Forgotten Australians, memories, poetry

Billy Billy

Diane Mancuso shares two stories about growing up in a large Irish family in the suburbs, time spent in Bidura children’s home and beyond. Diane has also written a poem, ‘Billy Billy’, about her brother who was also in ‘care’ and later died on his birthday.

Diane, also known as Eileen Kennedy, penned ‘Billy Billy’ about her brother, who spent time in Royleston Boys Home, Glebe, NSW. You can also read her creative writing below in ‘Just a Number’ and Born to the State’. 

Billy Billy

Do not slip away
Please Please
Stay with me another day
Where have you gone my brother?
You had not begun to live
It was before your time
He took you to live with our mother
9th April you were born
35 years later I would mourn
No! They did not see your pain
In your anguish and your sorrow
Drugs became your way of life
For you there will be no tomorrow
Billy Billy
I love you so
Please please do not go
One hit too many
They found you dead in a back street alley
The road was too long
It was too much to carry the load
Daddy Daddy loved us all
He was on the wrong side of the law
Mamma Mamma
Did her best
I pray you are now at rest
Billy Billy
Do not slip away
Please please
Stay with me another day
The children’s court decided our fate
They took us all
You cried and cried when you were told
We were all sent to Juvenile Hall
As children and later as adults we are told not to hate
Torn apart and sent along different paths
Mamma’s heart broken like shattered glass.
Suffer the little children who did no wrong
Ignorant are they!
Who say forgive them they know
Not what they do
Where were they when I held my brother’s hand and
Wanted him to stay
In and out of foster care
We grew up with more than our share
Billy Billy
Do not slip away
Please please
Stay with me another day
They failed!
Yes! Suffer the little children
But if I can change it in some small way
Billy Billy
Never fear
I remember and I am here
Your life was not in vain
For I will be here for that day
Billy Billy
My sweet brother we are separate
But never apart
For you are always
In my heart

copyright 2011 Diane Mancuso/Eileen Kennedy

Just a number

1962 was the year the NSW State Government destroyed my family, separating my brothers & sisters for ever. In 1962 what they did can never be repaired or forgotten. My Mother had six children the youngest was five yrs old. My father was languishing away in prison. My mum could not support her children financially. The State decided it would be best for our family if they took her children & threw them into Orphanages for kids whom they had deemed to be neglected.

Bidura was where my elder sister Yvonne & I were kept captured whilst my younger sister Kathleen I never found out which Goal she went to. My two brothers Marty who was eleven Billy who was 18 months older than me at nine went to Royalston down the road from Bidura.

It would be ten years before I saw any of my family again, we never recovered as a family. My sisters became strangers to me also my brother Marty who was always in & out of prison. For some unknown reason I managed to keep a loose relationship with my brother Billy whom I had always been close to.

In 2009 I stood with all of you homies at Canberra & listened to Kevin Rudd apologize & Barry O’Farrell. I heard people speak about how they felt if or what had been the words that had helped their road to recovery their pain of the past. I have asked myself ‘Did I feel any different after the apology?’ And for me? Yes I am glad we were finally recognized for what we all went through. Finally Australian people would be aware that it was not just Indigenous families that had so shockingly been removed & forgotten about.  That we were believed & vindicated in what we all tried so hard to tell our friends, etc Who mostly did not believe us. So yes it was a good feeling though even today people are still in denial of our treatment at the hands of the State.

Though I wish I had a forgiving heart but I do not. For just maybe, maybe my brothers would be alive today instead of both in their graves much too early from drugs. –Physically drugs– but I believe it came from their horrific childhoods. My brother Billy told me about the rapes he had endured in goal. Though the way he spoke about these hideous crimes, against him, was to have me believe he was commenting on the weather. He wore his Armour like we all do to prevent anymore pain ..

