I have written about my childhood and how it wasn’t so great. I was born and bred on the Gold Coast in Queensland. My life was full of beaches, besties, bitches and bastards.
Life as a small child was fairly ordinary from what I can remember. According to my sister who seems to have an enormous capacity to remember almost everything – I was a bit of a firecracker. I remember I was always closer to my mum than my dad which I think is fairly usual for many families – having a favourite parent and also, despite parents denying it, having a favourite child. There was nothing remarkable about my younger years or at the very least, I remember very little of life events up until I was around ten years old. Our days were spent at the beach mostly and it’s where everyone we knew hung out. It was also where my mum worked as a cook in the pub across the road and my dad drank at on a Friday night and some weekends.
My memories of when I was so young might be sketchy but I do remember random things like walking home at ‘little lunch’ in grade one because I thought the bell ringing meant it was home time. Luckily we only lived down the road at the time! I also remember cracking some kid over the head with my plaster cast on my arm on the first day at my second primary school (still in grade one). I also remember when my older cousin took me into a newsagent. When I looked at the pretty cards, he told me they were free and I could take them all. When I got home with a whole bunch of cards my very embarrassed mum had to return to the newsagent with me to apologise and return the cards.
I remember my maternal grandmother being drunk a lot and my paternal grandmother being very aloof. I remember my maternal grandfather was a very sick man and bedridden. I used to sit on what I now know was his big wooden commode chair. I would visit him alone and have chats with him but unfortunately I don’t remember what we actually chatted about. He died when I was around seven years of age. I never knew my paternal grandfather.
I remember my dad banging on about eating fruits and vegetables which I hadn’t eaten since I was around the age of two or three according to my mum – and that’s where things with my dad started to go south. So I’ll start here because for me it was the beginning of me not trusting adults.
My mother worked split shifts, so my sister, two brothers and I were with dad each night. Mum would leave an earlier prepared dinner and that’s where my nightmare would begin. Vegetables would be served up and I wouldn’t eat them. Dad wouldn’t let me leave the table until I ate them. He would also taunt me with some cruel words designed to make me feel bad. I would sit there refusing to eat because I would gag yet again because I simply could not stand the texture of those foods in my mouth. I would have countless glasses of water so I could swallow peas one at a time, yet even though some of the vegetables had been ‘eaten’, I would still be made to sit there for hours. So then I resorted to taking numerous toilet breaks.
The toilet breaks consisted of me emptying the vegetables that I had tucked into my armpits and inside my pants – they would be flushed and then I would have to return to the table to the rest of the vegetables. Time would go by, the other kids would go to bed and then finally my mum would get home from work at 10.30pm sometimes later. She would be cranky with dad for leaving me sitting there all night, especially because I had to go to school the next day. She would tell me to go brush my teeth and get into bed. I once heard her say to dad “you will never win with her – she will sit there all night if you make her.” My dad said, “she hasn’t even tried them, she wouldn’t know how good they taste.” But I did know how they taste because I had tasted them and the worst thing for me was the texture – not just of vegetables, but many foods.
The reaction from my dad was understandable, but not until many years later when we learned that the orphanages and boys homes where he spent most of his life – food was scarce and the boys were starving. They were beaten for the crime of stealing a carrot out of the gardens they were made to grow. Vegetables, to my dad were a luxury. Despite me not knowing at the time about his past, it would not have helped me back when I was young, because my issues were sensory. It wasn’t just with food though, it was with clothing and sound. I would wear summer clothes in winter and winter clothes in summer and no one had heard of Autism Spectrum Disorder. My dads’ fixation of the very foods I hated caused me more anxiety and fixation about the texture of different foods for the rest of my life. This part of my life became the butt of countless’jokes’ over the years – it went on for decades and I simply said nothing, because – well what was the point?
