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Hearings shine a spotlight on unimaginable abuse

Women who survived mental, physical and sexual abuse as children in two state welfare schools speak at a hearing of their time at the hands of their carers.

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Fay Hillery had  suffered unimaginable trauma as a young child, including the death of her mother when she was three, rejection by her father and neglect at the hands of her grandparents.

But nothing could prepare her for what was to come when  she was sent to the notorious Parramatta Girls Training School as a 16-year-old in 1958.

Giving evidence before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse before Justice Peter McClellan,  Mrs Hillery told an emotional hearing about the shocking abuse she suffered at the school, which was shut down in 1974 amid  outcries about rough treatment of the inmates.

Margaret, who attended Parramatta girls home with  founder of care leavers Australia network Leonie Sheedy, outside the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to child sexual abuse.

Margaret, who attended Parramatta girls home, with founder of care leavers Australia network Leonie Sheedy, outside the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to child sexual abuse. Photo: Edwina Pickles

The 72-year-old, who now lives on the Gold Coast, was sent to the home for the crime of being a runaway.

She remembers having her hair ‘’hacked off’’ on arrival.

Supporters wept openly as Mrs Hillery recounted being raped orally, vaginally and anally by the Superintendent at the time, Donald Crawford.

She told the hearing Crawford, who is now deceased, would force her to the isolation cell known as the dungeon, where he would physically and sexually abuse her.

She recalled seeing a group of inmates pin another girl down and vaginally penetrate her with a Coca-Cola bottle as she screamed in pain.

Still, Mrs Hillery considers herself to be one of the lucky ones, thanks to the support of her husband Terry, friends and family members.

Another witness, OA, told the hearing she was sent to the home in the 1950s because she was “in moral danger” but she quickly discovered that Parramatta Girls was hardly safe. Crawford allegedly groomed her for sex and she suffered a miscarriage after becoming pregnant to him.

She made multiple suicide attempts after leaving the home.

“All those years wasted in there,’’ she said. “Then coming out and they’re still wasted.”

Dianne Graham also tried to take her own life after being sent to the home as a 13-year-old in the 1950s.

“I feel like I have been in prison since I left Parramatta Girls,” she told the hearing.

She recounted being kept in isolation where, “You’d wet yourself because you didn’t get taken to the toilet.”

She, too, was sexually abused by a superintendent. She recalled one occasion when she told him: “You touch me again and you’re going to have to kill me because I’m going to kill you. . . I was 14 years and three months old.’’

Robin Kitson held back tears as she told the hearing about sexual assault perpetrated by other girls who abused her with a broomstick.

Her time at the home was dehumanising, including a 21-day stint in isolation, druggings, beatings and having all her teeth forcibly removed. She remembered having to show officers her soiled sanitary pad in order to get a clean one.

“I have never had a normal life,’’ she said. “My life has been wrecked.”

Diane Chard, who was at Parramatta Girls and the Hay Institution, also had her teeth removed.

She said was drugged and handcuffed to a train seat when she was sent to Hay, where the the regime was notoriously harsh. Girls were forced to march with their eyes to the ground, banned from speaking and forbidden to use the toilet except during designated times.

Former Parrramatta Girls inmate Wendy Patton, who was sent there as a 13-year-old, recalled escaping from the isolation unit during the 1961 riots and telling news reporters they were protesting due to the sexual abuse and torture, not the quality of the food.

Another inmate, known as RN, recounted ongoing sexual abuse at the hands of one officer.

“I was programmed. I knew what I had to do to survive,” she said.

There are an estimated 30,000 women who passed through the state-run Parramatta Girls Training School between 1887 and 1971.

Former inmate Dawn, who does not what her surname published, she was treated like ‘’a piece of dirt, a bit of meat’’ during her time at the home in  the 1960s.

Her friend Margaret, who gave evidence to the Royal Commission in a private hearing and does not want her surname published, said her experiences at Parramatta Girls in 1958-59 have left her scarred for life.

Sixteen former inmates will give statements at the hearing before Royal Commission chair Justice Peter McClellan.

Most former inmates have received no compensation for the abuse they suffered as they did not make formal complaints at the time.