Forgive?, I don’t think so. Too much despair, inanity, nightmares, desperation to want to fit in to be loved, wanted, cared for … it’s like the song ‘How can you mend this broken heart?’ It is impossible to repair, to forget my Mothers tears, my brothers fears. ‘Sorry’  just does not do it for me! Forty, fifty years Too late. Too late, You can’t fix something that they shattered into pieces. It was all a little too late so that day as I stood listening to Kevin Rudd that day I realize that it was not Kevin’s fault but it was not mine either or my Family.

My Brother did not set the world on fire, he was not well known (maybe to the police), he did not have any social skills, it was difficult for him to talk to people. There will be a lot of us who will not be acknowledged now or in our life time. The majority of us will just put one foot in front of the other or crawl & hope for the best. We are not celebrities but what we are — we are survivors, who lived through & came out the other side. We conquered tremendous adversity, inhumane treatment, brutality, solitary confinement. What sane person takes a twelve yr old & puts them in a black hole? These Orphanages were worse than prisons. We were children! Was this their way of rehabilitation to a lost child?

Our identities stolen, is it any wonder that we have to struggle with who we are? I had so many different names growing up I could travel the world under an alias with no problems! But with my luck I would be caught & it would be solitary for me again, but they were the ones who had given us all these different identities, no wonder we suffer from identity crisis. What was left to take? They whipped us, belted us, abused us, but they could not break us nor take our memories away from us. So I say for your family whom may not be here to speak for themselves, we have to take up the reins & never let them forget what they done to innocent little children. Makes me wonder how many & whose palm was being greased to justify their behavior? Is it any wonder that many of us became uncontrollable with no role model, no love, no human warmth? And is it so surprising that many turned to drugs & alcohol to block out the sheer pain of remembering how barbaric & cruel these so called authorities who it was their job to care & nurture us?

It is remarkable that we even survived & forbid that we could even have a promise of life that bought no pain! As disturbed as our childhoods were I am sure that you stumbled through like I did trying to shield & keep your balance, with no life skills. With no direction, no guidance I became an expert at when discussing childhoods with anyone.

Many, many times on my journey I wrestled with my horrific upbringing, though no one would ever guess my despair dueling with my demons day to day. My mask rarely slipped, what other people thought was a tough upbringing I thought was Idyllic, that is not to say they were not deserving of sympathy or my thoughts it was just how it is.

But as I trowel over my past I believe if I had not experienced each & every interminable situation I would not be the determined, strong, willed woman that I am today. Nature verses nurture, is not for me to question, though it remains an interesting topic, one I believe that I will never have the answer too. I embrace my flaws, as this is what makes me realize that there is no one person who is without their own faults.

Corruption, incitement of power the provocation of abuse towards children can ever be stamped out but we as part of our legacy is to shed our masks & retell our stories so that history can never be repeated.

Each & every one of us took our different paths.

Although, my brother Billy did not leave a fortune behind, nor a child of his own to inherit his special qualities —He did not leave foot prints in the sand! He left his imprint on my heart & my mind I remember my brother & I am here to tell what the brutal system did to Him You & Me.

It was a privilege to call you my brother Billy.

copyright 2011 Diane Mancuso/Eileen Kennedy

Born to the state

October was the second month of spring the cool moist air had turned into the promise of a warm summer to come.
The tiny buds of flowers were opening to the warm sun, fresh green shoots of grass glistened in the early morning sunshine. If one took the time to stop and savor the scent, to see with virgin eyes, to hear the birds chirping in their safety haven nestled in an old oak tree. One would decide that this day was full of wondrous new beginnings of hope, faith of another tomorrow.

On this day in the outer suburbs of Sydney, the day had lost its heat, dusk had settled over the suburbs. The first lights could be seen from the roads, there were familiar sounds of children laughing and arguing simultaneously. Pots and pans clattering as mothers tried frantically to cook dinner, bathe children and supervise homework, which they did with remarkable ease as these were times of large families when mothers stayed home and fathers went to work, there was no confusion as to which role one played.