You might be wondering why I am recounting this part of my life in a chapter about abuse. The reason is, when I was first sexually abused by Jack H, a friend of the family, apparently dad was the one I told. I would have thought that the person I would be most likely to tell is my mum. My memory of this time is vague – I can admit that. My sister though, remembers that I did tell one of our parents, she just couldn’t remember who. We – my sister and I, have dissected that time in my life many times over the last few years. Jack H was older than my parents and he lived across the highway from the housing estate we lived in. His house was one we used to live in. It was part of a Sawmill at West Burleigh. The area had become infamous for a time because of a still-unsolved murder case of Margaret Rosewarne, 19, who was hitch-hiking from Surfers Paradise to Burleigh Heads on May 5, 1976. Her body was found at west Burleigh 16 days later. This was very close to the house Jack lived in at the time.
The sexual abuse inflicted upon me was a very well planned event. Jack had taken his time leading up to suggesting I come and clean for him. He was a friend of the family and he was always complimenting me and used to buy me packets of chips and soft drink at the pub where my dad would be sitting right beside him. To everyone he was a nice old bloke who enjoyed a beer or two. Nobody was aware that I was being groomed. Nobody noticed that the offer of $20 to come for a couple of hours each weekend was suspicious. Back then you could buy a loaf of bread and one litre of milk for less than 60 cents. Something definitely did not add up. All I remember is the lure of that much money for mopping floors and cleaning cupboards, washing clothes and making the bed was too great to ignore. I never suspected a thing.
Jack didn’t waste too much time though – I had only gone for a couple of weeks before he had done some things that I thought were ‘odd’ at the time, then a couple of things that made me feel ‘uncomfortable’. The last time I went there I remember he had me exactly where he wanted me – his bed. You might have read before that children who have been victims of abuse have said that they removed themselves from their body while the traumatic event is taking place. I can attest to that ability to be true. I did remove myself from my physical body and I felt like I was watching from above and noticing more things about the bedroom but not the bed itself.
Many years later as an adult with children of my own, I went on a trip I had won to Melbourne and took my mum. I decided to take the opportunity for us both to be alone to bring the matter up.
She told me that she knew nothing about it and that I had at no stage told her any such thing. She also said she highly doubted that I told dad because he would have told her about it – that he would never hide such a thing from her. She was angry and I got angry too because I felt like she was calling me a liar. I’d had enough of the bullshit and lying that goes into any discussion of abuse. Nobody wants to be responsible. The ace up my sleeve however, was that my sister remembered me telling one of my parents. I knew then it had to of been my dad I told because of a memory which has stuck with me all these years. When I asked if I could I go back to Jacks’ place to clean, my dad said ‘don’t be a stupid little bitch.”
At ten years of age I figured that because I had told my dad, he would tell Jack to leave me alone and that would be it. I would then be able to go back and continue to earn my pocket money. That’s how simple most kids at the age of ten think – kids just don’t have the capacity to think like an adult. Instead, what happened is that my dad did nothing about it. He continued to drink at the Burleigh Heads pub with Jack for many years. Jack also attended celebrations at my parents’ house. My sister, who is four years older than me, later told me that she feels guilty because Jack had come up behind her and fondled her breasts when she was his cleaner, so she stopped going to his place. She didn’t tell anyone and she also didn’t mention it to anyone when I started going over there to do the cleaning. I have told her that she too was a child and children are not responsible for their reactions to sexual abuse. Children simply don’t have the tools to deal with it on their own.
The day my dad called me a stupid little bitch was the day I knew to never tell, keep everything to myself and quite literally to hide inside. Around this time I started to run away from home. If I got into trouble for anything at school I would not go home. I simply didn’t trust my dads’ reactions anymore and I was also not going home to hear his usual derogatory comments directed at me. I knew I wouldn’t be believed so why bother going home. Of course, I realise now, I didn’t trust my parents any longer to protect me. I had to do that for myself. Of course, being so young I had no idea of the very real dangers of being on the streets at night at my age. Each time I ran away, it would only be a matter of time and the police would drag me home until the next time I took off.
