BABY HUNTERS Colleen Mueller ©2009 © Copyright Colleen
Mueller This book is Copyright.
Apart from any fair dealings for the purpose of private study, research, criticism, or review, as permitted under the Copyright Act, no part may be reproduced by any process without written permission. The rights
of Colleen Mueller (pseudonym) to be identified as the moral
rights author has been asserted by her in accordance with
the Copyright Amendment (Moral Rights) Act 2000 (Commonwealth)
THE BABY HUNTERS
© Copyright Colleen Mueller
This book is Copyright. Apart from any fair dealings
for the purpose of private study, research, criticism,
or review, as permitted under the Copyright Act, no part may
be reproduced by any process without written
permission. The rights of Colleen Mueller (pseudonym) to be
identified as the moral rights author has been asserted by
her in accordance with the Copyright Amendment (Moral
Rights) Act 2000 (Commonwealth)
My indebtedness goes to Jude Aquilina for pointing me in the right direction; Pat Mitchell and Tom Mann for their enduring belief in my work; Judith Wright: - lines from Woman To Child & Gateway, reproduced with permission from a Human Pattern: Selected Poems (EET Imprint, Sydney1996) ; For The Loved & Unloved (Harper Collins Publishers Australia
Gillian Cichowski for endless coffees and tissues;
To my daughter Shannon Brooke – (Blanche) – without her there would be no story.
I would also like to acknowledge all who have been wrongly
accused by the NSW Protective Services and whose children have been taken away; and A BIG thankyou To ORIGINS NSW –
Lily Arthur in particular for allowing me Web Space. And to those who have been scarred by Mental Health Services in
Screams of anguish come from Ramah,
Rachel weeping for her children,
And would not be comforted ---
for they are no more.
Matthew 2: 18
King James Bible
Each generation of Americans [and Germans] has to face circumstances
not of its own choosing, by which its character is measured and its spirit tested.
President Jimmy Carter
The Hitler Youth organization, formed by the Nazi Party, introduced German youth with an ideology of racial and national superiority. The organization began in 1926, and by 1939 at the outbreak of World War II, membership was compulsory. The Hitler Youth movement demanded absolute obedience to Hitler and the Nazi Party. Dissent was not tolerated and punished severely.
There were two main branches of the German youth organization---one for boys and one for girls. Various units were established to train specialists for the military branches, including the Gestapo. Physical training rather than mental development was emphasized and boys were expected to acquire basic military skills. Later, having been brainwashed in anti-Semitism, the Hitler youth participated in the mass murder of Jews and other groups considered undesirable.
Hitler actively promoted the Nazi youth movement as an important part of the Third Reich. He realized that the Nazi youth, if properly indoctrinated, could greatly facilitate the transformation of the German nation into becoming a Master Race.
After World War II the idealism portrayed in Hitler’s youth lived on in neo-fascist groups that encourage absolute obedience, racial elitism, and paramilitary activities.
However, apart from this open display of allegiance, little is known about the effects of the Hitler youth’s indoctrination program on values, attitudes and behaviour in the post war period. Did Hitler’s youth redefine their role in society? Was it possible for them to shed their skin of intolerance? How did they behave as parents? How were their children affected?
His orders were gospel
It was a hot, blustery day in 1970, as I started primary school. Clad in a brown gingham uniform—with a white collar, grey knee-high socks and
‘Mum, the older kids in school are calling me a Nazi. They say they should never have let us into the country.’
My mother turned around from the stove. A breakfast bench of white Laminex divided the dining room from the kitchen, where my mother was preparing tonight’s meal of beef olives, red cabbage and potatoes with Brussels sprouts. Her electric cooktop had four hotplates. To the right of the stove was a stainless steel, double kitchen sink, and to the left of the cooktop was the wall oven. Next to the oven a refrigerator, and then a walk-in pantry, where my father had
installed extra shelving. My mother was wearing a checked gingham house dress with a zip in the middle. Her dark brown hair was knotted in a tight bun, with a pink hairnet over it and several hairpins to keep it in place. She had a lily-white complexion. Her jawline jutted outward from her oval-shaped face. Her forehead was wide, and she was lashless, as she had singed her eyebrows and eyelashes while lighting bonfires to mark patriotic singing in the German League of Girls. She drew her eyebrows with an eyeliner pencil. Her nose was small and slightly upturned, and her lips were thin. She had two or three moles on her face, with hair protruding from them. Her figure was rather voluptuous: pear-shaped. After all, she had been through three pregnancies and had four children. She didn’t bother shaving her legs; the hairs were dark and rather thick for a woman. She managed to hide her legs with stockings when she shopped, or visited friends. They were firm and supple, unlike her upper arms, which were flabby, like Mr Percival’s beak in Storm Boy. On her feet she wore burgundy slippers.
‘Colleen, you were born here, and we’ve made
I went into my bedroom, which I shared with my sister, Berta, and threw my bag on the floor. Berta’s bed was just centimeters away from my bed, with an old Raggedy Anne doll propped up on her two pillows. On the dressing table that we shared were two Mason Pearson hairbrushes, and on occasion we pretended we were hairdressers and styled each other’s hair. Our wardrobes were built in, each sharing an equal proportion of hanging space for clothes. On my side of the wardrobe, there were built-in shelves, which a cabinetmaker had recently crafted, to fit snugly inside the wardrobe. Beige net drapes adorned the windows, floral rosebud wallpaper lined the walls, and rose-pink paint outlined the built-in dressing table and the skirting boards. The ceiling was pristine white. On the wardrobe doors were posters of Abba, the Beetles, and pictures of horses.
It was a Tuesday afternoon, and school had finished about an hour previously. It was quiet at home, and Wolfgang and Berta wouldn’t be home for another half hour or so. When they arrived home, folders would be pulled out of bags, and pens would scratch the paper as homework assignments were completed.
I walked through glass doors into the lounge room. The cuckoo clock on the wall chimed , and I turned on
the television. Sitting on my favorite chair, which was soft dove-grey woven
wool, I enjoyed The Magic Circle,
When Mr Squiggle had just finished, Wolfgang walked into the living room wearing
denim jeans and a black T-shirt with a motif on it. He was thirteen years old,
and well over five feet tall. Medium brown hair was cut back in crew cut formation, showing his wide forehead, sharp protruding
jaw, and the same Pinocchio-shaped nose as my father. He had a fair complexion,
with hazel-coloured eyes. Five years later, he would join the Army Reserves.
‘Come on, Colleen. Let’s
go into the dining room and draw some pictures so you can send them off to
I approached the laminated table. Six red vinyl kitchen chairs, with shining silver legs, glittered from the orange lampshade, casting brightly illuminated light upon the table. Striped beige wallpaper graced the walls. There were sliding doors that opened onto the balcony, which my father built, refusing to use tradesmen, as that was—according to him—false economy. Red drapes, with a pattern of pink polka dots reaching to the floor, adorned the sliding doors. There was a phone table built snugly into the wall. Underneath the telephone table was an old black-and-white television that had seen better days.
Wolfgang and I spent a whole two hours happily drawing and colouring in. Then my mother produced a large A4 envelope, and Wolfgang carefully addressed it. He put the pictures inside the envelope, sealed it, and even posted it for me. About a fortnight later, I was delighted when an envelope came back to me with the
Tumbling over the monkey bars one Thursday morning, the local schoolyard bullies decided to grab my legs and pull down my knickers. Jumping for joy, they ran to Mrs Wrenfree.
‘Look, Mrs Wrenfree, Colleen stripped off and we have her knickers to prove it!’
‘Right’, said Mrs Wrenfree, ‘I’ll sort this out. Thank you, boys, for telling me. You’ve been very good!’ And with that, she walked briskly over to the monkey bars, with my knickers in her hand. ‘You are going to see the vice-principal!’
I walked timidly behind Mrs Wrenfree, her hair immaculately styled, with red lipstick and heavy coloured eyeshadow around her eyes. She was wearing a navy-blue tailored skirt with a matching jacket, and a cream blouse with overly large collar and cuffs. Black patent leather pumps with navy-blue stockings completed the picture.
‘Miss, Colleen didn’t do anything wrong’, said Kerry, running after her.
‘Silence!’ barked the teacher. ‘Just go and finish playing on the monkey bars, Kerry! The bell will be ringing shortly’, clipped Mrs Wrenfree. Kerry backed away, while the schoolyard bullies snickered nearby.
Shaking with anxiety, I made my way to the vice-principal’s office, where Miss Keller told me that my parents would be informed. I looked at Miss Keller, who was meticulously dressed in a charcoal-grey skirt and jacket with a black blouse. On her lips, she had deep brown lipstick. Her eyes were adorned with black mascara, giving full volume to her eyelashes. Her eyeshadow was in shades of grey: light down the bottom on the lids, with dark shades accentuating the arch of her ice-blue eyes. She had black hair tied severely in a bun. You couldn’t find a more sombre person. Among the schoolchildren, we all referred to her as ‘The kiss of death’.
‘Furthermore, you can have detention at morning recess. For a week, there will be no morning play for you. Mrs Wrenfree, would you see to it, please?’
Mrs Wrenfree nodded, a severe scowl on her face. A tight-lipped smile of smug satisfaction then crossed her face. She
didn’t like the Germans, as her father’s brother had been killed by them, while fighting for
At I could hear my father’s Holden station wagon pull into the driveway, the gravel crunching beneath the wheels. Entering his bedroom, he took off his shirt and tie, and dressed in a steel-blue track pant with a grey skivvy. My father entered the dining room and noisily placed his beer stein on the kitchen table. My mother produced a tall bottle of Victoria Bitter from the refrigerator. He drank his beer, while my mother was talking in hushed tones. Twice, I thought I heard my name being mentioned. He walked slowly into the lounge room, where I was watching Lost in Space, and said in a quiet voice, laced with vexation, ‘Get up and go into my bedroom’.
‘Now lift your dress up.’ I still had my school uniform on. ‘And take off your panties’, he went on.
‘I didn’t do it!’ I cried beseechingly. ‘I swear it was those bullies in school that grabbed my legs on the monkey bars and pulled my knickers off me!’
‘Silence!’ barked Dad. ‘You will learn obedience, you will learn not to lie, and you won’t defy your teachers anymore.’ And with that, his hand came down on my bare bum, pounding my flesh, as waves thrash against a jagged shoreline. When his left hand tired, his right hand began pounding hard, while urine ran down my legs. Butterflies hammered inside my gut, waiting for release.
‘Clean her up,’ he said gruffly to my mother, who was standing near her dressing table all the while, watching, until Dad had finished belting me. Not once did she tell him to stop. Didn’t she believe me either? From the intuition of a child, I knew that I would forever be secluded, cloister-like, in an uncaring world, with no means of escape. In an hour or so, all the red welts on my bottom would disappear. They taught my father well, in the Hitler Youth. Only slap with the open hand, for that does the least amount of damage. While it may hurt at the time, no bruising was visible.
My mother dragged me into the bathroom, and pulled my clothes off. She shoved me into the shower. ‘How did I get a daughter like you?’ she hissed, her forehead creased in a deep frown, hairpins falling out of her bun as she shook her head vigorously. ‘After everything we do for you, you treat us like dirt! Wash yourself, and then get out. Two minutes is all you’ve got, you hear me? Two minutes!’ she said, wagging her left index finger at me. And with that, she slammed the door shut, as the tears cascaded down my face, and even though the water was warm, I trembled as my hand shakily held the soap. In trepidation, I washed myself, and then turned the tap off. With slow rubs of the towel, I dried myself, my stomach feeling like tight twisted rope. I was frightened that my mother would enter the bathroom, her hands itching to belt me too. Oh, how I wanted the earth to swallow me! But of course it didn’t, and I couldn’t stay in the bathroom forever.
I dressed in jeans and a sky-blue skivvy and went into my bedroom to escape my parents’ wrath. However, my mother entered my room and said, ‘Your father wants you at the kitchen table with your maths book, so he can supervise your homework. You know maths is your weakest subject, and tonight he would like to help you, instead of working in the garden. Isn’t that kind of him? So, do your best, and don’t be upsetting him. Make sure that when he explains the maths problems to you, you listen and take careful notes. Now, Colleen, there is no need to be afraid. You need to be at the kitchen table in five minutes’, she reminded me. ‘Please, don’t keep your father waiting, and don’t give us any more problems tonight. There’s a good girl’, and with that she kissed my forehead and walked out to the kitchen, the scent of 4711 eau de cologne lingering where she had kissed me. I stood there in my room. My body wobbled, like jelly in its flan dish.
My father looked up from his paper, as I walked gingerly into the dining room carrying my maths books. I was in grade five, and we were learning fractions. My father’s Adam’s apple bobbed up and down as he spoke, his bushy black eyebrows knitted together in a scowl. His face was beet-red with frustrated anger. A scent of Old Spice aftershave lingered around him.
‘You can sit here, in Mum’s spot, where I can watch you carefully, as you attempt to do your maths exercises,’ he said gruffly.
I dumped my books on the table. I sat down and tried to be brave, not wanting to show him that I was frightened, because that would only serve to make him even angrier. As I attempted the first question, my father’s eyes travelled slowly over the top of the Herald newspaper and onto my notepad. For some reason, I must have taken too long with a particular question. He explained it by saying that you multiply the top numbers and then the bottom and then bring it down to its lowest common denominator. I still managed to make a mistake. It was then that he grabbed my pencil, his face a burning a fiery fury of rage, his eyes poisonous daggers, and glared at me.
‘You’re nothing but a useless, useless girl!’ he said, banging his thick hand, coiled in a fist, on the table. ‘How did we get a daughter like you? I just told you how to multiply fractions, and still you do it all wrong. What is wrong with you?’ And with those words, he started slapping me, with stinging blows across my face. I was knocked off my chair and fell on the polished floorboards, where, in vain, I tried to cover my face to stop his ceaseless blows from reaching me. Of course it was useless, as he picked me up with his left hand, and started to slap me with his right across my face. My face burned from his open hand attacks and seared in pain, like flames that danced inside of me, with no water to put out the burning flames.
As always, urine poured from me, as Mum, interrupted from her cooking, put me back in the shower, delivering her own form of justice, by placing me under the cold water faucet. It was winter, and the weather assisted with my bleak mood. Rain poured torrentially outside, and the wind howled, as branches scraped the bathroom window. I was frozen, but too frightened to turn on the hot water tap. I shivered as I dried myself. Disheartened, I got dressed once again. I realised, not for the first time at only eight years of age, what it really meant to feel isolated, with no true friends, and parents who refused to believe anything I said.
As I entered the kitchen once more, Dad’s thick hairy eyebrows knotted together, his elbows rested on the table, with his hands cupped under his chin. Pointing a finger at me, he stated in a disgruntled voice, ‘Remember, Colleen, authority is always right! Don’t you ever, ever defy your teachers again, and don’t you ever defy us again, or you’ll feel my hands each and every time, until you’ve learnt your lesson!’ And with that he banged his fist on the table, the cutlery dancing up to meet him, the glass tumblers dancing a jig on the dining-room table. I could hardly eat my dinner that night, even though it was one of my mother’s best meals. The beef olives felt like lead, and the potatoes like dry powder sticking in my throat, but somehow I managed to eat every morsel, as I didn’t want to anger my parents more. Besides, it was a comfort to eat warm food after an icy shower. ‘Hilda’, said Dad, ‘that was absolutely delicious, as always.’ Turning to me he said, ‘I hope you appreciate what we do for you, and how your mother loves you and cares for you. You should feel very grateful, all of you’, he said, looking at my brother and sister as well, ‘that you have such a wonderful mother.’
‘We do, we do’, chorused Berta and Wolfgang. I looked sullenly at my empty plate.
‘Do you want me to help you with the dishes, Mum?’ asked Berta. Berta had begun to bud into a slender young teenager, with waist-long thick hair, a fair complexion with green eyes, and a sharp protruding jaw, with one or two moles on her face, and an upturned nose.