The families in this neighborhood had no luxuries. They came from good Irish catholic stock or depending how you looked at it they were quick to temper and quick to smile. Many of these families battled to put food on the table for their brood. Martin Kennedy was such a man who found work when he could. He had a wife with four children and one due any day to provide for. 

He was a tall man six feet to be exact but not an ounce of fat on his solid frame. He was a striking man. He looked younger than his thirty four years with jet black hair, and hazel eyes. A smile to melt any woman’s heart but with an Irish temper to match his steel black hair. He had just finished a twelve-hour shift as a bus driver, his muscles ached and he felt tired and stiff from sitting all day.

He walked with an air of confidence and pride in one’s appearance as he put the key in the door he could hear the racket of children squealing and of muffled laughter. What’s for dinner? He inquired of no one in particular. He didn’t expect an answer, he picked up his youngest son ‘Billy’ whom was eighteen months old. Billy was a ‘Daddies’ boy and loved nothing better than being with his Dad.

Next in age was Yvonne, named after her mother at three she had an impish grin and pale hair with blue eyes the color of topaz inherited from her Mother. She ran to her Father and planted a sticky kiss on his stubble cheek.

Martin ‘junior’ was the eldest boy at seven he was already gangly all elbows & knees his mop of fair hair fell over his pale freckled face.

Colleen was his eldest daughter. At nine she had more the Irish coloring of dark hair with brown eyes. As in large families Colleen helped take care of her younger siblings.

After a few minutes he disentangled himself from eight pairs of arm’s and legs and went in search of his wife he headed for the kitchen the children trailing behind. His wife was not in the kitchen, his stomach protesting loudly that it was past dinner. Colleen’s voice rising above the din of the others to inform her Father that her Mother was in the bedroom ‘She’s sick Daddy’ she said trying not to show any fear but her voice had a tremulous tone to it.

He made his way down the narrow hall to their bedroom, as night was descending quickly he could just make out the outline of the bed. As he stealthy approached towards the narrow cot, a small moan escaped from his wife. He bent over her miniature doll like body, as he was tall and strong she was small and delicate.

He put the lamp on. Yvonne lay in a fetal position her ice blue eyes glazed over with pain he touched her honey colored hair to find it damp with sweat. After four children there was no need to ask, ‘How far apart are the contractions’ he whispered? ‘Don’t know bout ten minutes’ she gasped.

‘Colleen’ he shouted. His daughter who had been standing in the doorway came forward ‘Yes Daddy’. ‘I have to go and pick up Nurse Fisk. Look after your Mother till I get back’.

He grabbed his keys and rushed out to his old 1940’s Dodge he put the key in the ignition it coughed and spluttered in protest Martin cajoling and swearing finally the motor kicked over, reversing quickly as the first drops of rain fell.
Nurse Fisk lived about ten miles out on the Highway. By the time Martin pulled into her driveway the rain was pelting down. He ambled from the car ran up the sidewalk by the time he was banging on the door he was soaked to the skin but he either did not notice or did not care.

The door was answered by an elderly stoutly women with Grey hair and an air of no nonsense about her. She took one glance at his disheveled appearance and said ‘just a moment I will get my bag’. Martin had left the car running not wanting to chance the old rust bucket would not start for him. He overtook cars, breaking the speed limit, careening around bends the wind screen wipers working furiously to keep the rain at bay he peered into the dark night anxiously trying to hurry them along.

Thirty minutes later but for him felt like an eternity pulled into his street. He could hear the muffled screams as they approached the door he inserted the key with trembling fingers. Rushing to his wife’s side he could see her fragile body wracked with pain.

Nurse Fisk was already prodding and pushing the huge bulge with expert hands sure in her knowledge in having delivered hundreds of babies. ‘There’s no time this baby is in a hurry to enter the world’. Martin stood against the wall with its cracked, peeling paint and looked on anxiously. ‘Push! Push!’ she yelled. Yvonne each time exhausted herself and was sure she was not to live through this agony. She had already birthed four babies but could not remember them being in this much pain.

