s most famous historian’. Dymphna Clark was an eminent linguist and campaigned for the rights of Aboriginal people. Wilma Robb still works as caretaker of Manning Clark House.

The napkin itself is a significant object which holds other stories. It was part of Dymphna Clark’s household items originally brought to Australia from Norway by Dymphna’s mother Anna Sophia Lodewycz circa 1910. However, enough is known of the life of the Clarks to know that visitors, significant in cultural, political and academic worlds, both national and international, were part of their social life.

At the National Apology to Forgotten Australians and former Child Migrants, Parliament House, Canberra, November 16, 2009.

Prior to the National Apology, Minister Jenny Macklin contacted Wilma asking her to submit her personal history so that it may be considered as part of Kevin Rudd’s speech. In her letter to Kevin Rudd, she explained that the Hay Institution for Girls was the equivalent of a colonial jail in its use of silent treatment. Robb was concerned that Rudd’s use of the word ‘institution’ would not cover her prison experience. Robb realized that she may not have a chance to say this on the day, so she grabbed one of Dymphna Clark’s linen table napkins, and wrote ‘WHAT ABOUT CHILDREN’S PRISONS’ in thick ink marker on each side of the napkin. When the moment came, she was nervous about holding it up.

‘I felt sick in the stomach,’ she told the National Museum of Australia.

To support her, Keith Kelly a former inmate of the equally notorious Tamworth Institution for Boys who was sitting behind her took the other side of the napkin and held it up with her. He would have equal reason to refer to the institution he had been held in as a prison. This impromptu protest sign was one of many items made by Forgotten Australians and brought to the Apology.

Forgotten Australians

Protect vulnerable children

 Coral Miller  11 November, 2010

It has almost been one year since former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and former opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull apologised to the Forgotten Australians and Child Migrants on behalf of the people of Australia.

On 16 November, Forgotten Australians from all over the country, supported by the ACT Women and Prisons group (WAP), will march across Commonwealth Avenue Bridge to Parliament House to mark this historic occasion.

The purpose of the march is to pay tribute to the estimated half a million Indigenous, non-Indigenous and migrant children who were put into institutions, orphanages and out-of-home care throughout the twentieth century.

‘Many Forgotten Australians, ‘state wards’ or “homies” as we often call ourselves, experienced physical, emotional, psychological and criminal abuse as children.

As a result of this harsh treatment and lack of educational opportunities, issues such as mental illness, unemployment, imprisonment and substance abuse, are common’, says Wilma Robb, ACT resident and Forgotten Australian.

The march aims to draw attention to key policy issues such as the need for better access to health care and other services, and the lack of a nationally consistent, on-going redress scheme for Forgotten Australians.

‘The Apology was hugely important for Forgotten Australians, but many still face significant legal and financial barriers to accessing redress through the courts. For example, redress schemes exist in only 3 states

The march on Tuesday is not just about the past: it is about making sure that the traumatic experiences of Forgotten Australians inform current and future policies relating to child protection and institutional care systems.

Vulnerable children in state care are still being neglected and abused within these systems today as in the past. “The mistakes of the past should not be allowed to be repeated’.

Poster advertising a Canberra march on the anniversary of the National Apology
Forgotten Australians, poetry

No more silent tears

by Leigh Westin (guest author) on 16 September, 2010

Leigh Westin was a resident of Scarba House and Parramatta Girls’ Home, both in New South Wales. Here she shares her latest poem. The apology mentioned in the poem refers to that of the NSW Government.

No more silent tears

The years have gone past

I’m older now and remember at last

Blocked away for nearly fifty years

At long last I can cry real tears

My mum passed when I was four

Tears flowed easily and reached the floor

In the Home where I was placed

They belted me for crying

So I dried my little face

Leaving the Home and growing into my teens

I cried inside so not to be seen

The silent tears made me want to scream

Hitting out at others, I was so mean

Until I was locked in another Home

For running away the streets I would roam

Picked up by the welfare who did not care

Sentenced to Parramatta, it just wasn’t fair

I blocked everything to protect my mind

Taking on other things I thought was fine

September 19th 2009 the Government said Sorry

My memories came back but not in a hurry

Over the last ten months through depression and pain

All memories have surfaced and now I feel sane

Getting my life together so my family can gain

I do cry wet tears, as I have no fears.

articles/lectures, documents, Forgotten Australians, memories

Steps up and steps out

by Diane Tronc (guest author) on 11 June, 2010

Diane Tronc was born in 1961 and was a resident, with her five siblings, of Silky Oaks Children’s Home in Manly, Brisbane from 1962 until 1974.

Diane shares her submission to the current Senate Review of Government Compensation Payments.