‘No, darling, Colleen can help me tonight, so that she can learn how to become a good housewife one day. You already do so much, Berta. Just finish your homework, and then you can join your father and me in the living room.’
Great, they all dote on her like she’s the Queen of Sheba, I thought. I collected the dishes and carried to the sink.
My mother refused to let me wash up, saying that the water had to be almost boiling hot, ‘otherwise things don’t get clean, Colleen.’ The dishes were washed and dried in silence.
That night, when it was time to go to bed, I clutched my pillows tightly, sobbing quietly. During the night my sister, Berta, had to shake me gently. ‘Wake up, Colleen, you’re having a nightmare.’ And, cradling me in her arms, she gently stroked my hair back from my forehead.
‘It was awful’, I gulped, between sobs. ‘All these snakes were coiled around me biting each other, and then biting me. Then I saw these big holes weeping blood, and pus oozing from the holes where the snakes had bitten me, and in the distance there was this dragon, breathing smoke and creating small fires everywhere, with green mist filling the air.’
‘It’s OK, Colleen, it was just a dream,’ she said, placing a gentle kiss on my forehead. Carefully, she laid my head back on the soft, feathery pillows, and tucked the doona around me. Pushing her bed closer to me, she went back to sleep, with a comforting arm strung across my body. Feeling safe and loved, I went back to sleep. Deep down, though, I wished that the nightmare would end. In the morning whoever had dropped me off on this god-forsaken planet would realize their mistake and collect me. The spaceship would whiz me to my rightful planet, where no harsh words were spoken, and no cold, callous hands ever grazed my skin.
It was the late 1970’s, and my parents were excitedly preparing for their
first voyage back to
My sister had just started second year agricultural engineering at
It was the weekend, and my father decided to inspect my brother’s bedroom, while my brother was at a mate’s place. After finding a string of Playboy magazines, calendars of topless women, a rifle and a motorbike helmet, he walked out of Wolfgang’s bedroom, breathing fiery red smoke from his nostrils.
‘Is this how you bring up your son?’ Glaring at my mother, he went on: ‘Wolfgang has got pornography in his room, not to mention a motorcycle helmet. He is strictly forbidden to ride a motorbike, yet you go into his room every day to tidy up, and you have not brought any of this to my attention? What is wrong with you, Hilda? Huh? Can you tell me why I am always the last to know what my children get up to? Do I have to drag it out of you as well?’
My mother just stared back at her husband, too dumbfounded to speak.
‘Well, come out with it! Why did you hide this from me?’
‘I … I didn’t want to, I knew it would make you angry,’ stammered Mum. ‘I did try to warn him that if you ever found out, there would be trouble.’
‘Too right. When he comes home, he can clean all of that out. And he can get rid of his rifle. There will be no guns in this house. I’m disappointed in the way you have brought up our children, Hilda. Very disappointed.’
Just then, the front door slammed shut, and in walked my brother. ‘Wolfgang!’ shouted Dad. ‘Would you come here, please? You are to get rid of your gun, your motorbike helmet and your filthy, smutty magazines, books and calendars right this moment. As for your gun, you can put an ad in the Trading Post. You may as well sell it, since you bought it. There will be no guns in this house. Is that understood?’
‘Perfectly,’ Wolfgang muttered.
‘You use guns in the army; you take your trainee soldiers on field trips that are fair enough. It’s part of military training. But there will be no guns in this house! You’ll need to store it at the barracks!’ And with those words, Dad, as usual, banged his fist on the table, and caused some of the contents of his coffee cup to spill. My mother hastily brought the sponge over to the table to wipe up the spilt coffee. Dad put his newspaper on the table, only to have the back page wet, causing another commotion. Again my mother hurriedly brought a tea towel to where he was sitting, to wipe the table dry.
‘Jesus,’ grumbled Dad.. ‘I can’t even read my paper without it being ruined.’
‘Now, remember,’ he went on, ‘this is not a brothel, nor is it a storage place for guns and a possible motorbike. Is that understood?’
‘Yeah, but you had no right entering my bedroom. That’s my room, not yours, and what I have in there is my business, not yours!’ exclaimed Wolfgang exasperated.
‘Listen to me, you little upstart,’ said Dad, waving a knobby finger at him. ‘If you don’t like it here, there’s the door, and don’t bother coming back. I’m the head of the household, not you, and what I say goes! Is that understood?’
‘Hmm,’ grunted Wolfgang. Mum stood just inside his bedroom. Grabbing his army kit bag, he threw clothes into it. He clutched his car keys and stormed out of the house, not bothering to clear away his smutty calendars or magazines. Apparently, he knew someone who had a spare room available.
He stayed away for about a week. All the while, my mother lamented to my father, ‘How will he eat, and who will do his washing for him, now that he has left? You were too harsh on him, Hans. You didn’t need to blow your top. Why do you always have to start an argument?’ They were both sitting around the dining-room table having their Saturday ritual of morning tea.
My father put his cup down, spilling some of its contents onto the saucer. He glared at her, not believing his ears, or the comments that were coming from his wife’s mouth.
‘If you don’t like the way I discipline the children, and if you don’t like me, just say so and I will pack my bags and leave. Is this what you want Hilda? One more peep out of you, and I will be gone, and then see how far you’ll get with looking after yourself and the children. Don’t forget, I’m the one that brings in the money every week, and gives it to you. Ask me to leave, and you will not get a single cent.’
Mum went into the kitchen to start preparing dinner. She knew better than to stand up to him. He was the Hitler of their household, and he ruled with a tyrannical iron-clad fist. She was merely the hausfrau, the one that carried out the monotonous task of keeping the house running on a daily basis. She bore it all stoically. After all, she was German, and that is what she was taught at home, and in the German League of Girls. Maybe that is why she never stood up for me. After all, I wasn’t supposed to be born, and by now she was too exhausted to stand up to him, in order to protect me. Perhaps her protection was never forthcoming, because she was frightened of my father, and exhausted by the fights that seemed to be daily occurrences. It was easier to let me be heavily and cruelly chastised, rather than always pleading my case before her husband.
After about a week, my brother came back with a bag full of washing for my mother, and apologised to our father, saying that it wouldn’t happen again. Dad nodded, his face under a dark cloud, but to appease my mother he decided to shut up. Wolfgang was in the Army Reserves, and on the weekends he didn’t stay at home, as there were training camps to go on. He became an assistant trainer, teaching rock–climbing, and participating with his leader in assisting the trainee soldiers in other basic training requirements. For myself, I never took much notice. However, he seemed to become angrier and even more antagonistic towards me, to the point that you never knew what sort of a mood he would be in. It was then that I noticed that I was living with a brother who had a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde personality. He had learned all his Machiavellian behaviour traits from our father, and in the end he became downright evil. My parents would do nothing to pull him into line. My father tried on a number of occasions; however, it was rather hypocritical, as in my father’s own way he was Wolfgang’s teacher. Both of them were predictable at being unpredictable.
My mother was frantically booking three tickets, ensuring our passports were
in order, and making sure all three of us had our injections for travelling overseas, on the Italian cruise ship the Marconi.
Intoxicated with joy, I could hardly wait until June, when we were to set sail from Port Melbourne. It was to be my parents’
first trip back to
My brother and sister were jealous that it was me who was going to
‘Besides,’ went on Mum, ‘you’re a second-year apprentice,
and Berta is a second-year student at
‘That’s just the point,’ argued Wolfgang. ‘She gets in trouble, and then what do you and Dad do? Reward her by taking her on a cruise ship!’
‘That’s how it goes!’ exclaimed Mum. ‘Remember what happened last month with your smutty magazines, your rifle and motorcycle helmet? I don’t need any complaints from you. Besides, maybe she’ll settle down after that’, said Mum. ‘Who knows? It could be just what she needs. Experiencing different places, different lifestyles, and seeing her extended family for the first time.’
Wolfgang glared at me.
‘Remember, Wolfgang,’ I said cheekily, ‘we’ll be inspecting your room when we come back from overseas!’ Ducking out of the way of my brother’s arm, ready to strike, I went into my room and closed the door.
Three months off from school, and I was enjoying myself immensely. I saw Tahitians dance, and experienced a Fijian feast. I drank guava from coconut shells, and enjoyed a huge party onboard the Marconi at the ‘Crossing of the Equator.’ I watched some of the waiters and waitresses dress up as King Neptune and water sprites, with the food and drink piled on.
As I travelled on the Marconi, I contracted appendicitis, and had my appendix
We travelled through
According to one of my aunts, all she did in Canada was sit outside the front
doorstep with a bottle in one hand and a glass in the other, and replenished the glass or bottle whenever it was emptied.
And that is how she apparently died, years later. Sitting on the doorstep, she had a heart attack, the bottle slid out of
one hand, and the wine tumbler shattered onto the concrete below. It would have been better, according to my mother, if she
had been allowed to stay in
We stayed with my mother’s sister, who had a house near
Trekking through the mountains, we saw mountain goats, with edelweiss, alpen rosen, and other native plants dotting the rocky pathways. Finally, we went to Nebelhorn, where my parents used to ski, and feasted on pancakes with lashings of blueberries, cream and ice cream.
My parents and I hired bicycles, travelled for twenty kilometres, had a picnic lunch, and came back that night saddle-sore and drenched, for on the way back to the hotel it rained bucketfuls!
It was one of the few relaxed times I had with my parents, where we all enjoyed
each other’s company, with no time for harsh words or false accusations. My mother was overjoyed at seeing her beloved
homeland again, and my father was impressed by how well
And so, the three months in
Christmas was fast approaching. My
mother was busy in the kitchen, baking Christmas cookies shaped like crescent moons, dogs, and gingerbread men, and baking
seven lots of German sweetbread – or stolen- with marzipan icing on top. Every
weekend now, my father frantically drove around the nearby suburbs, looking for the ideal Christmas tree. All our neighbours had artificial trees for Christmas, but my mother wanted the scent of pine in her lounge
room, for it reminded her of
On Christmas Eve I’d go for a walk with my parents, leaving scorched almonds out for Santa, with a glass of milk. When I was ten years old, I was told that there was no such thing as Santa, and that Wolfgang and Berta put the presents out under the tree, and Wolfgang did the honours with the scorched almonds and milk.
I would receive records, books, and one year I received the whole set of the Little House On The Prairie books, written by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I was ecstatic, for I had been pestering my mother for at least six months to get me those books about a pioneering family in America in the 1800s.
The house would be filled with my parents’ friends, while Christmas carols played gently in the background. Prior to Christmas, and with no one in the house, I would sneak into my parents’ bedroom and take a peak in my mother’s wardrobe, to see what presents there were, and feign surprise and happiness on Christmas eve, when it was time to open them.
The festivities would go through to New Year’s Eve, after that we would pack up the car and travel through Geelong to the Great Ocean Road. We had a permanent camping site in a beachside hamlet called Wye River, about an hour from Lorne. I loved the coolness of the water on my skin, as I took my surfboard and rode the waves, giving my father a heart attack every time I refused to stay in between the flags that the lifesavers had put up. Those were fun times, as my father could chill out from work, as he had a four-week break, and we were virtually left to our own devices.
My parents were making plans to visit Germany again, only this time by plane. I was fortunate to be travelling with them a second time. It was on this second trip that I learned about my passion for horses. Auntie Irma, my mother’s sister, taught me the basics of horse husbandry and horse riding. She had a pony and a seventeen-hand Arab, which I was able to ride almost immediately. By this time, I had already learned horse riding back home, after my first trip to Germany. Auntie Irma admired my ability with her horses.
We arrived back in Melbourne, and again I insisted to my father that I needed to have further training. As my father walked in from work one evening, he said breezily to me, ‘Would you like to continue your horse-riding lessons, Colleen?’
‘Oh, yes!’ I shouted joyfully.
The following Sunday, he booked me in for lessons every weekend. Blaze was a fourteen-hand chestnut, with a star between his eyes, and a splash of white trailing down to the tip of his soft, velvety nose. I had become an expert at mastering the trot, canter and gallop. I had even mastered jumping. Soon, my teacher, Jackie, told me about a bloke called Megsie.
‘He hires out horses,’ she explained. ‘Maybe you should go try it out. You seem to be a real natural at riding.’
My father agreed, and the following week I hired out Chester, a fourteen-hand gelding.
The autumn weekends were crisp, with splashes of gold- and burgundy-coloured leaves, sprinkled like multi-coloured carpet on the one-hundred acre woodland floor. I was an insatiable rider, and Chester did his utmost not to disappoint. It was joie de vivre to feel the wind tantalising my hair, and being one with Mother Earth. I was in my own enchanted world.
School holidays were fast approaching, and my father offered me another fantastic holiday. I was to go for one week to “Lo Lodge.” Run by a Hungarian couple, “Lo,” I was to find out later, was Hungarian for “horse.” During my stay at the lodge, I secured two ribbons in dressage and equestrian.
I reached the end of my stay, and my father bundled me and my belongings into his Holden station wagon, while politely listening to Stefan, the owner of the Lodge.’ Your daughter’s a natural, Hans. She could even ride in the Olympics, you know.’
My father revved the motor, and we were soon on our way home.’ It’s over,’ said Dad. ‘There’ll be no more horse riding for you. You fall off, you get back on, and meanwhile, your mother and I are worried sick that you’ll become a cripple.’
‘Please, Dad, I’m good at this,’ I implored.’ Besides, it was your idea in the first place, for me to have lessons.’
‘Not one of my better ideas, I assure you.’
Nothing seemed to matter after that. My insane desire to ride for Australia was shattered, like shards of glass upon a bitumen road. For me, horse riding was the ultimate adrenaline rush. I had never felt more whole than I did on the back of a horse.
Heavy-laden, I hung up the reins, as my passion for horses came to an abrupt end. All I could do was read about them in the Silver Brumby series by Elyne Mitchell, or Black Beauty, and stick pictures of horses over my wardrobe doors. I was glued to the television at the time of the Olympic Games, watching the show jumping or the dressage. It was frustrating when other sports interrupted my viewing of equestrian events.
I decided to approach my father again.
‘You can forget about it. Besides, it’s a costly business, riding and owning horses, and I am not going to outlay the money for you to do it anymore. Just forget about it. Go do something less dangerous, like practising your guitar lessons.’
‘I couldn’t care less about my guitar music. I haven’t got the same enthusiasm as I have for horse riding.’
‘I do understand, Colleen, that once again we gave you a guitar to fall back on should horse riding fall through, and now the money is wasted.’
‘Well, if you would let me ride, I can assure you that the money wouldn’t be wasted!’
‘Enough!’ said Dad, banging his fist on the table, spittle flying into my face. ‘How did I get a daughter like you?’
How did I get a father like you? I thought.
Further beseeching was futile. Once my father banged his fist on the table, you just didn’t approach him anymore.
In 1977, when Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser had been in power for two years, and ABBA was hot on the musical charts, I began high school. My mother put my name down too late for Balwyn High School, so I ended up going to the roughest school in the district, where most of the kids either came from working class families, or their parents were temporarily out of work. I was determined to make a fresh start, to have new friends with new interests, and new subjects to choose from. I was going to enjoy myself, and no longer was I going to be harassed, spat upon, or tormented. Or so I had envisaged.
Being a student at Banyule High School was rough, and you had to be tough to survive. My locker was broken into several times, my textbooks damaged with drink stains, or bananas squashed all over them, and my spectacles had to be replaced after some kids had stolen them.
When I visited the girls’ toilets that offered me no solace either, as I had flour bombs thrown at me while trying to pee, and water poured over me as I tried to wash my hands. Naturally, I got into trouble in the classroom, with my hair matted in flour and water. The science teacher looked at me with utter disdain written upon his face, all the while yelling, ‘Go on, get out of here and wash that filthy white muck out of your hair, and don’t bother coming back in here until it’s all off! No student of mine …’ I walked back to the girls’ toilets without bothering to listen to the rest of his crap. I spent the rest of the science period washing the gooey muck out of my hair. That night, I managed to sneak into the bathroom without being noticed, and washed my hair. I didn’t need my father’s chastisement as well.