After an almost inhuman effort Nurse Fisk held up an unnaturally still infant in her hands. ‘It’s a girl’ she said. The nurse held the baby by the ankles which was practice in those days and swung her around.  She wasn’t breathing; by the fourth go they heard the lustiest cry. It was as if her cries were to protest at being wrenched from her protective envolope. Rebelling at having being swung around in such an undignified way.

Throughout the ordeal feeling quite helpless my Father stood upright against the  ancient, chipped doorway, he was not aware he had been holding his breath until relief flooded through him, & fighting tears that glistened in his eyes he blinked them away before.

 He gingerly walked over gazing down at his daughter he put his finger in the her tiny fist. She gripped his finger with amazing strength, & with her turbulent stormy blue eyes that  stared at him he thought with an accusatory wisdom.

They named her Eileen she was a bonny baby at eight pound eight ounces with dark down and her eyes as bright as fire & the color of the ocean on a stormy day.

My Mother had one other baby two years after my birth she was named Kathleen. She was a mirror image of my eldest sister Colleen as I was a smaller clone of my sister Yvonne.

I do not recall my earlier years images flash in and out some remain at the fringes of my mind. There is a tall, rugged handsome man lifting me into the air and landing me onto the kitchen table to teach me how to tie my shoe laces and then sweeping me into his strong arms. The backyard was enormous with chooks and a goat feeding off the sparse grass patches that kept them from starving. My siblings and I took great delight in trying to ride on the back of the goat but the animal had other ideas and got his own back when he would buck till we all fell off landing on all fours. Trying but failing to keep our dignity in tact we would mount him again and again much to our disappointment we never did tame him.

My eldest sister seemed to take on the role of mothering us little one’s. Later on I was to learn my mother was often passed out during the day from her addiction to diazepam. This was of great concern to my Father and he used his bus route to pass our house and run in to change my nappy and quickly return to his waiting bus.

My memory becomes a little clearer when we all moved to the outer suburb of Granville. The house was in a shambles, dilapidated and in dire need of painting and repairs. The windows were all broken the lounge room, which doubled as my sister’s and my bedroom sleeping in one bed. Whilst my brothers slept in a closed in veranda off the kitchen to the rear of the house.

I rarely saw my Father the only recollections is of being woken out of a sound sleep by my Father’s voice singing ‘I have the whole wide world in my hands’. Strange how something so insignificant can have intricate details lodged in my memory. My favorite toy was a gollywog with a zip in the side and my father used this to store his gun. I guess he thought it would be a safe place.

It was a rough neighborhood the neighbors’ son bashed my little sister over the head with a dirty wooden stick. It took six nurses to hold her down whilst they shaved her hair off so infection would not set in. I believe this event was instrumental and a contributing factor in my sister’s life further on through the years my sister developed extreme emotional disturbances and instability.

There was a creek down the end of our street there was a rope that dangled down from a footbridge. My brothers would grab the rope and swing from one side of the bank to the other side. I smile at this memory as my brothers were assured of great entertainment when with out fail I would always get stuck in the middle of the creek they would break out in peals of laughter at my distress much to my annoyance.

Innocent as only children could be my brother Billy and I would vow to marry when we were all grown up Billy with his rich, dark curly hair, impish grin and mischievous eyes.  was a strange little girl.I had compulsions which were really rituals that were to be repeated on a daily basis.

copyright 2011 Diane Mancuso/Eileen Kennedy


art, articles/lectures, documents, drawing, Forgotten Australians, memories

Museum accepts poignant memento of tough times

‘We were just whipped away; we didn’t know where we were going,’ says Carmel Durant, who grew up in Bidura Home, Glebe, NSW and with various foster parents. Read Glenn Ellard’s report in the South Coast Register about the chalk drawing Carmel made when she was ten years old.