To Committee Secretary
Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee
P.O. Box 6100
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600 Australia

Re: Review of Government Compensation Payments

Dear Committee Members

My name is Diane Tronc.  I am a Survivor of Abuse whilst in Care and I am a Forgotten Australian.

I wish to put submission into this Inquiry.

Firstly:   This year is the 10th year since the Forde Inquiry.

The last 10 years has been for a lot of Forgotten Australians a compounding and overturning painful journey of repeating our lives over and over and reliving this painful journey through Redress and still suffering today to see some form of positive outcome for all Forgotten Australians.

With services in mainstream congested and waiting lists so long we take our ticket and still stand in line waiting. We’ve walk your line for long enough.  We need ACTION, STRUCTURE, FOUNDATION, and STEPS UP AND STEPS OUT.  Support services more involved with career paths, workforce, TAFE, university.

A lot have such difficulty in filling in forms making the first step up and step out.  We need Mentors working with case workers supporting our people with visits to hospitals, appointment and home visits.

We also need a small bus e.g.: Libraries, our memorial, for events/ outings etc.

And a directory of services directing and referring our people and supporting through the process for their goals to be achieved to a comfortable area in their lives to move on….from start to finish.

Healing Journey when will that start, Family Histories, Reunions, and Bringing us all HOME.

Also like to see Legacy more involved as a lot of fathers and grandfathers/families of Forgotten Australian went to war and so did some Forgotten Australian themselves served..

We call for a Gold Card for all Forgotten Australian we should have Priority Access due to the damage inflicted upon us as innocent children now adults our needs and wants need  to be met.   Health, Dental, Housing, and Education and Training, exempt of fees.

Within our service centre I personally feel we need more steps up and step out and more support.

Foster Care/Adoption  was not part of Redress in Qld nor did it get a State Govt Apology.  We where under the STATE.

I personally would like to see a Royal Commission Inquiry into past practices and services today.

We will fight to our END to see things right for our past and for all our futures ahead.

We have a lot of strong good solid caring, compassionate and committed people amongst us all.  That should be given every opportunity to excel and be given the chance to work with services in a paid position.

A lot of us are Volunteers and put in a lot of hours and time to help our people when services are closed or to help assist within telephone support and  getting to visits, appointments or lend a hand  when needed.  I would like to see more funding given to Volunteers under some form of incentive scheme payment through Centrelink.

As a lot of our people are also on disability this would help in the transition step up 123 to TAFE, university or workforce part time or full time?

Also I have noticed a lot of people needing assistance who are in full time work area.  Some struggle to keep their jobs.  Pushing themselves to the limit all the time.

And not being able to service the services due to their working hours.

Looking for a constructive outcome for all.

And more community projects for our people.

Diane Tronc

Forgotten Australians, memories, poetry

Reflections – what I know

by Pamella Vernon (guest author) on 29 April, 2010

I know of childhood !
I know about children
lost and vulnerable,
of anger and confusion,
torn from all, good and bad,
that represented for them
home, love and security.
I know about loneliness.
Children thrust
into an alien environment,
seeking solace for grief,
hungry for kind words,
understanding,
an embrace for sobs of need.
Children desperate for some
semblance of normality in the
‘human condition’.

I know of childhood
need for memories,
a link to a past,
with which to relate,
in an overwhelming sea of
indifference
or ignorant complacency.

I know of childhood emptiness.
A parent’s death,
the pain of unresolved grief,
separation and loss,
kept secret, unshared,
of abandonment.
Young minds and hearts in trauma,
seeking sense in their
displacement.

I know of childhood perceptions.
Emotionally sterile environment as
punishment, for perceived self-
inadequacy,
loss of love as unworthiness.

What did I do wrong?
I’m sorry….
Come and take me home,
I’ll be good,  I promise,
Please!  Please!

I know of childhood acceptance.
Submersion of needs for love,
affection, human warmth,
along with cherished memories
buried deep in the psyche,
in order to survive
in an emotional void.
I know about subterfuge!
Powerless, defenseless confusion.
A child branded and maligned,
Liar!  Bad Seed!  Scum!
because of  truth
argued on deaf ears.
Physical & emotional separation
from siblings. Punishment!
because Secrets had to be kept.
I know about insincerity,
enforced gratitude,
for the ‘right to be’
for the necessities to sustain life,
a compulsory component of
being needy’.

I know about Doctrine!
The ethos of
“The sins of the father
visited upon the child”.
The ripping apart of belief
in treasured memories,
in the name of
“Saving” the child.
A ‘decent God fearing upbringing’
at any cost!
I know about Religion!
of God presented as a
“God of anger” vengeful,  jealous,
the punisher of sin.
The ‘Love’ of God….
an afterthought.