When I was in grade five I was attending Burleigh Heads State School and my teacher Ms Brown for whatever reason refused my request to go to the toilet. After several requests and being denied permission, I wet myself. Sitting there at my desk, urine spilling down to the book tray under my seat, in front of the whole class. I was deeply embarrassed and left the classroom and started walking home. Home was 3 km away along a highway. My mum eventually came and picked me up because the school must have rung her at work.. Here is what I remember – the teacher never apologised and the vice principle actually thought she was going to give me the paddle, the girls version of the cane given to boys, for walking out of the school. I told her if she tried to hit me I would slam her. I mean seriously – get fucked.
It made me sick when I read about Ms Brown and the glowing reports from former students in one of those many Facebook groups that reminisce about the past. As far as I was concerned if she failed to apologise it meant she didn’t care about deeply embarrassing a child. To me that reflected her poor ability as a teacher. I often wonder who else she humiliated over the next few decades that she spent at the school.
The following year I was taking my favourite sport, netball much more seriously. I was part of a club, representing the school in competitions and was also flown up north to play against other countries. It was a great time of my life because along with the netball I was also doing really well with athletics, again representing my school. My club coach for netball was great, I really liked her. Then something changed, she had either her husband, brother or friend (I really cannot remember what the relationship between them was) start to come and assist her. I was usually early to arrive at the clubhouse located at Tallebudgera, just around the corner from Burleigh Heads, because my mum would often drop me off on her way to work. I would usually just practise in the outdoor courts until everyone else arrived.
This guy started turning up early also. He was old that’s all I remember. For the first few weeks he simply turned up early and chatted to me and I remember he kept trying to get me to sit in his car. I didn’t really think too much about it but I knew something was holding me back – and that would have been my past experiences with Jack H. One day however he did manage to get me in the back of his station wagon and the only thing that has stuck with me is that at first he showed me a magazine (of which he had a pile of in the back of the car) which showed countless images of women having sex or performing sexual acts with animals. The one that has stuck with me my whole life was of a woman with the tail and body of snake in her vagina with it’s head resting on her thigh. Then he concentrated on me.
Ever since that day I have been literally terrified of snakes. I used to fear that in my sleep a snake would find it’s way into my bed and slither into my vagina. I was truly terrified. It took decades to get over my terror. Nowadays it’s a somewhat normal fear that very rarely brings back memories of that awful abuse.
Of course it will come of no surprise that I quit netball. I quit all sport and I was very close to quitting on life. I continued to remain silent – never telling anyone but getting into more and more trouble. I started to hang with a crew who were into glue sniffing, so did that for a while, we smoked, drank and took codeine when we could get out hands on it. I continued to run away from home and ended up being sent to Wilson for a few months, got out and went to spend some time at a friends house who lived about 40 minutes away. Her mother had died when she was young so it was just her and her older sister living with their dad. He was always friendly and quite strict with my friend. Of course it turned out that he too was a paedophile. I was feeling pretty fucked up by this stage. I started to mix with an older crowd and took off with them and then finally got put back in the lock up. When I got out this time I met a couple of heroine addicts, one who ended up being my boyfriend. I’d say I was pretty much at my lowest point. I had nothing to do with any of my family at this stage because they all thought I was just a troublemaker, unappreciative, rebellious and all the other negative descriptions that people use to describe a tearaway kid. What they didn’t know is what had been happening in my life because I was taught at ten years of age to just shut the fuck up.
I spent my sixteenth birthday in the institution and got released later that year and was on probation until I was eighteen. From that time the abuses that I suffered were men who took advantage of the drunk girl, the drugged girl, the homeless girl and then I simply abused myself by not giving a crap about how I let men treat me and didn’t really think about too much at all. I had manic times, depressed times, suicidal times and through it all it was the booze and drugs that kept me just stupefied enough to survive.
By the time I was eighteen I was living with an outlaw biker and six weeks later I was pregnant. We were married later that year and I became the mum I was really not ready to be.