Carmel’s drawing will be part of the exhibition Inside: Life in Children’s Homes and Institutions which opens on 16 November 2011 at the National Museum of Australia, Canberra.

You can read the 10 August 2011 report on the  South Coast Register website.

Forgotten Australians, memories

Our story

by Carmel Durant (guest author) on 5 March, 2010


The Great Depression of the late 1920s–1930s not only deprived hundreds out of work but also redundancy. This had a flow on effect of poverty and sickness.

Both our parents were very sick, due to poverty and malnutrition. To help out families with children, soup kitchens were established at the schools.

Indelibly etched in my memory was seeing my Mother very sick in hospital. Within a few days of this visit, my two sisters and myself and a very small suitcase were put on a train with woman we did not know, nor did we know where we were going, and that would be the last we would ever see of our home for life. We were now ‘STATE WARDS’. I was eleven years old.

We arrived at ‘Bidura’Home in Glebe. It was all so different, as we had never been to the City or away from our country town. On arrival our small suitcase was taken, were issued with blue uniforms and black stockings. We were chastised for not saying ‘thank you’ to the person in charge when we received our outfits. Most embarrassing, was having to strip in front of at least six complete strangers … walk up three steps to the bath and, as a matter of routine, having your head ‘treated’, no matter what your age.

Within a week or so we were taken to Camperdown Hospital to have our Tonsils and Adenoids removed.

Chores were allocated in the Home. My job was to make numerous beds in the dormitory, sweep and scrub the floor, then asked the supervisor to inspect it and if passed then you could go to ‘SCHOOL’. This was one room in the grounds with no qualified teacher. We did craft, mainly puppets.

Saturday came and we would be fitted out from the ‘clothes cupboard’, containing frocks, shoes etc. What looked OK, is what you wore to Church on Sunday. Another child would have that outfit next Sunday. We were marched in line to the church, then back to the Home and back in uniform.

We hadn’t been in the Home very long when our Dad came, and talking us onto the Black and White tiled verandah, at the front of the Home, he told us our Mum had died. She was only thirty six. There was no support or gentleness from those in charge!

Came the day and down to the ‘store room’ we went to be fitted out with a new set of clothing and off to our ‘Guardian’ [or ‘foster mother’]. She was a lady with her grown son, at Waverley. Her husband was a train driver up Newcastle way.

We three shared a double bed and on Saturdays we would spend the day burning the bed bugs with a lighted candle. We did not sit at the dining table; we sat at a small table in the laundry. The drink that we had was made from discarded tea leaves with hot water poured over them.

I remember the cases of tomatoes kept under the bed. They were kept so long they were unfit for consumption, but they were good enough as far as our Guardian was concerned to be put in our sandwiches for school. The Nuns, at Holy Cross, noticed that we were not eating lunch and throwing the sandwiches in the garbage. They gave me money to buy either a pie or a sandwich, which I broke in three and shared with my sister, so that we all had a small amount to sustain us. The episode was reported to the then called Child Welfare, with the result that we were returned to ‘Bidura’.

My next job at the Home was to help in the kitchen. I spread bread with Golden syrup (no butter) for the children coming back from ‘School’, help prepare meals, help feed the small children, help prepare the food and to do the washing up.

It was time to go back to the ‘store room’ for a new set of clothing. This time we were headed off to Mittagong. Our ‘Guardian’ this time, in my opinion, was a very caring person. We all worked together in our little garden. She took us up to see our Dad, who was in Randwick Hospital. We could only see him from a distance as he had a contagious disease.  She let us be children. However, this was short-lived. I came home from school one afternoon to find her lying on the bedroom floor, she had had a Stroke and later passed away.

Back to ‘Bidura’ … we knew the routine by now. My allocated work at this time was, wake up at 5.30 am and wake the staff with their morning tea. 6am, set the table in their dining room, bring their meals, clear the tables, clear the dining room and wash their dishes. Then there was the Black and White tiled verandah out in front to be scrubbed. This was the daily routine, then go to the ‘School’.