I know about “Good People”!
Who could never stay……
I know about lies,
even where truth was irrefutable,
about smothered individualism,
initiative and spirit,
under the guise of ‘benevolence’.
I know about the few good people
who could never stay,
they managed the fine balance of
‘job’ with personal humility,
They made a difference in our
bereft childhoods,
however slight they may think,
in a system that enshrined a
religious and caring ethos,
but functioned
in a separatist ideology.
The “needy” poor,
seen as the agents
of their own destiny,
socially and morally bankrupt.

I know about adulthood!
I understand emotional survival
techniques,
adopted by children under threat,
to survive pain, trauma,
abandonment and displacement.
I know about ‘Growing up’!
The pain of being invisible,
unwanted & used
the constraints of life fulfillment,
of self-responsibility for life choices,
the futility of emotional baggage,
as an excuse or crutch.
I am the product of Nature
I am the product of lack of Nurture.
I take responsibility for me,
my actions, my thoughts,
my space.
I know pain of failure,
elation in triumph,
regret for lost opportunities.
I accept the myriad facets
of my character.

I know about Reflections!
Contemplation of childhood
can be a painful, funny journey
and illuminates
the dichotomy for all
Forgotten Australian’s childhoods.
Our sharing of stories
and memories,
the sadness, the pain,
the suffering,
the isolation, the abuse
I know about the fun, gaiety,
merriment and pleasures,
we the Forgotten Children,
We the Forgotten Australians
derived from each other
and shared in the reconstructed
families We created
amongst ourselves.
That ensures the balance
is not lost in the dross.

I know about indebtedness! we all
bring to each other today,
not only our personal experiences
of childhood,
but also our adult acceptance,
maturity and diversity.
We share the need for roots
firmly anchored in a sense
of family ties and traditions,
that we the unwanted,
the unloved
and the forgotten
can only truly understand.

Thank you my fellow
Forgotten Australians
for being the catalyst for
“The spirit of the extended
family”

we never had”

© 2000 Yvonne Vernon – all rights reserved

Yvonne Vernon was a resident of Dalmar Children’s Home, New South Wales, from 1950 to 1958. This poem, posted by her sister, was read by Jim Luthy and Pamella Vernon at the New South Wales Government’s Healing Service and Memorial Unveiling, for those who grew up in institutions, orphanages, children’s homes and foster homes, in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney, on 19 September 2009.

Forgotten Australians, memories

A chilling account

by Junita Lyon (guest author) on 1 March, 2010

Junita Lyon, a resident of  Parramatta Girls Home in 1970–71, remembers her time in the institution.

During my childhood I was committed to Parramatta Girls Training School where many degrading acts were part of Policy and Procedures.

On arriving at Parramatta I was held for hours in a holding room. Taken away and given a number and fitted for various types of clothing such as shoes, twinsets tartan skirts, underwear smocks and socks. My long hair was cut like a page boy, it devastated me and I was taken to dormitory 2 to start my 12 months committal period.

Every morning we were woken early and had to stand at the end of our beds and display our sheets to an officer, to make sure that we had not soiled or wet them. We would then make the bed to procedure and head of to our pre breakfast work.

We started our hard working day early, some went off to yard duty to pick up rubbish or sweep, others cleaned and scrubbed the dormitories before breakfast muster.

We would muster each time the bell rang and would stand to attention while being yelled at or belittled. Left Right Left Right Left Right we marched, we didn’t go anywhere with out some officer marking time.

In the morning we would be marched to breakfast to porridge with weevils, sweet warm white tea and white bread that every one said was made at the prison next door and they had ejaculated in it.

If we needed medical assistance or had our periods and wanted a pad, we would have to wait for help then it was a public ordeal, having to show the pads to prove if we were having a heavy period or not. There was no privacy at all.

After breakfast and a quick recreation break we were assigned to a variety of Jobs a few were able to continue their education but nearly all were trundled off to the kitchen sewing room or laundry to Iron, wash, scrub or fold, a thankless task as was anything we did at Parramatta, I never heard praise for a job well done.

The laundry was a hard place to work we worked at the same pace as adults, it was hard on your legs and back and the temperature was unbearable, if you behaved you could get the opportunity to change jobs. Generally most of the girls were standing at ironing boards ironing from morning till late afternoon the work was repetitive and caused aches and pains to the body.

While in the laundry the job that I aspired to was to use the large industrial washing machines as I was bad at ironing, this was also hard work lifting heavy bundles of clothes.

After my time in the laundry I got a job painting the dormitories and other areas of the home, we worked in a small group and I painted one dormitory after another. It was sad to have to paint over the written history the girls had scratched on to the dungeon walls.

The painting job saved me from more trouble as I had to behave to keep the job and the officer that was with us was a very old lady who gave us a bit more freedom to talk, than anyone else there.

