The child abuse royal commission recommended a national redress scheme but decided against compensation for families, aside from limited counselling sessions.
Here is why this is a bad decision.
How our children suffered:
Before reading this please know that if my life were offered to me again, I would always have married Lew. He was a visionary, and he shared his visions with us. Our children learned how to dream of an existence without limits, where anything was possible. I love him for that.
- I became violent at times. Sometimes it seemed like nothing I did would please my husband. Our kids caught the brunt of that.
- I couldn’t continue breastfeeding our babies. After a few weeks, in each case, Lew became distressed. A nursing mother needs adequate nutrition and rest. When each baby and I returned from hospital, I was thrown straight back into chaos. Never having had possessions or been in one place for long enough to learn how to impose order on chaos, this result was inevitable for him.
- Because Lew didn’t understand what was wrong, he blamed me. He told me: ‘You can’t cope with breast feeding’. My resentment at being treated so unfairly in this and other ways flowed on to our children from my bad moods. Lew used to call me “Bad Mood Lady”.
- Lew could not care for himself while I was in hospital following the birth of our son. When he came to pick us up and the nurse handed me the baby so I could get in the car, I was horrified to see Lew hadn’t removed the rubbish or emptied the ashtray. Caring for a baby near a heavy smoker meant that our son had respiratory problems almost immediately.
- Having had no possessions Lew could not use cupboards. In his childhood cupboards were places holding things that weren’t his.
- When I first met Lew he did not care for himself in basic ways like cleaning his teeth or visiting the dentist. He had not been given a toothbrush or taken to see a doctor while in the Homes. Caring for him as well as the children was too much for me.
- Our children bear unimaginable and unmanageable guilt. Lew was unable to be firm with children. The only way he could discipline them was to use guilt.
- Lew had unrealistic expectations of our children. As a result each achieved very highly academically, but would always face extra challenges, as their father could not be the model of stability they needed.
- We moved about 25 times. The disastrous move when our first two children were 7 and 4 may have seemed like an adventure to them. But for years we lived in the middle of a cow paddock with no running water or electricity. It was hell.
- Because of Lew’s constant fear the children would be taken, our children suffered extreme anxiety. Our children are so traumatized by the way Lew and I were treated by clueless welfare authorities that they have extreme difficulty interacting with authority. They learned, from observation, to present an “I’m OK” image to the world, out of fear that our real circumstances would be discovered.
- Our elder daughter was aware from a young age that how she was perceived by the outside world would have a bearing on how we were perceived as parents. She knew that she and her brother could be taken away if there was any suspicion that they were not being well looked after. Her Pre-School teacher told me, “She cannot relax”.
- Each of our children has had an eating disorder. Lew used to say things like “We’ll starve” when things weren’t going well. One day our youngest brought home a jelly bean she’d been given at school. She thought we might need it.
How I suffered
- I lost the career I had worked so hard to achieve.
- Instead of using the wonderful education I received, I’ve spent most of my life doing menial household tasks in substandard housing.
- Following childbirth it is important to exercise to return to one’s pre-pregnancy body. I had no time to myself. What time I did have couldn’t be spent on my own needs as Lew’s were so great. As a result I suffer constant back pain now and carry excess flesh around my abdominal region.
- It helped Lew feel in control if he could put me down. I don’t hate him for it, but it has to be acknowledged. He felt so powerless that it manifested as grandiosity. We were always hoping for that one thing to save us, for the boat to come in. We never knew what it was, only that we had to keep striving for it. For a couple of years before he died, Lew was not talking to me. The children were forbidden to give me his phone number. I never got to say goodbye to him.
- The book Games People Play doesn’t include this one, but our family played a game of No Way Out. It went like this. Lew would throw up his hands in despair. I would suggest a solution, or I would throw my hands up and Lew would suggest a solution. For several days the putative solution would be debated back and forth. We always, always decided it wouldn’t work. Because really, for us, there was no way out.
- When we had fights, which was often, Lew would suffer for several days. He would tell me that if I disagreed with him it would make him ill. He imposed a regime based on magical thinking, whereby if we got a flat tyre, it was because we’d had a fight a few days earlier. It gave him the illusion of control that typically develops in abused children. They blame themselves for the abuse. Maintaining the illusion helps them believe that if they discover the magical behaviour that might make the abuse stop, it will stop. Very often, the behaviour is “being good”.
- Lew could not interact with anyone but us. We lived in cult-like isolation in order to protect him from the world. He was afraid of other people. Any time we had ‘neighbours’ he developed paranoid fantasies that they were out to get us. Is this so surprising given a childhood peopled by men in suits, people who hid who they really were and groomed whole communities?
- My family rejected us and still do. They viewed Lew as a malingerer and dole bludger.
- Our son has rejected me and I have never met my grandson who will be 6 this year. He is Lew’s and my only grandchild.
- All of us suffer chronic, complex PTSD and severe depression. That’s five damaged people for one child removal.
There are many reasons why Forgotten Australian Families ought to receive Redress.
For each Forgotten Australian, you can be sure there needs to be at least one carer. The victims of Australia’s flawed child removal practices number more than a million, if partners and carers are counted. When the second generation effect is counted, this number increases for the children. We understand why the children of Holocaust survivors suffer, and why the children of Vietnam Vets suffer. We need to understand inter-generational trauma in Forgotten Australian Families.
Thank you for reading our story.