My parents, lost for words, took the side of the bullish school kids, declaring emphatically that I was to blame for all their bullying. Finally, my father confronted me. I was doing maths at the kitchen table. Abruptly, he grabbed my arm, and began striking me hard across my face. ‘Out of all my children, Colleen, you are the most defiant, the most difficult, and the most ungrateful child that I’ve had the unenviable task of being in contact with. You defy your teachers, you ruin your books that we have to pay good money for in order to replace them, and your grades are down!’ he bellowed, his face as red as a rooster’s comb. ‘Christ almighty! How the hell did I get a child like you? You are an absolute disgrace!’ And with that, I suffered a few more blows. My mother, as usual, had her back turned, facing the stove, as she busied herself with the evening meal, not bothering to intervene.
‘It’s not my fault! I don’t know why I’m bullied. But I’m not what you think I am!’
‘Don’t lie to me, Colleen! You’re nothing but trouble, from the day you were born. I’m sorry to be your father!’
‘You’re not the only one! I’m sorry that I was ever born into this family! You don’t know me! You’ve never bothered to know me! All you can say is that I’m always at fault. If anything goes wrong in this family, it’s always me. t bother taking a long hard look at yourselves. I am sick of being your scapegoat! I swear, Dad, that when I’m old enough you won’t be hearing from me ever again. I’m sick of you calling me a liar, saying authority is always right, when you know damn well it isn’t, and never bothering to hear my side of the story!’
‘That’s right, Colleen!’ barked Dad. ‘That’s what you’re full of! Stories, and fabrication of the truth. Your teachers are always ringing us up, saying what a pest you are, that you’re difficult to teach, that you don’t do your homework, and that you don’t finish your assignments on time.’
‘How do you expect me to? Huh? Tell me, Dad! Go on, I’m interested to know how I can work in an environment that is totally against me, and any learning that I might ever achieve. Don’t you see, you have taken away the one thing that I love, that I cherish; that you’ve ruined my life for good? You’ve ruined me by taking horse riding from me! Now it’s the end! I’m finished, without any hope for a decent future!’
‘Horse riding! And where would horse riding lead you? There’s more to life than putting saddles on horses’ backs, you know! Or learning to jump and whatever else it is you did when you hired out that horse every week. Christ! You were a better rider then you are a student! And what did you hope to achieve with your horse riding? Tell me that! Go on! Tell me what you had hoped to achieve? I might let you ride again, if I think you’ve given me a good enough answer!’
Swallowing, feeling octopuses’ tentacles squeeze my heart, I knew that this was going to be the end. My horse riding days were over. Dad had made that plain two months previously, after spending a week at Lo Lodge. I was not to ride in competitions, or state events, nor was I going to ride in the Royal Melbourne Show, or the Commonwealth Games, or the Olympics. I felt sick in the gut, as I knew that this weekend my father was not going to revamp my trail riding again.
‘My dre- … dream’, I stammered, ‘was to ride in the Olympic Games. I explained that to you when you collected me from Lo Lodge.’
‘Dream! Dream! Always bloody dreams with you! You live in a bloody fairyland, with no common sense! Olympic Games,’ said Dad, laughing cruelly to my mother. ‘What does she think I am? Bloody Rockefeller, with millions of dollars to spare? That’s it, forget about horse riding. I told you two months ago there’d be no more horse riding and you still go on about it! That’s final. Concentrate on your schoolwork At least there’s a future in that.’
He turned to my mother, who, as usual, was in the kitchen preparing afternoon tea, and said, ‘This is all your sister Irma’s fault, giving Colleen the notion that she can live some impossible fantasy that she has no way of fulfilling. All she does is sit in that room of hers and dream of horses, reads books on horses, and live for weekends past when she used to ride them. Although, with the way you’re bloody going,’ he said, turning to me with his left index finger pointing at me, his face as red as a Bloody Mary drink, and his black bushy eyebrows furrowed together. ‘You won’t have a bloody future, and we’ll have to bloody well support you for the rest of our lives. Christ, Hilda, you did a lousy job bringing your daughter up. You have no idea, the problems that she causes us. Jesus, Maria and Joseph!’ And with that, he banged his fist on the table. ‘That’s it! I’m through with you on this’, he said, turning back to me. ‘End of discussion!’ and with that, he banged his fist on the table again, for added emphasis.
‘Please Dad! You don’t know what you’re doing!’
‘Oh, yes I do! And there she goes again,’ he said, turning to his wife. ‘Defying authority!’
Mum looked at me from the kitchen, where she was preparing a plum cake for her visitors this afternoon. She shook her head, muttering under her breath, ‘Shut up, Colleen, will you?’
And coming up close to me, his face only centimetres away, he said through clenched teeth, his throat sagging where his Adam’s apple used to be before he had it operated on, ‘If you ever, ever disobey me or defy me or your teachers, you will receive a hiding each and every time. We’ve been far too lenient on you, Colleen. Do I make myself clear, or do I have to repeat myself? Now leave! Go into your room, and stay there until your mother calls you to set the table for dinner. Is that understood?’ he said, a deathly silence filling the room.
He faced my mother and stated firmly, ‘There is to be no afternoon tea for her, and she will stay in her room, until our guests leave. Is that understood?’ My mother nodded. ‘Go!’ he yelled, turning back to face me. ‘What are you standing there for?’
I slammed the door of my room, threw myself on the bed, and cried for hours, my whole world shattered like fine china on marbled floors. That was it. My dream was ruined. Horses haunted the shadowy dark recesses of my mind, and the crowds chanted, ‘Loser! Loser!’ The torch of the Olympic flame snuffed out by the dragon that lurked in the background, which was my father’s unquenchable rage.
I didn’t bother about doing well in school, now that my dream to ride for Australia was befouled. In fact, I did even worse. The classrooms were bothersome, the teachers’ ogres to be feared, and the students cowardly bastards. My textbooks were as battered as I was, and the constant haranguing, torturous taunts that filled my days left me with the bitter-sweet pill of success and failure simultaneously.
I was a prisoner at home, and in claustrophobic classrooms, the voices of the teachers droned over me. I discovered the art of daydreaming, developing my cone of silence, and finding solace in my corner of the schoolyard. I was a non-conformist, a renegade, a rebel, and deep down, I was proud, too proud to conform to the cogs of society or my family. I was too different, and my father, unable to tolerate my difference, roughed me up every chance he could get, while I staunchly stood by my own survival mechanisms. I was like a doe, sturdy and firm on her legs amid a buffeting waterfall, yet alert, forever vigilant, and highly sensitive.
Shivering in windswept desolation, I walked over to my desk one evening, opened a drawer, and took out the diary that I had received for my fifteenth birthday. This diary was like a breath from heaven. It proved to be my only friend, the blank pages filling up fast, as I wrote endlessly about my fears, my aspirations, and hopes for the future. I was aghast when I found that it was unlocked, again. So that was why my mother had been ignoring me the last few days. Her hostility towards me wasn’t imagined. She had been leafing through the pages, and had read what I had written about my father. I wrote that I wished I had had a pistol, so that I could shoot the bastard! I felt totally destroyed! I put the diary away, and swore to myself. Never, ever, was I going to keep a record of my feelings, hopes and now spoiled dreams, ever again.
It was over. I was in Year Ten, sixteen years old, and my future had been torn away from me. A wild electrical storm ravaged my mind, where lightning had ripped out trees by their roots, leaving the forests of my mind scattered, and the winds howling their lonely cries of defeat. I thought of the other students in my classes, those who excelled. These students talked about loving parents, parents who believed in them, who only wanted the best Their determined offspring were able to move forward fearlessly. Nothing would stand in their way. They were the ones who were going to university, into careers after graduation with high-paying jobs. I however, would stand in the dole queue waiting for jobs that I didn’t want to accept.
Because of the cold war between my mother and me, I wondered how often the diary had appeared to be locked, only to find it merely closed. Did my mother cunningly leave it like that, trying to trick me into thinking that it was locked? A few days later, she pulled me aside, and snarled under her breath, ‘How dare you, Colleen, write down that you wish you had a gun so that you could shoot your father? After everything he’s done for you? You better hide your diary elsewhere! But it doesn’t matter where you hide it! For I will find it, and I will be checking it periodically. Do you understand me?’
I felt squashed, as if an elephant had just trodden on me, leaving me gasping for air, the sensation of my mother’s lingering fingernails ripping into my flesh. This wasn’t home, this was a prison. Diaries were all the rage back in the 1970s and 1980s, but for the girls that used them, their mothers never opened them to read what was inside. I incinerated my diaries, and to this day I still refuse to journal daily events and feelings.
After my shamefully poor show of trying to stand up to my father, with my weekend horse riding now abolished, I stayed in my room for most of the weekend, only coming out for meals, or to do chores that my mother thought necessary. I hated them both for what they had done to me. Just because the war had ruined my father’s chances of going to university, didn’t mean that he could now destroy mine. Couldn’t that stupid, stupid man see that I was a natural-born rider? I could have made him proud, if only he had given me half a chance. But no, authority was always right, and yes, we all had to obey authority, didn’t we? We couldn’t go against the teachers or our parents, even if they were wrong, could we? No! After all, I was such a pathological liar, that I deserved what I got, and it served me right if I was given continual beatings. After all, I had to be pulled into line, didn’t I? Whatever happened to those hippy sayings, peace and harmony or make love not war? I was definitely living in a fool’s paradise.
My mind wandered back to the time when my sister had wanted to do nursing, and how she had chosen agricultural engineering, which my father forced her to do. He had said quite emphatically that no daughter of his would become a nurse, doing the doctor’s dirty work. He had taken her into the lounge room over three years ago, confronting her with her poor career choice. She had originally wanted to study medicine. My father sat her down and said emphatically, ‘You will tell Mrs Brown down the road, that you won’t be doing work experience on her ward. No daughter of mine will work in a hospital being a slave to a doctor! You either become a doctor or you go to university and study agricultural engineering. Is that understood?’
So, my sister trundled off to university, studying agricultural engineering, being the only woman in her class of 1974. She never liked the work, but she had to pass, or incur my father’s wrath again. No longer could she tolerate the fights at the dinner table when she came home from a late lecture, and the damning questions that my father threw at her. Almost every night, he pulled her up, asking as if talking to himself, ‘I know why you’re late, and how on earth did we get a slut for a daughter?’
When my parents and I had arrived home from our three month stay in Germany, my sister was in second year at Melbourne University, and my brother a second-year apprentice in automotive engineering. My father wasn’t too happy with either of them, especially my sister, who had found out about the male species. It was a Friday night, and she had met another bloke in her agricultural engineering class, and they were going to a pub for the evening. My father was fuming.
‘Go to the pub, then. Listen to some stupid rock band, have a few drinks and before you know it you’ll be in bed with him, having sex and coming home pregnant! And that’s what you’ve been doing the whole three months we were overseas. Having sex with every man who asks you out! What a lovely daughter I have. You better be home by midnight, or you’ll turn into a rat! You won’t be welcome in this house anymore!’
He approached my mother, his left index finger jabbing the air as my mother blinked. ‘So this is how you bring up your daughters, is it?’
Berta had had enough of my father’s false accusations, and was totally exasperated when my father called her a slut on more than one occasion. Many a time, she would come home at night and brace herself for the tirade of filth that would intoxicate my father’s mouth. My mother forever supporting my sister, turned and faced my father saying, ‘Come now, Hans, Berta’s my pride and joy, she would never do anything to hurt us! Unlike Colleen!’
In the end, Berta answered an advertisement on the university’s noticeboard, and the result was her moving into an old terraced cottage in Brunswick with another student, who studied dance. My mother drove her there one afternoon with her suitcases packed. That day, my father was beside himself with anger, his poisonous flames burning like Merlin the magician. ‘You go and you never come back! You will never be welcome in this house again!’
My mother, dressed in light-brown slacks, a white blouse and red jumper, calmly went to the stove where the car keys were hanging. ‘Come, I’ll give you a lift to the bus stop.’
My father glared at his wife. ‘She can walk to the bus stop!’ My mother ushered my sister into the car, and about two hours later, drove home. My father had been smouldering with rage the whole time.
Presently, the front door opened as my mother walked back inside, almost as if nothing happened.
‘What took you so long?’ demanded Dad. ‘You were only supposed to drive her to the bus stop.’
‘I drove her to her new home. At least I’m supporting her, Hans. The only reason she left was because you only thought the worst of her. I don’t blame her for leaving. Oh, by the way, she’s free to come and go as she pleases. She hasn’t a washing machine, so she’ll be coming home to do her washing. I’m sure you don’t object?’ said Mum, staring coldly at her husband, her icy blue eyes boring into his steel coloured pupils.
‘Object? Of course I object! This is not a bloody laundromat. No! She’s left of her own accord, I never chased her out.’
‘Oh, yes you did! You couldn’t wait to get her out of the house! That’s why, every night at the dinner table, you pounced on her for no reason. Calling her a prostitute! You have a dirty mind!’
‘Enough! I’ve had it around here.’ Glaring at me, he said, ‘And if you, Colleen, ever think you can leave, you can think twice about returning. Bloody daughters! They’re nothing but trouble!’ And, hurrying out the back door, he slammed it so that the window shook in the pane in the laundry. He stayed underneath the house, where he had carved an underground cave for himself. Dinner that night was eaten in silence.
It was a Wednesday, and my mother decided to drive to Heidelberg to collect me, so that she could bring my father home, as well. APM was only about another ten-minute drive from my school. I didn’t mind that, as it meant that I could save myself from the tormenting rides home on the school bus. My mother parked near the buses, and, as usual, began to eavesdrop, hoping to catch some juicy gossip about me. She wasn’t disappointed, as a group of girls nearby were discussing my virginity. Or, rather, lack of it.
My mother bundled me into the car. ‘What’s this? Have you been having sexual intercourse? You disgust me!’
Yeah, sure, whatever. It was no use trying to convince her otherwise. I knew that she’d been eavesdropping. After all, she heard it from the horse’s mouth, didn’t she? So it must be true. Besides, I didn’t even know what a virgin was. I had my mother to thank for that. Now it was all over the schoolyard. ‘My God, Colleen’, Mum went on. ‘You better not be pregnant!’
I shot my mother a filthy look. ‘You’d like that, wouldn’t you? It would just make your day, where you could smugly sit back and accuse me of being a slut. You can believe what you like, but if you would’ve bothered to explain what a virgin was to me when I asked, these filthy rumours might never have gotten started!’
My mother drove on in silence, occasionally muttering, ‘What sort of a girl are you? My God, how did we get a daughter like you? You’re nothing but trouble, from the day you were born. God! I should never have become pregnant again!’
‘Cheer up! You could have had an abortion. I didn’t ask to be born, you know! So don’t go blaming me for your rubbish!’
‘Colleen, tell me truthfully, did you have sexual intercourse?’
‘No! I’m like you, frigid!’
‘That’s not funny! Are you, or aren’t you, a virgin? I can always find out, you know!’
I looked at my mother, completely aghast. ‘You’re sick, you know that? Totally and utterly sick!’
Ordering me onto the bed, she pulled down my jeans and knickers, and propped me up against three or four pillows, inserting her hand into a disposable glove. Smearing Vaseline onto her gloved hand, she boorishly inserted two fingers into my vagina. She critically looked at my bottom, as she grabbed a razor blade and shaved me, inspecting me for any defects. I beseeched her to stop, but the shaving continued. Feeling raw and exposed, I tried fighting her off. She tied my hands to the bedhead, and continued. ‘I will be inspecting you weekly, and when your hair comes back, I will be shaving you again.’ And with that, she rubbed some cream onto me. ‘Good!’ she said, untying my bonds. ‘Your hymen is still intact.’ Glowering at me, she said, ‘Make sure it stays like that! Remember, I will be inspecting you weekly.’ And with that, my mother walked out of the room, the sound of rubber being pulled from her hand.