Back to the ‘store room’ for another outfit, this time we were off to Mascot.

We were not allowed to go inside the house only for meals and to sleep. We spent the majority of our time in a little tin shed in the backyard that had a piece of hessian covering the entrance. We were there even when it was raining. We occupied ourselves by making small craft. My youngest sister had been given a small toy which she loved, she dressed it. One afternoon after arriving back from school we were devastated to find the toy and the little bits of craft had been burnt or thrown away. You daren’t ask ‘why?’.

Saturdays were spent cutting the lawn down on our hands and knees, as all we had to cut it with was a pair of hand shears and scissors. Also down on our knees we swept the kitchen floor with a dust pan and brush, and then we had to scrub it. We also had to make sure there was enough coal inside for a fire.

Our Dad, who was ill in Randwick, sent us lollies from time to time. These would be rationed out to us; also the letters he wrote would be opened and censored. Then came the day when the ‘Guardian’ told us there would be no more sweets or letters as our Father had died … There were no hugs or soothing words.

On my sister’s tenth birthday we were sent out to the Cemetery, out Malabar way, to place on our ‘Guardian’s’ husband’s grave. He had passed away three weeks after we arrived. While we were there the wild yellow flowers were out, so we picked some and went around putting them on other graves. What child has ever spent a birthday like that?

During all these years we were not encouraged to have friends around or go to anyone else’s place. No one to play with nor did have any celebrations such as birthdays or Christmas. We were at ‘Bidura’ for one Christmas and we were given two boiled lollies … no toys or anything we could cherish.

Our younger brother was placed in a different Home; he was only five years old. Then he was placed in a Remand Home (only five) … he had not done anything wrong.  He was then place in the care of a very wealthy family in Bellevue Hill. We did not see him for some years. At this family home (who entertained a lot) he was expected to carry chairs and down flights of stairs. He had contracted TB of the ankle and had one leg in a caliper, so this was difficult for him. Our Grandmother who came down from the country to see him was horrified and eventually gained ‘Guardianship’ of him and took him back to our country town. He was now seven years old.

For me, all this Trauma came to an end the day I turned eighteen, but my two sisters remained on for a while. My second sister went back to ‘Bidura’ and my youngest sister entered the Convent.

Through our adversities, we all achieved our ambitions. My second sister and I became Trained Nurses and our youngest sister became a Teacher, also helping out the homeless and a mentor to many. Myself, I became an In-charge Nurse of the Operating Theatres and Emergency Department for many years. Our youngest brother became a Motor Mechanic.

Our Parents would have been proud of what we achieved.

I am now Eighty-Two years old and these memories remain very clear. What happened to our Childhood?

My young brother was fortunate enough to go to the Apology given by the Prime Minister Mr Kevin Rudd.

These are not just stories, they are FACT and now all of these events will be believed!

Written by Carmel Durant (nee Green) January 2010

Forgotten Australians, poetry

Bidura memory – she was only 6

by Debbie Day (guest author) on 20 January, 2010

Shush close your eyes look sound asleep,
Hear him moving in the shadows so deep,
Yes he passed by not my turn tonight
But who will he pick?
Will she put up a fight?
She was only 6

We hope he will leave and choose none tonight
We know what he will do to the one he picks
Yes we know the pain he will put on her
We know it all
She was only 6

It morning get up and make the bed
Bed number 4 is missing a girl
It was her first time, in sick bay she will stay,
We know why, we know who
We keep silent speaking won’t help
She was only 6

We wait for her to come back to us
So we can hug her and hold her close
Tell her we know, tell her we care
She never came back she left we are told
To a family who wants her, its lies so bold
It’s just not fair.
She was only 6.

Now I wish he had picked me
I know what to do
I wouldn’t fight or cry the night through
If I had be chosen me she would still be here
I wish he picked me
Cause I am older
I am 7