We were given chocolate cake and milk to absorb the lead paint we used.

I often heard my name called “under the bell” that would mean punishment either Isolation or scrubbing.

I spent time in Isolation; I actually liked the 24 hour stint, time to be on my own, I vented my anger, pain, frustration and confusion in written form on a blackboard which was the only thing in the room.

It was during these times I would think about the events that lead me to Parramatta and my drug addiction, why after so much pain, why more was being inflicted, Isolation was where I cried.

Scrubbing was the most common punishment and we often scrubbed the pigeon loft or cover way in groups called scrubbing parties.

The pigeon loft and I were common companions I remember the bird poo running down my arms and upsetting my eyes, kneeling scrubbing boards then standing scrubbing rafters, till my knees were raw for days on end from early morning till late at night depending on which officer I upset. Often we were set to work scrubbing the cover way with a scrubbing brush or toothbrush.

This cold lonely punishment was quite frightening at night for a 14-15 year old; often a girl could be left there scrubbing and almost forgotten about.

Punishment seemed to be given out at random, one time I spent 3 days with steel wool shining a rubbish bin with no cover during winter and another time I had to stand face to face with another girl and not smile or laugh for a whole day.

One time I was grabbed by the ears and my head was bashed up against a wall, this was a regular occurrence for many of us girls.

One cold night I was scrubbing on my own on the cover way and was called into the office I then had my head bashed into the wall till I cried.

That night I decided I wasn’t going to be bashed again so set up a devious plan.
The first chance I got I found a rock and smashed my head with it, so there was blood dripping down my face, I screamed and yelled, that It was caused by the bashing.
I had been pushed too far and my time as a street kid had taught me to protect myself.

I get sad when I think of this moment the fact, that I had to inflict self harm to myself to protect myself from my carer still gives me a chill to this day.

We lacked any privacy to undergo personal hygiene the toilets had no doors and we were given only a few sheets of toilet paper, a humiliating event.

I also remember the fear that welled up, during the time we would stand naked in a cubicle and an officer would walk around and have us drop our towels and inspect our naked bodies for tattoos, scratching and pins.

Some officers were creepier than others in the way they did this task and made you feel very uncomfortable or quite terrified.

Before we had a shower of an evening we also had to scrub the crutch of our underwear and show it to an officer.

All these sanctioned acts were degrading and have haunted me all my life…

Our escape from misery and brutality as young girls was to each other; our friendships were often intense and emotional. We crocheted hankies and wrapped soap in them as gifts to our special friends.

During our short recreation time, records and dancing under the cover way was how we spent our time, being careful not to be caught doing anything against the rules.
We danced the Parramatta Jive to songs such as blue angel and band of gold.
During this time we almost felt normal.

During dinner if you dropped your peas off your plate, talked or did anything menial you washed all the dishes, when everyone had finished.

There was always an officer on the prowl to look for someone to punish.

After dinner, if a dormitory had behaved overall 1 to 5, except 3, were able to use the recreation or TV room sitting on cold hard metal chairs in a cold hall watching a show that you never got to see the end. Usually dormitory 3 were standing at the end of their beds; during my time there this was the group punishment.

I only got to go in the rec room once, so we lost privileges easy.

Not many girls had visitors as many girls had spent there lives institutionalised or in foster care.

Those that did have visitors would meet them, on the cover way on a Sunday and many girls were randomly body searched after the visit.

There were certain girls that officers would take a dislike too, if you were singled out for punishment you would most likely end up at Hay. So the threat of more brutality was always hanging over our heads.

During my stay I spent time in  dormitory’s  2,4,3,5,6 I saw  a lot of injustice.

We as children needed protection and nurturing we were not given that protection and were often abused and degraded by the officers and treated like hardened criminals. Most girls in Parramatta were committed because they were neglected, abused or unloved.

The courts would then charge the girls with exposed to moral danger and commit them to a 3,6,9 or 12 months committal period. I saw many girls return after a few weeks of being let out as they were sent back to their abusers and didn’t cope. Life was tough and unjust for a Parragirl.

On the 16th of November Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made an apology to the “Forgotten Australians”

I welcomed this apology as my time in care has haunted me my whole life.
For me this apology is life changing, it validates the abuses of my child rights that occurred and gives me back my self worth.

I was a small child subjected to harsh punishment; criticism and lack of nurturing that affected my development and sent me spiralling into despair for many years.

It created family disengagement, lack of education and left me with low self esteem, and the inability to feel any belonging.

It created in me an outcast a loner, hiding in shame that did not fit in with others.
An apology cannot fix the damage already done but it creates in me a feeling of relief because it removes the feeling of guilt and shame I have lived with.