Hesitantly, I approached my father one evening. I needed a new maths book, as whoever had broken into my locker had damaged it beyond repair.
‘Colleen!’ screamed Dad. ‘I’m sick to death of replacing your schoolbooks, your glasses—which seem to go mysteriously missing all the time—not to mention pulling you up for bad behaviour. You’re involved in this as much as the other students. And, by the way, thank you very much for saying to your high school teachers that we’re cruel to you. I don’t ever want to hear that again!’ And with that, he grabbed my arm and slapped me several times hard across the face, causing me to fall onto the floor, as tears streamed down my cheeks. His face was an angry sunburst of blood red, his eyebrows knitted together, a huge scowl over shadowed his eyes. ‘Go into the kitchen and do your maths. Go on! And if you don’t do if properly, there’ll be another hiding! Understood?’
With trepidation, I went to the dining-room table, pulled out my maths folder, and worked on the problems that we had for homework that night. But I couldn’t concentrate. My father sat at the head of the table, as he pretended to read the newspaper, all the while looking up from the article he was supposed to be reading.
‘Well, come on, Colleen. Surely you know what 10% of 100 is. I’ve shown you how to do it before.’ And in a wild frenzy, he started hitting me about the head, as fiery pain seared through my body. Again, I was pushed to the floor, where he pulled me up and again started to attack my face with his stinging hand. No mark was ever left on me, for he did it with the open palm, so that by the time dinner was served and eaten, it may as well not have happened. No wonder that the teachers in school believed him over me, especially when there wasn’t any physical evidence of the beatings I received. He was suave, sophisticated, the perfect gentleman, so that my teachers would often sigh heavily, reproaching me: ‘Colleen, you have wonderful parents. Why do you behave the way you do?’
It was a sunny afternoon, and during environmental studies, our teacher, Mr Millin, decided to take the class on a ten-minute walk to the Yarra River, which was just out of the school’s boundaries. As usual, rocks were thrown in the water, splashing people’s school jumpers with the muddy, polluted substance. I was no exception, as I threw one back. Unfortunately, it didn’t hit the student I was aiming for. Rather, it splashed on Mr Millin’s red woolen sweater. A nasty, muddy stain formed. ‘Just wait until parent–teacher night comes!’ he bellowed. ‘I’ll be reporting you to your parents,’ he said, ‘and then see if you don’t behave!’
At other times, I decided to dress the school skeleton with gum-tree branches around its midriff, pulling a sweater over its head, and covering its eyes with glasses. The science teacher told me to undress the skeleton in front of everyone. ‘Report me! I couldn’t care less!’ I said haughtily. And I didn’t, for, true to my word, I became a rebel, had been a rebel for at least four years, not caring about the blows at home, but minding very much about the fact that my parents were quick to defame me in order for authority to be always right, when I knew that it wasn’t.
That night, I went for a walk passed the houses of two primary school kids who were responsible for running me down with their bikes, back in primary school. It didn’t matter that it happened about five or six years previously. It was payback time. I ripped the letters out of their mailboxes, and stuffed them down a nearby drain, without scouring the area thoroughly. That evening, there was a knock on the door. My father answered it. ‘Colleen! Come here now and apologise to this nice lady for tampering with her mail!’
I said I was sorry and that, no, it wouldn’t happen again, as long as those little brats wouldn’t bother me anymore. I had to think of something quick to say, as I hadn’t seen them for years. I was so frustrated and filled with animosity at the whole world, it didn’t occur to me that I should have left the mail alone, as it was so long ago. I swore that I would get even with every bully that had made my life hell.
Naturally, when the door closed, another hiding ensued, but it only made me more defiant. I had come to the conclusion a long time ago that my parents never took the time to really know me, so I might as well become all the things they thought I was. After all, my parents were such sophisticated people, that they surely told the truth, and that their long suffering should at least account for something.
It was a Thursday afternoon, with the sun shining outside the classroom window. Seated in a semi-circular fashion, with students in front and behind me, we were using compasses. Our maths teacher had decided to teach us the properties of the circle. Mr Goutzemanous was in front of me, helping out another student, his grey-trousered backside only centimetres away from my face. A blue sweater covered his white shirt and tie underneath. I don’t know what possessed me, except the fact that I loathed maths about as much as I loathed helping my mother with the housework. Without thinking about it, I stuck the pair of compasses up my teacher’s bottom. Mr Goutzemanous jumped about six feet in the air. He turned around, and his plump face became plum-red as he glared at me and snatched the compasses from my hand.
He screamed. ‘Colleen! You go straight to the Year Ten Coordinator’s office! You can tell Mrs Davis what you did! You are a nasty, nasty piece of work! How dare you!’
Mrs Davis was an elderly soul, with white hair, a wrinkled, prune-like face, and a smear of red lipstick that coloured her teeth as well as her lips. Her eyes peered at me through the tops of her bifocal spectacles. She was casually dressed in a pair of brown slacks, a cream turtleneck skivvy with a dark-brown sweater. Casual brown lace-up loafers adorned her feet.
‘Really, Colleen! What were you thinking? You’ll need to write a hundred times, ‘ “I must learn not to jab people with compasses!”’ Bring it to me tomorrow. Both your parents can sign it. That poor maths teacher! He’ll have to get a tetanus shot now!’
I walked out of her office, feeling sick in the stomach. I was going to get it something fierce. That night, I stayed in my room, and wrote the lines before approaching my parents to sign them. My father looked at me, then I braced myself as he gave me a few wallops across the face. My mother signed it, too, and the following day, I brought the sheet of paper to Mrs Davis.
‘Ah, good!’ she said, peering at me. ‘You did what I asked you to do. Now, tell me, what happened at home last night?’
‘I got belted, of course!’
‘Ah, very good, very good! Now, you do know not to do that again, don’t you? After all, I’m sure you wouldn’t like to be pricked with a pair of compasses would you?’
‘Good! Now that that’s settled, you will be having an emergency relief teacher for maths. Naturally, your maths teacher had to take a day off work to get his tetanus shot. Now, go away and do try and be good. Every staff meeting we have, your name seems to come up three or four times. You’re one of our problem students. Try and behave yourself! Otherwise, I’ll be old before my time!’
‘You look rather old now,’ I said.
‘Colleen, go! Or you’ll be writing more lines!’ warned Mrs Davis, in a quietly threatening voice.
I sauntered off to my next maths class. God, how I detested that subject!
It was summer, and outdoor sports time. I had chosen to play tennis as my sports elective. Mr Cooper was supervising the students who had chosen this sport, and he decided to pair us all off, girl–boy. With six tennis courts, various students had to wait their turn until one became free. I hated my partner, as he was the one responsible for pouring drinks into my locker and destroying my textbooks. And I hated Mr Cooper. In fact, we all thought he was rather peculiar, wearing pastel pink slacks, white loafers, and a cream-coloured shirt with a matching pink tie and jacket. We all thought it hilariously funny whenever he took us for English, as he used to sit on top of his desk, manicuring his fingernails, or taking out a cosmetic mirror from his clutch bag, and seeing to it that his hair was immaculately in place. Homosexuality was just ‘coming out’ in Melbourne in the 1980s, and, according to the Anti-Discrimination Act, it was against the law not to employ someone on the grounds of their sexual preferences. We students all had a good laugh at his expense when he filed his nails or combed his hair in front of us, with the boys tittering in the back row, asking questions such as ‘Mr Cooper, are you a fairy?’
At last, a tennis court was free, and Mr Cooper said that I and my partner, Peter, could start having a hit. He was to supervise our tennis, so I decided to let Peter serve the first ball. Whack! The ball hit me on the left shoulder, causing me to drop my racket, while the pain went through my arm. Shaking, I called out, ‘You fascist bastard, you did that deliberately!’
‘Silence!’ said Mr Cooper. ‘Colleen, you do not swear on the tennis court. You will sit on that bench over there where there are no trees. Maybe some enforced sunbaking will teach you some manners.’
‘Fascist poofter’, I muttered.
‘What did you just say?’
‘I said you’re a fascist poofter, sir!’
‘Right, you can stay on the bench for the rest of the afternoon! You can boil, you can melt and get sunburnt, I don’t really care what happens to you! But if I see you inch your way across to that shady spot under the trees, look out! I will be informing your parents what a disgrace it is to teach you!’
‘They won’t hold you in high regard,’ I said. ‘After all, homosexuals were euthanised in Germany!’
‘So, it is true, then! You are a Nazi! The students were right all along. Your parents are certified Nazis! My God! How did they let your parents into Australia?’
‘The same way they let you into the school system’, I told him. ‘They’d take one look at you and say that Hitler was right to exterminate people like yourself. Besides, I’ve already told my father that we have a homosexual for a teacher, and he just shook his fists to the heavens, and said that the whole teaching system in Australia is stuffed. Don’t bother ringing him. You won’t get any sympathy from him!’ And with that, I sauntered off toward the bench to bake underneath a clear, cornflower-blue sky, with the sun blisteringly hot and the sweat pouring from my forehead. I couldn’t wait to get home to the coolness of the air conditioner.
My father and mother dreaded parent–teacher night, as the only good report they ever got was from my German language teacher---- all the other teachers said I was a pain to have in their classes.
I couldn’t have cared less; my mother and father believed all the negative stuff from years before, so I decided to give them stuff that they thought I was responsible for. I was a renegade anyway, so what did it matter?
After parent–teacher night was finished, my parents walked into the lounge room muttering between themselves, ‘How on earth could the school even think of employing someone who was gay?’
‘Absolutely disgusting’, said Dad. ‘Is it any wonder that the school system in Australia is so backward?’
‘If they employ people like that,’ went on my mother, ‘how do we expect Colleen to conform?
‘It wouldn’t happen in Germany,’ said Dad. ‘Hitler eradicated those people. They are not normal, and should not even be allowed in society. My God! No wonder we have a daughter like Colleen. A rebel for a teacher, and a rebel for a daughter! Jesus, Maria and Joseph!’
My father knocked on my bedroom door. I had just pulled over the covers, pretending I was asleep.
‘Come on,’ said Dad. ‘I know you’re awake. Now, listen! We had the misfortune of speaking with Mr Cooper tonight. Even though he’s a peculiar fellow, he is still in authority over you. It is not very nice for you to say that he should have been exterminated in Hitler’s Germany!’
‘I never said that! I said Hitler euthanised them!’ I had recently read a book on the subject and one of the subjects discussed was eugenics and social cleansing of society’s undesirables.
‘It’s the same thing! We don’t voice our opinions in the schoolyard. The Australians didn’t think much of us Germans back then, you know. We’re still seen as the enemy race even now.’
‘Well, I’m not surprised. After all, you don’t think much of me. You’re always persecuting me about not being normal. Sometimes I feel no different to the Jews. Besides, what’s normal, anyway?’
‘Now, come on, Colleen! What do you know about the Jews? That they raped our country, and left good German citizens to starve, while they had the top jobs in medicine, engineering, or owned factories and employed Germans for a pittance of a wage. Or owned large department stores, while the average Germans who owned small businesses were closed down, because their large stores took away business from our people? The Jews had to be stopped, Colleen. Otherwise, how on earth could the average German citizen survive? The Jews were Germany’s downfall. Just you remember that. And, by the way, since we have to swallow our words regarding Mr Cooper and his sexual preferences, I suggest you give him a wide berth. Anyhow, you are moving into Mrs Dalziel’s class for English. We spoke to the Year Eleven Coordinator, Mrs Willson, and she agreed that you can finish off Year Eleven English with her. You don’t have to watch Mr Cooper preening his feathers in front of the classroom anymore.’
‘Thanks, Dad. I really appreciate that. He has a rotten temper, anyway.’
‘Yeah, probably because outside the classroom he has been taunted for being different, and takes it out on the students. And that’s not very nice,’ said Dad.
Even though I was grateful that I would no longer be in Mr Cooper’s class, I couldn’t help but wonder why my father was so contradictory at times. Didn’t he see that he had a wild temper himself? Or was he that blinded by his tyrannical ruling over me, not to mention his endless mantra that authority is always right? I felt that my parents needed to take a long, hard look at themselves for a change, rather than looking at those who were different from them with an overly critical eye, and then treating them in an unkind manner. Deep down, I felt sorry for Mr Cooper, as he had to be stoic himself, and it wasn’t easy coming across people who singled you out on a daily basis. But I was still angry with him for taking his temper out on me, and angry at my father’s intolerance towards me, because I chose to be different. I had to face the fact that my own father was nothing but a hypocrite and a tyrant, and that his behaviour on more than one occasion was ill-judged and absurd, if not psychopathic. Still, there was no point trying to reason with him. My father still felt that I was defiant, a liar, and that I failed my schoolwork deliberately, just to put him and my mother in a negative light. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
My studies plummeted, and my teachers were calling my father on the phone, with one of them suggesting that I see a psychiatrist. ‘Great,’ said Dad. ‘Now we have a nutter for a daughter! You go in there to his office and tell him what you’re really like, because we can’t take your crap anymore. Is that clear?’ he said, only centimetres away from my face.
Dr Millard had a beard, and was dressed in a pinstripe suit. He asked both my parents and me into his office. A mahogany desk was on an angle near a large window facing a courtyard of ferns with a waterfall. A leather-backed chair and sofa were against the wall, with Dr Millard facing all three of us. He lazily supported a clipboard in his hand, with his biro tapping against clean sheets of paper. Looking quizzically at my father, he asked what seemed to be the trouble. My father charmed his way into the doctor’s graces, and then he turned to me, saying, ‘Now, Colleen, let us hear your side of the story,’ said Dr Millard. Trembling inside, I couldn’t speak, so frightened was I that my father had inched his way into the doctor’s good books. What could I say?
‘It’s all true,’ I mumbled after a long pause. ‘I am a troublemaker, I’m rebellious and I don’t conform.’
‘And do you believe that your father has the right to discipline you, so that you learn to be a part of society? After all, both your parents here seem to be model citizens, wanting only what’s best for you, their daughter?’
I said nothing. In fact, for the rest of the time we were in his office, I lapsed into silence. My father wore a tight smile across his lips, while my mother glared pensively at me, willing me to speak.There was plenty to be said, but I already knew that I was in trouble, and I dared not make any more tumultuous waves than were already brewing.
My father pulled into the driveway, and ushered my mother and I inside. My mother put the kettle on for coffee, and my father pulled me into the lounge room for a talk. Rather, he talked at me instead of to me, and claimed that of all his children, I was the most difficult.
‘And now’, he said, his voice rising, ‘we have to pay over one hundred dollars just so that our daughter can see a psychiatrist, because she isn’t right in the head. Great! A mentally defective child we have on our hands’, he said, and shook his fists towards the heavens. ‘What did we do to deserve this?’ he implored.
‘Chancellor Hitler had the right idea,’ muttered Mum. ‘He didn’t muck about. In fact, he put people like you to sleep. It was merciful, really. After all, he knew in his heart of hearts, that people like yourselves, darling, would not have much of a life. I fear for you, Colleen, I really do,’ said Mum, as she went back into the kitchen to finish preparing afternoon tea.
‘Unfortunately, these are supposed to be enlightened times,’ said Dad. Although, how enlightened, he wasn’t so sure, as through clenched teeth, his face only inches away from mine, he said gruffly, ‘You will go to your next appointment, and you will tell this doctor what sort of a person you really are. How you defy us, make us look like the classic neighbourhood clowns. How you lie to your teachers about how we treat you, about how cruel we are. Remember, we’re your parents, we are all you’ve got, and sadly, we have to put up with you.’ And he grabbed my arm as he gave me two hefty backhanders across the face. ‘Now go to your room and don’t come out until it’s time for dinner. Oh, before you go, Colleen—Hilda,’ yelled Dad, ‘come here for a moment, will you?’ My mother stood in the doorway of the lounge room. ‘Colleen will do her homework in the dining room from now on. You are to supervise her. On the weekends, there is to be no free time anymore. Instead, she will help you cook, clean and do the laundry. We will make you conform if it’s the last thing we ever do. You won’t be mentally defective for long! Of that you can be assured! Understood?’
Trembling in fear, I sauntered to my bedroom and soundlessly closed the door. Muffled sobs ravaged my pillow. Damn that bloody shrink for believing my parents. I was trapped, a solitary being, with no true friend offering solace. I suffocated in this anechoic chamber, with no means of escape.
The weekend presented itself, with wispy, spidery hands, as my mother rapped on my door at 7am in the morning. ‘You need to help me in the kitchen, please. Your father wants a hot breakfast, and I need you to squeeze the orange juice for all four of us.’
‘All four of us? Bullshit! I’m not squeezing Wolfgang’s oranges. He can do that himself!’
‘Colleen,’ said Mum, wagging her index finger at me. ‘Don’t cause me any problems! You will squeeze the oranges!’
Bloody squeeze you in a minute!
‘Then you can wash and dry the dishes, and sweep and mop the floors, not to mention the ironing, bed-making …’ And so the list went on, while my mother went behind me, critically surveying my work, showing me that I had missed corners when mopping, or put creases into my father’s trousers where there weren’t any. In the end, my mother did it all herself, as she muttered, ‘There is a right way and a wrong way do things, and why can’t you conform and be like your sister, who’s the perfect German hausfrau is beyond comprehension?’
In the end, she reported to my father at the end of the day that I was a hindrance, and could you, Hans, please knock some sense into her? I felt like Cinderella, with the hideous stepmother. All my father did was shake his fist at God and mutter, ‘What have we done to deserve this?’
In the end, I stayed in my bedroom, listening to ABBA and Suzy Q blaring from the speakers, ‘Money Money Money!’ and ‘… I’m a blue-eyed bitch.’ Anything was better than learning how to make envelope-cornered bedsheets, and vacuum-clean the house! Besides, I became frustrated with my mother, because every time I tried to oblige her, she would redo it anyway. It became a neurotic obsession with her, saying flatly to me, ‘You do it the wrong way each and every time, Colleen!’
Some nights, I would go to bed, inwardly groaning, wishing emphatically that my parents were like the other parents at school, who believed their children, without calling them mental defects or perpetual liars. I felt like a bad stain on the family, that no matter what I did it was never, ever, good enough, and that when I turned eighteen I wouldn’t be around for much longer.
There was one more visit to the shrink, and all I did for the fifty minutes in his office was stare through the window, watching the small waterfall tumble over the rocks into a small pond. In the end, he just said, ‘Time’s up,’ and that he wanted to see me again.
I stated firmly that there would be no more visits. ‘And if you think that I trust you after you’ve believed my parents, you can just forget it. Go find some other poor, misguided soul!’ And with that, I slammed the door shut. Another older woman sat in the waiting room with tears streaming down her face, her hair tousled about her, wearing a cream-coloured suit with black shoes and matching blouse and handbag. Another victim, I thought. I waited outside in the parking bay until my mother pulled up.
‘We’re going shopping,’ said Mum. ‘Your father wants me to buy you a new outfit, and we’ll even go to the bookshop, so you can choose a book for yourself. Won’t that be nice?’
I nodded my head and plastered a smile on my face.
It would be better, I thought, if they decided to give me emotional support without violence and believe me from the beginning, instead of trying to buy my love through books, clothes, records, or whatever else they think might force me into submission. Or is it to soothe their troubled consciences? That’s if they had any consciences to begin with!
‘I’m not seeing him anymore’, I said. ‘I don’t see the need for it.’
‘Oh well, suit yourself,’ sighed Mum. ‘Besides,’ Mum paused as she drew her eyebrows in the rear-vision mirror of the car as she parked it inside Doncaster Shoppingtown’s carpark, part of the Westfield shopping centre chain throughout Australia. ‘It’s not nice being seen as a mental defect, so I can understand why you don’t want to see him. After all, your two brothers and sister passed through this family unscathed, I don’t see why you can’t. You are just too sensitive, Colleen. You must learn to have a thick skin, like a crocodile, rather than take everything to heart. We only want what’s best for you.’ And with those words, my mother hurried across the parking bays towards the Myer entrance.
Nothing much changed after that. My father showed absolutely no remorse in his treatment of me. My school years were just about over, with exams looming six or seven weeks away. My teachers virtually ignored me, probably knowing that I was not going to pass my Leaving Certificate.
I became even more rebellious. Because of my non-conformist stance, I had painted a rather bleak picture in regard to my future. Besides, why would I want to be conventional, when those in authority were always right and never made a mistake? After all, hadn’t Hitler taught blind allegiance to the German flag and those in authority? Respect and total obedience, regardless if it was right or wrong. You were to walk through life stoically, with an erect posture, not stooped as if the whole world were against you. One was to take persecution like a true German, without fighting back and asking for justice. After all, justice and morals were for fools and imbeciles, not the long-suffering Germanic man or woman. That was the whole problem. I felt no different from the Jews. In fact, I felt like a total outcast, a person who had no right to a life, like the Jews who had been stripped of their German citizenship in 1935. Now, I was persecuted by the very people that I had the misfortune of being related to. I felt intimidated and humiliated in my parents’ presence. I could no longer be what I felt I was. And who was I, anyway? My dreams to ride in the Olympic Games were like dry, scattered leaves on an autumn day, and I was failing terribly in high school. All I could think about was my eighteenth birthday. Then, I could leave home legally, and there was absolutely nothing they could do about it! I’d hitchhike around Australia. Anything was better than staying at home, listening to their poisonous words, and feeling their chilling blows, whether it be verbally or physically.
One night, totally fed up with my mother’s treatment of me, I decided to have it out with her, for it seemed that when my sister lived at home my mother was forever defending her. In fact, Berta was so perfect that it was sickening. As for me, my mother left me to the wolves. As I sat in my bedroom, with my fingers drumming on the desk top, I plucked up the courage to corner my mother at the stove. My father was working overtime, so I thought I could at least have a civil conversation with her, without fear of my father walking into the kitchen and blasting me with his fiery, draconian temper. I gingerly approached her.
‘Mum,’ I hesitated, but then my words poured out like a gush of water, almost tumbling on top of each other. ‘Why were you always sticking up for Berta, and not bothering to protect me from Dad? Is it because Berta has turned into a perfect replica of you? And now she has become your pride and joy, the meticulous German daughter? The one who’ll make the perfect German hausfrau, who can cook and clean, and make perfect creases in clothes while ironing? Heil Berta, sieg heil!’ And with that, I did a Nazi salute.
‘Colleen’, warned my mother. ‘Don’t do the Nazi salute in front of me ever again! Is that understood?’
‘Perfectly. I can’t do the Nazi salute, yet it’s all right for you to behave like they do! You’re intolerant towards me, and you have never defended me when it comes to Dad’s temper, yet you always defended Berta! Furthermore, you have called me a perpetual liar since school began; not once did you ever stand up to the teachers or the bullies in school. You’ve been brainwashed into thinking that authority is always right, and then when I’m tormented in school, I have to come home and face more torment from you and Dad!’
Mum wrung her hands, shaking her head, all the while saying, ‘Colleen, you don’t know what you are saying. Maybe you do have a troubled mind. What can I do to make it better?’
‘Yes I do!’ I exclaimed. ‘I live it every day.’ I went back to my bedroom and slammed the door. There was a knock on my door. Mum opened the door and stared at me pensively, her cold, soulless eyes boring straight through my own, wearing, as usual, another one of her pink gingham sleeveless house dresses, which looked more like a uniform than a dress. Her right hand held one of the many cups of tea that she drank throughout the day. ‘There is something you need to realise. One does not go against your father. He’s the head of the house, he works hard all day to bring the food to the table, and he is always right. Besides, why can’t you be like your sister? She could bake cakes by the time she was eight years old, knit sweaters, make beds, and keep her bedroom spotless, like in the army. In fact, it would do well if you could become like her! Then you would be my pride and joy!’
‘Well, we’re not in the army now, are we?’ I grumbled.
My mother, waved her left index finger at me, and said haughtily, ‘Colleen! I’ve had enough. Now look what you’ve made do! My floor was nice and clean, now I’ve dropped some of my tea onto it because of you.’
‘That’s right, blame me for all of your shortcomings! If something goes wrong, just blame Colleen. It’s all Colleen’s bloody fault! Tell me, Mum, why did you have me in the first place?’
‘I love you, Colleen! Besides, if you must know, you were a mistake. Your father forgot to withdraw in time. But I still love you!’
‘Do you? You’ve got a strange way of showing it! Besides, words are cheap!’
‘Oh, come now! You know we only chastise you for your own benefit. It’s a harsh, cruel world. You need to conform, for your own benefit, as well as ours!’
‘Conform?! Why would I want to conform, when all you’ve ever shown me is animosity? Why would I want to learn anything, when you’ve never believed anything that I’ve said? When all I receive are putdowns and Dad bashing me, all the time, Nazi-style! Very clever, that is, especially since the red marks go away after an hour. Not once have you ever shown me any real love, except to shower me with clothes, records, books or whatever else you can think of, just to salve your guilty conscience!’
‘How did I get a child like you?’
‘How did I get a mother like you?’ My mother’s hand struck hard across my face. No matter, the red marks would be gone in an hour. The German League of Girls had taught her well.
‘Get out of my room, go on! Get out. You can set the bloody table for dinner yourself. One can’t reason with you, Mother! You’re beyond it!’
‘Don’t call me “Mother!’ I hate that!’
‘And don’t call me a liar, or a misfit, or a troublemaker. The only troublemakers around here are you and Dad. And because Dad is such a good teacher, Wolfgang is becoming like him. You’ve brought your son up superbly, haven’t you, Mother? I was in the car with him the other day and he started laying into me, because we did a wrong turn. You should teach your son that you don’t hit women.’
‘You’re not a woman! You’re his sister!’
‘And that makes it all right, does it? My God! You’ve taught the twins well, haven’t you? The perfect German hausfrau and the perfect German Herr, who goes around hitting women. Sieg heil Berta and Wolfgang! Now piss off! Leave me alone!’ That night, I once again burrowed my head into my pillow, sobbing bitterly. I had failed to make my mother see reason. I wondered what death was like. Surely it couldn’t be any worse than this hellhole that I was expected to live in!
School was approaching its end, thank God! My father pulled me into the lounge room for a ‘little chat,’ as he put it, the same little chat that had ended in a blue with my sister a few years back, regarding career choices. ‘Now, Colleen, have you thought about your future? What would you like to do now that you’ve barely managed to pass your Leaving Certificate? What job possibly awaits one who has nearly flunked their Leaving Certificate?’ repeated Dad, as if talking to himself.
I stared at him, the inside of me screaming, I had a career and you stole it from me, and now you’re asking me what type of career I want? If I’d had a knife, I would have stabbed the bastard. Just because the war wreaked havoc on you going to university, does that mean you can do the same to me? But I forgot, he was omnipotent, the head of the family, the all-encompassing god. You just didn’t dispute that. Like cornflakes and bananas for breakfast, as solid as the walls of the house around me, while my mother stayed in the background and remained silent. Like a toxic, stagnant pond, their poisonous blue-green algae swept over me. ‘I don’t know what I want to do. I guess I haven’t given it much thought.’
‘That’s the problem we have with you’, said Dad gruffly, as he furrowed his bushy black eyebrows together, and carefully licked his cigar twice over, as if inserting a sausage in his mouth. He lit it, inhaled, and a mighty cough erupted, his spittle flying in all directions before he spat the brown tar and slime onto his handkerchief. He screwed it up and stuffed it back into his pocket. He took a swig of beer, from his stein. ‘Out of all my children, I love you the most, but you cause me the most grief. Let’s see,’ he went on, his thumb cupped under his chin, the cigar smoke billowing across the room.’ You were defiant all through your school years, a threat to the other children in the classroom, a constant liar, telling the teachers that we were cruel to you. We gave you everything, Colleen, everything,’ he said quietly, with compassion in his voice, to the point that he was trying to make me feel like the guilty one.
I looked out the window, in sheer disgust. My mind’s eye travelled down the corridors of time where I was back in the woods, cantering along the forest floor, where ancient ghost gums stood in complete grandeur and magpies warbled in their boughs. I clamped up, not daring to tell him what I was thinking, my palms sweaty, and my fingers clasped nervously together.
‘I’m sorry, Dad,’ I muttered, ‘I didn’t mean any of it. I don’t know why I did what I did for all those years,’ even though I had just lied to protect myself. I didn’t want another argument. Better to let him think that I was in the wrong. It was so much easier that way.
‘That’s all right, because we’re your parents, and we can take it because we love you, and besides, who else would have you, and understand you the way that we do? Now, I think we should enrol you in a private business college, where you can learn secretarial skills, and work in an office. It’s a respectable middle-class job, where they pay well, provided that you make yourself indispensable to your employer. Now, if you should think that this is not the job for you, we can stop the classes and the money won’t matter. All we want is your happiness.’
I looked at him in utter disbelief. Well, at least I know now what he thinks of me. And to think, he honestly believes he always had my best interest at heart. I might not have known much about the National Socialist People’s Party. But I knew about servitude, about blind allegiance, and about standing up for what I knew to be right, regardless of them being so intent on calling me a liar, a troublemaker and a renegade. And, quite unexpectedly, it dawned on me, like a shining gold coin, they never really knew me! And what’s more, they didn’t want to admit that to themselves, for if they did, they would have reeled in confused anguish and sheer horror at the way they had treated me. They knew of no other way to live. Without authority guiding them, my parents stumbled in the dark like the blind fools they were with no direction or purpose. My parents were intent on tyrannical rule, beatings, verbal abuse and hypocrisy, almost as often as my mother served up the evening meal. Now I was told in no uncertain terms, again, what was best. I nodded and said in a strained voice, ‘I’ll go to secretarial college, Dad. And you know what? You’ve been right all along. I shouldn’t have treated you and Mum the way I have all these years,’ I said thoroughly disgusted with myself.
It was my father’s turn to slowly nod his head, saying, ‘It’s OK, Colleen, we know you didn’t mean it.’
I went to my room, stuffed my head in my pillow, and cried as if a walled-up reservoir inside of me would burst. They would never understand me in a thousand years, and here I was agreeing with that stupid bastard in the lounge room, virtually allowing him to believe that I was the problem all along. I hated myself even more after that, and I had already envisaged that secretarial college would be a prison sentence for me, not daring to not finish it, otherwise my father’s wrath and discontent would pour down on me like an avalanche of stones.
So, I started secretarial college, with typing being the first lesson. ‘A Q S W E D R space F G Y H J U K I L O semi-colon P’, the teacher droned on.’ Do not look at the keyboard, Colleen!’ said Miss Primrose, banging her ruler on the desk for added emphasis. ‘And again, class!’ And so, I passed the first term. One day, while I was waiting for the second term to finish, I jumped out of mother’s station wagon, not bothering to see if the road was clear of traffic, so I could walk to the opposite side, where I would hail the bus to college. As I began to cross, I saw the car driving down the hill but too late. I flew into a ditch, as the bonnet hit my right thigh, while my mother looked on, horrified. A bus driver stopped, and radioed for an ambulance. My mother stepped out of the car, and waited for the paramedics, who said that they were going to the Austin Hospital. ‘I think it would be best if you went with her,’ said Joanne, when they arrived. ‘You know, a familiar face.’
I looked up at my mother, begging her with my eyes to please forget about your bloody appearance for once, and ride with me in the back. My leg felt as if a ten-ton truck had fallen on top of it, and I was waiting for a crane to pull it off.
My mother gave my hand a squeeze. ‘You’ll be all right. I’ll go home and ring your father. Besides, I’m not dressed, I’m still in my dressing gown. I can’t go with you looking like this, what will people think?’
Joanne the paramedic reassured me, saying, ‘I’ll ride in the back with you, Colleen.’ My mother sauntered off to her car.
In casualty, I became a slab of meat, as they rolled me onto a trolley and started slicing my clothes from my body. My knee sported huge chunks of flesh spilling forth tissue, bone and gore. I found myself looking down inside my knee, where skin should have been. I couldn’t bend my leg. Sharp, piercing daggers stabbed through my leg every time I tried to move it. Relief flooded me when they told me that my kneecap was intact by a mere two millimetres. I would be using crutches for at least 6 weeks.
Naturally, I had to have physiotherapy, as I needed to learn to walk again. Walking with the aid of parallel bars was like walking on fiery coals. The pain shot through me like a smouldering blade, from my foot to the top of my thigh, as the physiotherapist kept barking, ‘One more step, Colleen, one more,’ and the sweat trickled like a mountain stream down my forehead.
Happily for me, I left secretarial college behind, as I declared that I had missed too much work. Once again, I had to figure out what I wanted to do. My father was already rubbing his hands in anguish as I stayed at home, watching the soapies on TV, and reading, or listening to Suzi Q belt out ‘I’m the wild one!’
‘That’s it!’ said Dad, coming in one afternoon, and banging his beer stein on the dining-room table. ‘You either get a job, or go back and finish secretarial college. All my good money wasted! First we put her into college, and then she gets hit by a car, now she mopes around all day long doing nothing.’ My mother, as usual, just nodded.
I ended up finding a job in Elwood, as a girl Friday to a small advertising agency. It lasted about four months. I worked from 9.00am to 5.30 pm, and arrived home after 7:00pm, much to my father’s indignation.
‘I’ve had it’, he said, eyes ablaze with fury, his pudgy face a fiery sunset-red. ‘She’s not to have her meals saved anymore,’ he said, turning to face my mother. ‘Dinner’s at six o’clock sharp! What are you doing after 5:30pm at night? Walking the streets of St Kilda? Joining your mates on Grey Street, and showing some leg? We have a slut and a prostitute for a daughter! That’s the last meal you’re getting, tonight. After that, you can cook for yourself! Your mother’s not your slave! A prostitute for a daughter,’ muttered Dad, as he walked into the lounge room to switch the television on. And just for added emphasis, there happened to be a news report stating that police were investigating the death of two prostitutes in Grey Street, St Kilda, who were murdered in the small hours of Tuesday morning.
‘Hear that, Colleen?’ barked Dad. ‘That’s where you’ll end up—in a coffin—if you’re not careful!’
‘We all end up in a bloody coffin,’ I said, ‘eventually!’ I was chewing my food, forcing the meat down like lumps of lead, when my father walked into the dining room. ‘What did you just say?’ He swiped his hand in front of me, my meal strewn all over the floor, with bits of gravy and meat sticking to the walls. ‘You have brought me nothing but grief. You are a slut, a tramp and a trollop.’ His face was only centimetres away from mine. ‘If you don’t like it here, you can pack your bags and leave! See how far you’ll go! We, who stupidly provide everything for you. Now, clean this mess up that you’ve made!’
Shaking, I mopped the floor, washed down the two walls, finished off the dishes, feeling my way through the motions, as blinding tears poured down my face. I decided to have a bath, and then bury myself in my room. I sat at my desk and pondered, the record player softly playing in the background. My mother walked in. I turned away.
‘You must forgive him, darling. He’s having a terrible time at work lately. People are being laid off, and that’s part of his job at the moment. It can’t be pleasant, putting people off, telling them that they have no job in the morning to go back to. It’s just stress that makes him like this. You need to come home on time, so that he doesn’t have to worry about you. He does care, you know.’
I looked at my mother, completely flabbergasted. ‘My hours at work are from 9.00am to 5.30pm. It takes me over an hour to get to Elwood, and the same amount of time coming back home. Why can’t you talk to him and make him see reason? You’ve protected my sister all these years, but not once have you stood up for me.’
‘Still the non-conformist, eh, Colleen? Maybe your father’s right after all. Maybe you’ll never learn.’ She left me in my tear-stained confusion, as she quietly closed the door behind her.
...A track no mind is treading
And what’s the compass guiding
The far-returning swallow.
I dreaded work after that. What’s more, I started making stupid errors that almost cost my employer three advertising accounts. Clients’ portfolios were mislaid, to the point where he thought the clients hadn’t sent them in. Phone calls started coming in from clients, wondering how long he would be in sending out the draft copies for people’s advertising accounts, either to be aired over the radio or on television. In the end, my employer was fed up. ‘That’s it! You’re fired! This is the third complaint I’ve had this week with clients ringing me and demanding their work be sent back, threatening to go to our rival agency! Here’s a week’s pay in advance, and your holiday pay,’ he said, scribbling out a cheque. ‘Don’t bother asking me for a reference, either. You were good when you first started. Now you’ve become a liability!’
I picked up my handbag and the cheque, and mumbled my apologies as I walked out the door. Now what was I going to do? Penniless, out on the dole queue again, and having to listen to my father chucking another tantrum when I tell him I’ve lost my job? No thanks! Disquietude swept over me like a tidal wave threatening to drown my very existence. I walked the parklands of Melbourne, as I watched the sun cast long shadows over lawns swept with weeping willows and ancient ghost gums, birds carolling their final choruses for the night.
I looked at my watch. Five o’ clock. An invisible ball and chain shackled my ankles as the thought of facing my father caused me to dry-reach in the grass. It had only been last night that I was forced to clean the walls and mop the floor, after he threw my meal onto the polished floorboards. The only way to break the chains, I mused, was to board a train and head for anywhere but Victoria. Taking some deep breaths, I picked myself up and headed for Spencer Street station. Hundreds of people were milling about, screaming, pushing and shoving, while beggars went around and asked people to cough up their hard-earned cash. I joined an interstate queue for Sydney, not sure what I would do once I landed on her harbour shoreline. Would it be safe waters for me? I wondered.
The train was due to leave at 7.30 pm that evening. Anxiously, I waited for the departure whistle while I ate my dinner, which consisted of a meat pie with chips, and sculled down a chocolate Big M. I watched the platform, to make sure my father wouldn’t show up. I tried to reason with myself, saying that I was only half an hour late home, anyway, and the chances of both my parents on the platform were pretty slim. Still, I heaved a huge sigh of relief when the guard yelled, ‘All aboard!’ and the train lurched forward and chugged out of the station, preparing for the ten-hour journey to Sydney.
Passengers were piled in the corridors of the train, and I saw them pass joints around to their friends. A heady, sweet-smelling haze filled the air. Someone looked up at me, and asked if I wanted to try. ‘Sure,’ I replied, and took the joint from a man clad heavily in silver rings, a peace-sign necklace, and denim jeans, shirt and leather vest, with leather cowboy boots.
‘We’re going to the Nimbin folk festival’, he explained. ‘Care to join us? It’s a dope festival. On every year. Cakes, bread, biscuits, everything laced in hemp, in the Dream Café, with a great big rainbow on the wall. You seem to be a bit of a peace child.’
I stared at him. ‘I’ll think about it,’ I said, not quite sure anymore why I was on this train, and already wishing that I’d just faced the music at home, rather than fleeing to Sydney, where I knew absolutely no one.
Finally, the voice announced that the train would be pulling into Sydney in fifteen minutes, and would everyone please ensure that they had their entire luggage with them. I stepped off the train into a frenzied crowd, all rushing to their various platforms or up escalators, anxious to begin their working day. I bumped into a Salvation Army officer. ‘Where are you from?’ she asked. ‘I haven’t seen you in these parts before. Are you a runaway? You don’t look like one.’ She was right. I still had on my soft pink dress, with a cream-coloured angora cardigan, and a pair of cream-coloured patent-leather pumps. ‘God, have you been smoking dope?’
I nodded sheepishly. ‘I met this guy on the train. Said he was going to the Nimbin folk festival. Asked me if I wanted to come. I should have accepted,’ I said, almost regretfully.
‘No’, said the woman, ‘you’re too nice a girl to get caught up in that scene. Where do you plan to stay tonight?’
‘Not sure. I need to cash a cheque.’
‘Mmm. Well, we’d better put you in a youth refuge in Doonside. It’s not great, but at least it’s a roof over your head. Can’t have you staying on the streets. Sydney gets pretty rough at night.’
I followed Doreen through a maze of shops and empty office space, hurrying to keep up with her. She opened her office, and walked over to the phone to ring Bob, the youth worker at the refuge. ‘You’ll like Bob’, she babbled, ‘understanding, easy to talk to, and very familiar with young people and their problems.’
I nodded, not quite sure what to expect anymore, and wished fervently that I had accepted that hippy guy’s offer, and travelled to Nimbin. Somehow, I wasn’t going to like Sydney.
Doreen placed the receiver on its cradle. ‘We’re in luck. Bob’ll pick you up at the Doonside station. Now, make sure you give the youth worker your handbag, so he can safely store it away for you. Don’t trust anyone, don’t lend any money, stay away from drugs and alcohol, and you should be fine. Now I’ll take you to the platform, and see you safely on the train. I’ll ring Bob again, so he knows what time to be there. It’s about an hour’s train ride.’
I anxiously paced the platform, a tiger in a cage, waiting for the Doonside train. The Campbelltown train pulled into the station and squealed to a halt. Skinheads, women in torn denim jeans, drunks, and single teenage mothers alighted onto the platform, with babies wailing, and boyfriends telling their girlfriends’ babies to shut the fuck up.
I cringed inwardly, beads of sweat pouring down my forehead. Nervously, I started to chew on my fingernails. The train pulled out of Circular Quay, and gathered speed between stations. Finally, it stopped at Doonside, where I got off, and apprehensively looked around for this Bob fellow. He saw me before I saw him. He was a mass of thick, orange, curly hair, with a thick beard and an overly round belly, almost like a walking Buddha. Just how enlightened he was, I found out later. Moments later, Bob and I pulled up outside the refuge. The refuge was an old weatherboard house, with paint coming off the walls, inside and out, like flakey pastry. The carpet reeked of stale vomit.
Bob escorted me into the office. Being an overly warm day for spring, the air conditioner was on, but it didn’t extend to other parts of the building. ‘This’, said Bob cheerfully, ‘is Zena.’ I nodded hello, as I was faced with an overly voluptuous woman sitting at a desk, writing up someone’s notes. A large blouse hung on her like a tent, while a navy-blue pant unsuccessfully hid her waistline. Her breasts hung down like overly large teardrop earrings. Each minor movement cost her precious amounts of breath, and as she heaved and hoed, she lit a cigarette, coughed profusely, and gulped down some of her coffee. The coffee must have gone down the wrong way, because she coughed even harder, her eyes became a watery bulge, and green slime protruded from her nostrils.
After blowing her nose, she turned around and said hello. ‘Your dormitory’s out the back’, she said huskily, trying to regain her voice after her coughing fit. ‘Where is the rest of your gear?’
I explained briefly that I was from Melbourne, that I didn’t have any gear with me, and that I supposed that I could have it sent, provided she or Bob were willing to make the precarious phone call to my parents. I didn’t want to speak to either of them. If they had treated me better, I’d still be at my job, and still be in my mother’s spotlessly clean house. A shadow crossed the corridor in the form of a rat. I screamed.
Bob looked at me. ‘Was that a rat?’ I asked, horrified.
Bob shrugged his shoulders indifferently. ‘You get them here. You’ll hear them at night, scurrying about in the kitchen looking for scraps of food. They won’t come into the dormitories.’
Overwhelmed, the tears streamed down my face, and Bob gently pushed me down into a chair. I was wishing for my mother’s clean house. At least there were no rats there! But I pulled myself together, as I remembered the arguments, and my father’s enraged temper that I could not seem to shake, try as I might. I knew I did not want to go back, but by the same token I didn’t expect this.
Bob made the phone call to my mother, and my father answered the phone.
‘Tell her’, said my father, in an agitated voice, ‘that she needs to come back home, and that everything she has told you is absolute nonsense. We were always loving towards her, never did we raise a finger to hurt her, and that she is making all of this up. Why, I don’t know, but from the time she was a young schoolgirl, she did things in school that she shouldn’t have done, and then lied to us in the process.’
‘According to her, you blamed her regarding things that the other students did to her, and she, not being believed, had to face your temper, and severe beatings, when she arrived home from school, on numerous occasions.’
‘Huh? That’s absolute nonsense.’
That’s where it ended, and within a few days, my bags of clothing were sent to Sydney GPO, where I went to pick them up. But all that was in them were jeans, sweaters and T-shirts, hardly job-interviewing material.
Again, Bob rang my father, stating clearly to him the second time that I required dresses, blouses, skirts and decent shoes, so that I could attend job interviews. This time, it seemed that Dad had to admit defeat, and the remaining clothes were sent to the GPO once more, where I collected them once again.
Getting work in Sydney was harder then I had envisaged, as employers wanted young women who had at least twelve months’ experience in secretarial work. So, I was swallowed up in that living entity that is unemployment.
I was in that refuge for about four weeks, with other people around my age. It seemed that life had dealt everyone here a bad set of cards. We were all a source of comfort and strength for each other, supporting one another when our miserable existence became too much to bear. Ashley, about seventeen years old, said she was here because her father couldn’t leave her alone during the evening. A lad called Paul was here because of his mother’s alcohol problem, and his third stepfather had recently moved out. His natural father left when he was only two years old, and his sister was in an institution for the mentally handicapped. Another young lass was here because her father was always belting her, and screaming torrents of abuse. Welcome to my world, I thought. We all had our sad stories, and the more miserable we felt, the more misery we all seemed to attract. It was a toxic, infested pool that we created, and to the youth workers it was just a job that paid for their own personal expenses every week. They never bothered to spruce the place up, or try to encourage us to make our lives better.
My time was up at the youth refuge. Bob approached me on the last week of my stay, and said that he had arranged for me to go to a medium-term hostel run by the Salvation Army, where I could stay for twelve months. The rules would be strict, curfew was at 10.00 pm, and there were to be no men in the bedrooms. If I was not in my room by ten o’clock at night, I would be asked to leave the following day, with no further chance of staying on. I accepted, as I had no other option, and with that Bob helped me pack my gear and check into the hostel.
During the drive to the hostel, Bob started becoming a bit familiar with me. ‘Are you a virgin?’
God, not that question again. Memories came flooding back of the schoolyard days, and the taunting I had received as I had answered wrongly back then.
‘I might take you out in a few days, after you have settled into the hostel.’
He pulled over to the side of the road, and hid the car between thick pine trees. Without any warning, he unzipped my jeans, pulled my knickers down, and poked a finger into my vagina. Realising I was telling the truth, he said that if I was willing, he’d like to break me in. I didn’t want to say no, as he was my only contact in Sydney. So, stupidly, I agreed. It felt strange, him doing this to me, and as I wasn’t moist enough, his finger felt dry, almost like sandpaper. Parting my clitoris, he looked for the joy spot, almost making me have an orgasm unintentionally. I didn’t even realise that I had just been sexually assaulted.
‘Hold it, wait until I come and pick you up. We’ll go to a friend’s place, where you can say goodbye to your virginity forever. His parents are overseas at the moment, so we’re safe.’
Stupidly, I nodded, and I thought angrily of my mother not having prepared me for times like this. I wondered if other women in my position had the same experience with their mothers refusing to explain various sexual acts to their daughters.
At last, we arrived at the hostel run by the Salvation Army. The rooms were small, with only a wardrobe, a nightstand and a single bed. Lunch and dinner were provided, and for breakfast I helped myself to cornflakes, or whatever was in the kitchen cupboards. The food was revolting, with the cornflakes tasting like cardboard; floaties in the milk; the bread partly stale and mouldy; the meat tough and stringy; and the vegetables overcooked to a mushy pulp at night. And if the milk was to sour, we went without until the next milk delivery.
Gertrude, a plump, motherly woman dressed in Salvation Army garb, her black hair tied in a bun, and wearing black leather lace-ups, called me into her office a week later, saying that Bob was fetching me at 6:00pm that night, ‘for a bit of a chat’.
I nodded as Gertrude said to me firmly, ‘Now, remember, 10 pm sharp is curfew time. If you are not here in time, you will be asked to leave the next day. Is that understood?’
I walked into the bathroom, and pulled off my bathrobe. I turned on the hot water tap, and washed my hair. Stepping out of the shower, I blow-dried my hair and put on some lavender-scented talcum powder near my cleavage. In my bedroom, I carefully chose an Indian-style frock that I had bought from Kings Cross about three or four days previously. Bells hung from the bodice, while the sleeves gently ballooned around my arms, with elastic at the wrists. I slipped into Indian-style sandals that I had also purchased from a different shop on the Cross. My hair gently billowed around me, with wispy strands framing my forehead. There was a knock on the door.
I opened it, and Gertrude announced that Bob had arrived, and that he was waiting in the living room. Gertrude frowned as she smelled the heavily scented talcum powder around my breasts, and Impulse spray-on deodorant that was supposed to make you irresistible to men, sprayed liberally on my body. ‘You smell like a tart!’ exclaimed Gertrude. ‘Any rubbish tonight, Colleen, and you will not be welcome here anymore. Remember the curfew is at 10:00 pm sharp! Is that understood?’
‘Yes,’ I murmured, following Gertrude down the stairs and into the living room.
I smiled alluringly at Bob, who was dressed in stone-washed denim jeans and jacket, with a black T-shirt and black leather ankle-high boots. On his right arm was a chunky silver ID bracelet, and his left wrist sported a black leather wristwatch. I sighed inwardly, realising with relief that I didn’t have to worry about the time, and that I’d be in by the curfew. At least I won’t be turfed out the door tomorrow, I thought.
‘Let’s go!’ he said cheerily. Accelerating out of the driveway, Bob already had his left hand up my dress, and ten minutes later, he stopped outside a fish-and-chip shop and ordered flake and chips, with lemonade for me and a can of coke for himself. Opposite the fish-and-chip shop was a park. Choosing a large, ancient willow tree, we sat on the lawn and ate our tea, as a black swan and her family of six cygnets followed closely. The mother spied us and cheekily extended her neck, as she pinched a couple of chips that had strayed onto the lawn. I felt like the luckiest woman alive. I mean, what could be more fitting than going out with a man who had a respectable position as a youth worker, and who ensured that, even after his clients left the youth hostel, they were well-settled where he put them? I felt wonderfully cared-for and, stupidly, loved. An hour later we grounded to a halt in Phil’s driveway.
Bob rang the doorbell. The musical strains of It’s a small world after all filtered through the front door, as Phil opened it and greeted Bob with a hearty slap on the back. Phil was decked out in black leather, with black boots. His hair was strawberry blond, a thick moustache lined his lips, and a silver earring adorned his left ear. He nodded at me, quizzically. ‘Phil, this is Colleen. Colleen, this is Phil.’ As I walked through the kitchen, there was a bowl of fruit on the kitchen bench, with the dishes packed away in a dishwasher. A tortoiseshell cat jumped onto the bench, and purred as I scratched it between the ears. I followed Bob and Phil into the lounge room. ‘Take a seat, Colleen,’ said Phil, ‘and I will get you a glass of wine.’
Bob turned to me, and assured me that everything would be all right, and that he was well aware of the 10:00pm curfew. ‘Phil is also a social worker,’ said Bob, ‘but he won’t be interfering with us tonight. Basically, he’s here just to let us in, and then he’s going out for the evening. We’ll have the place to ourselves.’
As if on cue, Phil handed the keys to Bob, saying that he had a spare set for himself; and with that, he was out the front door, the motor revving on his Harley Davidson as he roared down the street, the bike chewing up the miles. When it could no longer be heard, Bob asked me if I would like another glass of wine. I nodded. Not being used to alcohol, I was feeling light-headed, and rather dopey, as all I wanted to do was go to sleep. ‘Come on,’ said Bob.’ Let’s go into the bedroom. If you fall asleep while I’m breaking you in, so much the better.’
That’s where the gentleness ended. Bob shoved me on the bed, and tore off my dress, as he roughly yanked my knickers from me. He threw off his jeans and jocks, as he thrust a condom into my hand and said roughly, ‘Here, put this on my dick.’ Suddenly, I was frightened, and wondered if it was meant to be this way. I didn’t want to touch him. His penis felt soft, and he forced me to rub it up and down until it became stiff and hard. ‘Now put it on,’ he commanded. My left hand trembled almost uncontrollably, as I rolled the condom over his hairy organ. Then he threw me back against the pillows, piled high at the head of the bed.
A rifle hung on the wall at the opposite end of the bed; I decided to obey Bob’s every command, as I didn’t want to be held at gunpoint.
Forcing my legs open, he poured oil over my clitoris and inside my vagina. Thrusting his pleasure-stick into me, I cried out in agony, turning my head away from him. It felt as if a thousand daggers were piercing my skin. I closed my eyes so I couldn’t see the wicked, lustful gleam that was in his eye. Tears coursed down my face. At last, after what seemed like an eternity, it was over, and there was blood on the pristine white sheets. I felt ripped in two, and I walked bow-legged to the bathroom. I wanted a shower, but he dragged me back to the bedroom, and threw me back on the bed again, pouring more wine down my throat. ‘Let’s see if I’ve done it efficiently’, he muttered, half to himself. And again, I found myself lying back on the pillows, while he entered me for the second time that night.
I quickly glanced at the clock. It was past the 10:00 pm curfew, and I knew that I’d be in for it at the hostel. I would be told to leave. There’s plenty of people that want to come in here and take your place, I heard Gertrude screech in my head, as Bob violently pumped into me.
He swaggered off me, threw the doona over me, and told me to go to sleep. At 5:30 am, he tossed me out of the car at the nearest train station. ‘You can find your own way back to the hostel, and don’t be expecting any help from me when you plead your case before Gertrude. She won’t believe you, anyway, as she has high regard for me and Zena. She totally supports the work that we do.’
An hour later, I found myself sneaking back inside the hostel. Gertrude pounced on me, like a cat pouncing on a bird. ‘And just where do you think you’re going? Look at you! You are a bloody disgrace to this establishment! Look at you!’ she said again for added emphasis. ‘Your dress is torn, you reek of alcohol, and there’s stale blood on the back of your knickers.’
‘God, how do you know that?’ I asked, an hysterical note in my voice.
‘Your dress happens to be see-through. You disgust me! I thought that when I took you on, against my better judgment, that you would be different to all the rest, but no! You’re just the same! Look at you!’
Jesus, she’s like a record stuck in a groove, I thought.
‘Ten o’ clock this morning, you are out of here! I don’t care where you go, or what you do!’
‘But, Gertrude! Bob forced himself onto me! I didn’t want to do it!’
‘Silence!’ Her black brows scowled heavily at me, her dumpy face red as goldfish swimming in a bowl. Wagging her knotted, fat index finger at me, she said. ‘This is what happens when you don’t obey rules! You won’t get any sympathy from me. Now, as I’ve said to you before …’
‘Bitch—you bloody bitch! You’re supposed to be a servant of God!’ I yelled. ‘This hostel is supposed to be run by the Salvation Army. You’re meant to be forgiving, like Jesus. I told you, Bob forced himself on me. I hope you rot in hell. Even that’s too good for you!’ And with that, I climbed the stairs to my soon-to-be-vacated bedroom.
‘Oh! You’re a liar now, are you?’ said Gertrude, following me to my room. ‘How dare you say that a respectable member of the community, who has given up his life for the betterment of society, and for the care and concern of the troubled youth of Sydney, that he had sex with you? You are a dirty-minded troublemaker. You disgust me, and you’re a filthy slut, to boot! Go on! Get out of my sight! Oh, by the way, you’ll find that your bags are packed neatly, and are outside your bedroom door, the one that you’re about to vacate!’
‘Jesus, bloody Nora! Haven’t you got a heart?’ I screamed.
‘Not when you behave like this, no!’
‘Bitch!’ I muttered under my breath.
‘You can go right this minute! You ungrateful little snippet! After everything I’ve tried to do for you!’
‘You didn’t do much! I was only here for about a week! Where am I supposed to go?’
‘You’ll probably land up on Kings Cross. Like everyone else does that leaves here after breaking the curfew. You won’t be the last one, you know! Everybody does it!’
Kings Cross, bloody brilliant. And, picking up my three bags, which now felt like molten lead, I dragged myself to the train station. It seemed that my life now consisted of trains, and lousy, shitty social workers, who say they care and then make life even more miserable.
Kings Cross by day was a bustling, thriving shoppers’ hub, with alfresco dining, and buskers who sang for their supper. At night, it was seedy, with nightclubs, pole dancing and prostitutes showing off their fishnet-stocking legs and short red miniskirts. Alleyways were packed with drunks nursing bottles, and drug addicts making love to their needles. As I walked through the Cross, I noticed a sandy beach, with the stars and moon giving off their beguiling glow. I found a bench, and fully intended to stay there until morning. My dole check would be in the bank, and I could buy another ticket, get on a train, and travel back to Victoria to visit my sister. Sydney didn’t look so glorious anymore. A man walked up to the bench, and I saw that he was a priest. Not another one, I thought to myself.
‘Why don’t you come to the Wayside Chapel?’ he asked. ‘You can’t stay on this bench for the night. You don’t know what will happen to you by the morning.’
It was pointless arguing with him, and he did seem to have an aura of gentle authority about him. He was a priest, surely he wouldn’t rape me!
So, I followed him to the chapel, where other young people were drinking coffee and watching television. After being shown to a single room with a bed, a wardrobe and a nightstand, I relieved myself of my bags. Father Peter showed me the bathroom, and I gratefully dug out my pajamas and a bathrobe. With relief, I turned on the tap, let the water gush over me, as if standing under a waterfall, and allowed the shower to cleanse me. After I had finished shampooing my hair, I stayed underneath the cascading water a little longer, and enjoyed the water’s healing properties as it continued to pour over me. I stepped out of the shower and made my way to the kitchen.
Father Peter popped his head in the kitchen door. We chatted, and I briefly explained what had happened when I was living in the Salvation Army’s youth hostel. He shook his head, muttering angrily—more to himself than me—‘They should close that hostel down, along with Bob and Zena’s youth refuge, which is no more than an outlet for raping young women. The trouble is, Colleen, they won’t believe you, even if you did take them to court. These people in so-called “authority” know how to manipulate the system, and as such they would be free to do so yet again. You can stay here with me until we find you a place that’s affordable and half decent, or you can go ahead and leave Sydney. You don’t have to think about it straight away, you know. You are safe here, and no one is going to harm you while living in the Wayside Chapel.
‘Anyway’, he went on, ‘that Salvation Army youth hostel that you mentioned has a high turnover of residents, so they can increase their government funding every year. It’s their way of justifying their application for more money, by inflating the figures on their intake of the youth around the Doonside area. Getting rid of you is what they do with all their women. Gertrude knows exactly what Bob does, and she goes along with it, because there are perks in it for her. Like an increase in her pay packet every quarter that she fulfills her intake quota.’
Sheer exhaustion overtook me, as I set the mug—now emptied of hot chocolate—on the wooden table in the kitchen. It was a tidy, clean kitchen, and I didn’t see any evidence of rats scurrying through the corridors, or any other vermin infestation. It was extremely tempting to stay on, maybe I could find my roots after all. But, no. I had decided to catch a ride on the Hume freeway to go back to Victoria, to visit my sister. I thanked my host as I went into my bedroom for the night, sinking under the covers, waking up at around 9 pm the next morning.
After a breakfast of eggs and bacon and two pieces of toast, I bundled my bags together, and made my way to Sydney Central railway station. I saw a Holden ute pull up outside Tiffany’s Café. A man stepped out of the ute, and opened the door to the café. I left my bags near his ute as I walked inside. The driver had seated himself at a round table with wooden chairs and a red-checked tablecloth. A small vase in the centre of the table housed a dry floral arrangement.
Dressed in jeans, T-shirt and sneakers, with my hair pulled back in a ponytail, I boldly approached the table and introduced myself. ‘Hi! I’m Colleen. I was wondering if you could give me a lift to the Hume freeway?’
‘Sure,’ he said, his mouth full of steak sandwich, the juices running down his brown beard. ‘I’m Bill, pleased to meet you, Colleen. Of course you can hitch a ride with me. You’ll be able to score a lift with a semi-trailer once we hit the trucking bay just inside the freeway. Give me half an hour and we’ll get going.’ He spied my bags outside near his ute. He threw me the keys, and told me to put the bags on the backseat. I graciously obliged. Walking back into Tiffany’s Café, he bought me a cup of coffee. ‘No, I can pay for it,’ I said.
‘Are you on the dole?’ he asked.
‘Save your money. You’ll be needing it.’
I gulped down the coffee and lit a cigarette.
Dropping me off at the trucking bay just inside the freeway, we found that two long semi-trailers had pulled over. The two drivers had stepped out of their cabins, and were pouring coffee from their vacuum flasks. I overheard that one was going on to Victoria, and then to South Australia after he dropped his load off in Melbourne.
‘Hi, fellas,’ said Bill, walking up to them. ‘Any of you going on to Victoria?’
‘Who wants to know?’ asked a burly-looking man, with a black beard, bushy eyebrows and thick, muscular arms. His beer gut hung over his jeans like an oversized soccer ball. On his feet were Nike runners, and he wore a gold chain around his neck, with a thick, chunky gold bracelet on his right wrist.
God, the trucking business must pay well. I wonder if he’s married. It was my intention to shack up with a truckie, so that I could see Australia.
‘This young woman wants a lift to the Shepparton–Bendigo turnoff.’
‘Yeah, sure. Andrew’s my name’, he said, looking at me as if I were a juicy piece of beef on a butcher’s carving table. He licked his lips almost beguilingly, and said ‘We’d best get going. It’s a fair way to travel. Besides, I could use the company.’
Why not, I thought. If he wants sex, I’ll just give it to him in payment for the ride. In fact, I was quickly learning that men just can’t help themselves when it comes to being pleasurable. It didn’t even matter if they were wearing a wedding ring. Like insatiable tom cats, they preyed on the female of the species, and I just obliged, figuring that if I couldn’t give them petrol money, I’d just become an amorous pussy cat instead!
He dropped me off at a roadhouse in Shepparton, thanked me for last night, and we parted company. I thought that maybe I was promiscuous after all. But what did it really matter? I was on my own, and could do whatever I felt like. I didn’t have my parents to answer to, and the rest of the world could go to hell.
It wasn’t long before I scored a lift with another truckie, who was travelling to Bendigo. This truckie looked me up and down as if I were a horse on display at a saleyard, and my new owner pensively peered at me and wondered if my ‘horseflesh’ was worth the effort. It was dark, and I had been at the Shepparton roadhouse all day. We slept for a while in his cabin, and then he laid into me. ‘Care for steak and chips?’ he said, after doing his jeans up.
‘Oh, could you? I haven’t eaten all day.’
Presently, we were on the road again, and he let me off at the crossroads, where signs pointed to Bendigo, Echuca and Swan Hill. It wasn’t until the sun rose, that a farmer—dressed in jeans, a red flannelette shirt and an Akubra hat—in a battered old station wagon, pulled over. ‘Where are you headed?’
‘You’re in luck. I’m going there, myself.’
About three hours later, I found myself at my sister’s doorstep. ‘Thank you so much! I thought I’d never get here!’
Swan Hill, nestled on the banks of the Murray River, is a town rich in agriculture. It was the perfect spot for Berta, in her chosen field as an agricultural engineer for the now-defunct State Rivers Water Commission of Victoria. She was responsible for supervising and advising farmers on the best way to irrigate their crops, as northern Victoria is rich in wheat and other grain crops.
The old farmer chuckled, touched his hat, and sped off, while I knocked on the door. James, Berta’s future husband, let me in. He was about five feet ten inches tall, with dark-brown hair and a receding bald patch, fair complexion, brown eyes and a moustache. Sporting a tie and a navy-blue business suit, he was a practising accountant. After he gave me a quizzical look, he said, ‘I better ring your sister; the prodigal daughter has arrived. Your sister’s coming home for lunch.’
‘Is she? Good.’
‘Yeah, and I’m going to work. Would you keep a low profile? Business seems to drop by 10 per cent when you’re around here.’
I looked at him, and a sour taste filled my mouth. I didn’t think much of him. He always appeared to me toffee-nosed, arrogant and aloof.
‘Don’t be stupid, James. I don’t think much of you, either. You could at least try and be civil towards me, rather than making snide comments. At least you’ve got the guts to say it to my face, that’s something thing, I suppose.’
James slammed the front door, got into his Celica and careered down the road. Impossible bastard, I thought to myself. How did she get caught up with a stuck-up peacock like him? Alex, Berta’s former boyfriend, was fun-loving. Treated everyone equally. Or, at least, so I thought. He certainly wasn’t unpleasant towards me, and he and I managed a few good conversations. Not like this grandiose turkey.
Berta walked in at 12:20 pm. Sporting jeans, a flannelette shirt and navy-blue cardigan, she had a tanned complexion. Her figure hadn’t changed since she was a teenager. She was still a size ten. My mother even thought she was anorexic at one stage.
‘So, you’ve returned! I knew you would,’ she said. ‘I suppose you could do with a good feed tonight. You do realise that I have to ring up Mum and Dad?’
I nodded pensively. I was not looking forward to this.
‘They’re worried sick about you,’ Berta went on.
‘Touché!’ I said. ‘That’s their problem. After all the tongue lashings, the berating from Mum, not to mention Dad’s ranting and raving, constantly belting me. Do you think that I really care?’
It was evening, and Berta was cooking a beef goulash. ‘I don’t know,’ she sighed, as I walked in from the patio after feeding their golden Labrador. ‘I’ve told them to go easy on you, otherwise they’ll lose you, but if it’s any consolation, they don’t listen to me, either. It’s up to you, I guess, if you want to be here when they arrive. Mum thinks you’re ungrateful, after all the money they spent on you’.
‘I never wanted that, Berta. All I ever wanted was understanding, love and kindness. They never really knew me at all. Besides, Berta, words are cheap. Saying they love me. What a joke! Actions speak a lot louder than words. And our parents are good at talking with no action!’
‘I didn’t care for dresses, for records, for any of it,’ I went on. ‘I would’ve been happy with presents at birthdays and Christmas, not all the time, showering gifts on me to soothe their troubled consciences. Ring them up if it’ll make you feel better, but I’m not going back home with them.’
Dinner over, the dishes put away in cupboards, and James back in his office in town, Bertha went over to the phone and rang up our mother. Berta covered the mouthpiece with her hand, and said Mum wanted to talk to me. I refused.
‘Come on, Colleen. They want to pick you up in a couple of days’ time.’
‘Tough! I’ll be moving on!’
‘Jesus, Colleen, just talk to her; it can’t hurt, can it?’
Wearily, I took the phone from her. ‘Hi, Mum,’ I said rather curtly.
‘We’ve been worried sick about you.’
‘Have you? Well, I’m OK.’
‘Are you coming back home? Dad wants to pick you up. He’ll take a day off on Wednesday. Do you know we contacted an MP?’
‘Oh? What for? I’m over eighteen.’
‘That’s what the stupid MP said.’
‘Look, Mum. I’ll give it to you straight. You’ve never cared for me, you’ve always put me down, you’ve never stood your ground with me against Dad on anything, yet you were always there for Berta. Now that I’ve left, you’re suddenly worried that I may come to some harm. Well, I haven’t. Mum, I’m not ready to come home yet. I don’t know when I’ll be coming back. But it won’t be in two days’ time.’
‘Gosh, Colleen, after everything we’ve done for you!’
‘What have you done? Called me a pathological liar. Thought the worse of me, and then belted me for no reason? Constantly, while I was growing up. Never believing me. Always believing the teachers, who got it wrong every time. And now you’re blaming me for being a non-conformist. I’ve tried, Mum. I’ve seen how other parents are towards their kids, and not once did they ever not stand up for their own flesh and blood. Even when the kids were in the wrong, they still stood up for them. They didn’t blindly go ahead and believe that authority is always right, like you lot did, and then try and bash the living daylights out of them. I don’t want your handouts of clothes, shoes, books or whatever. All I ever wanted was your emotional support, and your love. Which I never got.’
‘But I do love you.’
‘Then you have a funny way of showing it.’
‘But you were no angel.’
‘No, because in the end I thought to myself, if you think I’m responsible for everything that happens to me in school, I’ll give you all stuff to berate and punish me for. You think I’m a bloody troublemaker, I’ll become one. I don’t understand this conformity business, Mum, and I probably never will. But, one thing I’m adamant about is that I’m not coming home, to get drilled again about what a miserable excuse I am for a daughter. And how selfish, pigheaded and lazy I am, to the point that I don’t want to work, that I don’t handle authority well, and that I’ll live on handouts all my life. Come on, Mum, you can’t be that stupid, surely, to not know that you were a poor example of so-called authority. You can stick your conformist crap up your arse!’
I was a bit shocked, myself, but somehow I felt strong as I was saying it, possibly because I wasn’t facing them, and knowing full well I would never say this to them face to face. For if I did, I was risking another belting. The trouble was that it didn’t matter how old you were in that family, you got belted. Even seventeen years old wasn’t too old to feel Dad’s hands leaving burning marks across the face.
Even back then, I realised that if one is in a loving, nurturing home, then anything is possible in terms of achieving your goals and dreams. Unfortunately for me, the exact opposite was true.
Mum asked if she could talk to Berta again. I gladly called her over.
After my sister put the phone down, she walked into the kitchen. The kettle whistled, and I poured the coffee into two art deco cups. We sipped our coffee in companionable silence for a brief moment. Glancing over in her direction, I noticed a strained, worn look in her eyes, accompanied by furrowed brows and a tight smile. Leaning against the screen door, she seemed to have a faraway look in her eyes.
‘I don’t blame you, Colleen. I know that you rebelled because of their harsh treatment towards you. I got out as soon as I could. University provided that solace for me. It wasn’t great that Dad accused me of being sluttish, when all I was doing was going out with different men just for the pure pleasure of it. The only one I ever had sex with was Alex, before James. But I certainly was no slut. I guess Mum and me got on well, because I was, in a way, a replica of her. Whereas you are totally different. You tend to rock the boat, you’re a born rebel. But you’re right, of course. You were telling the truth for all those years, and no one believed you. I was too busy trying to survive. But Mum helped me a lot, especially when Dad went off on one of his outbursts. Don’t be too hard on Mum. I think she’s too exhausted to pull Dad into line. She’s had a gutful. Go ahead and do your own thing. They’ll be there if you need them.’
It was one of those rare moments when Berta poured out her heart to me. I knew that we would never talk like this again.
‘And don’t worry about James’, she went on. ‘Yes, I love him, and we probably will get married. To me, he’s kind, caring and considerate. He’s also firm in his principles and dedicated to his work and me. In short, he’ll be the perfect stability, and perfect father of our children. Anyway, it’s late. I’ll see you in the morning.’ And with that, she went into her bedroom.
Heaven help us all, I thought. There was a nasty, mean streak in James that I thoroughly detested, and I knew that this streak could cause a rift between my sister and me in years to come. I had to admit to myself that Berta and I drifted apart after that. Whenever I visited them, James became hostile towards me, only putting up with me because I was Berta’s sister.
I went outside, lit a cigarette, and watched the moon in the night sky, drawn in by her magical powers. I saw diamantes in the sky in the form of stars, and wished I could be a fairy, who hopped from one star to the next, with no thought of tomorrow. But I would sleep, and tomorrow would come, and with it the search to belong, to find my place in the world. I wanted answers from the universe, but I was not receiving them. A restless ocean stirred within my soul. I may have grown up with these people, but oftentimes I felt as if I had been dropped off from another planet, never really fitting in with these biological strangers. I felt as if I was from another galaxy, millions of light years away.
In years to come, James didn’t want me around his family. He told Berta that I was a waste of space, a freeloader, and that I would be the bane of their lives as long as I kept in contact. In the end, Berta didn’t bother ringing me anymore, and birthdays, Christmas and Easter were non-existent for me. Berta didn’t want me around, because she was frightened that I could become the cause of their marital split, if there ever was one. Inwardly, I groaned, as I knew that I was always going to be the scapegoat of her family too. However, I could not deny the inner urge to keep moving on, looking for something better than what I had experienced so far in my life.
I could never understand my father’s intense anger, his burning desire to make me conform. Without conformity and authority, my father was a rudderless boat. He saw authority as a shining beacon, a lighthouse showing him the way, steering clear of a rocky, tumultuous shoreline, and sailing towards calm waters. It didn’t matter if one of his underlings was sinking. With mixed messages of love, of actions not always matching his words, I was forever losing my balance in his boat. The masts were constantly whacking me in the nape of my neck, causing me to once again see stars.
Sure enough, my father was as good as his word, and before he ventured the five-hour trek to Swan Hill, the phone rang. My sister and de facto brother-in-law had already left for work. I could let the phone ring and have the answering service pick it up, or I could speak to my father instead. I felt cold, clammy, and my stomach was a fluttering mass of butterflies. I grabbed my bags and slammed the front door, causing the leadlight window to shudder in its frame. I headed for the highway, the phone’s chimes following me, hauntingly, down the path.
Within a matter of minutes, another car stopped on the side of the road. I threw my bags on to the back seat. The driver eased back onto the highway.
‘Keith’s my name, where’re you heading?’
‘South Australia,’ I replied.
‘You’re in luck. I’m travelling to Tailem Bend.’
Keith was sporting a leather jacket, red T-shirt and denim jeans, his long black hair in a ponytail, as his beard trailed down to his chest. The car stereo played Are you lonesome tonight? On his left hand, he wore a wedding ring. Keith decided to break the drive and stay the evening in a small hamlet called Underwood, which boasted a pub and a general store with a post office. It was a farming community. Scattered farmers had joined together at the bar, downing their liquid amber, the jukebox pounding out Elvis Presley’s Blue Suede Shoes.
‘Hi, Betty’, said Keith. ‘We’ll order steak, chips and salad, and have it upstairs.’ Betty nodded, and I found myself following Keith to a master bedroom at the end of a winding staircase.
‘No need to be frightened’, he murmured gently as he took off my shirt, bra and pulled down my jeans, as if I was a prostitute, exchanging sex for rides—which I was. Taking my knickers off, he massaged my back, gently turning me over me, dousing me in oil and cream, while I muffled a scream of pure ecstasy as several orgasmic waves surged through me. Plucking his hand inside me the juices flowed and I felt myself surge like the love goddess Venus, in full flight as the orgasmic oceans swept me under.
Pulling down his jeans and jocks, and ripping away his T shirt, I suckled on his nipples, rolled my tongue over them, French kissing his hungry lips. His head rolled gently to his left side, and I placed a love-bite strategically on his neck where his wife would see it. There, that’ll teach you to cheat on your wife and then screw me! He let out a howl of dismay.
‘You fuckin’ bitch!’
‘You can eat your dinner in here! Don’t come looking for me. You can find your own way to South Australia. My marriage is ruined now, because you decided to give me a love-bite. What am I supposed to say to my wife?’
‘How about you’re a two-timing swine?’ I said, not sorry that I gave it to him, but feeling completely sorry for myself for having lost my ride to South Australia.
‘But you enjoyed it,’ he mumbled, totally confused.
‘Correction! You thought I enjoyed it!’
A moment later, he came back with my gear, and dumped my bags unceremoniously outside my door. I ate my dinner alone, and put the TV on for company, before falling asleep.
In the morning, Betty brought me breakfast: bacon and eggs on toast, with mushrooms and fried tomatoes.
‘Don’t you worry about Keith. He had it coming to him. Now, after you’ve eaten this, I need some help in the kitchen. There’s a bus leaving for South Australia at 3 pm this afternoon.’
I nodded. I supposed I had to pay for my breakfast and lunch somehow.
I arrived in Adelaide late, and knew no one. I parked myself on a bench until the morning. Apart from a few drunks around the area, it was an uneventful night. As I looked around, I noticed shops all around me, and I found out from passers-by that this was Rundle Mall. But it wasn’t shopping centres that I needed, it was accommodation. Picking up my bags, I walked to the station thinking that, maybe, like in Melbourne, there was a Traveller’s Aid Centre, where someone could advise me what to do. Instead, I bumped into another bloody Salvation Army officer. Jesus, they’re bloody everywhere, I thought.
The officer, whose name I can’t recall, told me about a youth hostel run by a bunch of bible-bashing Baptists in a suburb called Edwardstown. I was free to stay there for as long as I wanted, or until I found something better. This was beginning to have a familiar ring to it. ‘It’s a mixed hostel’, the officer said. ‘So make sure you’re not found in the male part, or you’ll be kicked out. Being Baptists, they don’t take too kindly to young girls becoming Jezebels.’
I looked up at him, my face puzzled. ‘Who’s Jezebel?’ I asked stupidly.
The officer—who had a waxed moustache that was curled at each end, with silver bushy eyebrows, and a nose almost like Pinocchio, with hairs growing out of it—heaved a great sigh, and said thickly, ‘She was a prostitute in the Bible who hid spies.’
‘See, we’re not all bad, are we?’ I replied cheekily.
‘Keep that up,’ he said, ‘and you’ll be sleeping out on the streets. Oh, and by the way, stay away from Hindley Street. That’s where the Jezebels of Adelaide hang out, showing their fishnet stockings at night, and jumping into drivers’ cars and charging them for their services.’
‘At least they enjoy themselves,’ I said, getting a bit weary of this conversation.
He put a timetable and a bus ticket into my hand, and told me the address of the place. ‘It’s bus stop number thirty-six. Behave yourself, and good luck.’ I thanked him, and about an hour later found myself staring at a brick-veneer house, checking the address on the piece of paper that the officer had given me. I picked up my bags and rang the doorbell. The doorbell chimed. I tried to look presentable after a night out on a bench in Rundle Mall. My hair in a ponytail, I wore jeans and a striped blouse with sandals. Presently, I heard a pattering of feet that came to answer the door.
A heavily pregnant woman about five feet nine inches tall, with short black hair, appeared. A wedding band was on her left finger, and a necklace sporting a cross gracefully showed her long, elegant neckline, with gold diamond studs for earrings. A pair of flip-flops graced her feet. She scrutinised me. ‘Come in,’ she said. ‘We’ve been expecting you.’
She showed me a small office, took down my particulars, and asked the usual questions. ‘Why did you choose Adelaide, and do your parents know where you are? If not, we’ll leave it up to you if you decide to contact them.’ And so it went on.
After she had finished rambling on, she pushed the house rules into my hand. ‘There is especially to be no visiting the male dormitories, and you mix with the young men here in the common room. If,’ she went on, wagging her finger at me, ‘we find that you have been over the male side, you will be asked to leave immediately. It is expected that you attend church services, both of them on a Sunday, as this is meant to be a respectably run hostel, governed by the Baptist community themselves. No having sex, and no heavy petting. The last girl who did this was packed up within half an hour, never to return again. Do I make myself clear?’
‘Yes,’ I said, a little too hastily.’ Please,’ I begged, ‘I just want somewhere to stay while I’m in Adelaide.’
‘This is not a holiday hostel,’ Mary commented sternly. ‘You’ll be expected to do your fair share of the work around here. There’s a roster, and you’ll be on it by nightfall. Let’s see,’ she muttered to herself, ‘you’ll be doing the cooking tonight. I presume you can cook?’
‘Er, not very well’, I said.
‘Splendid. You’ll be in my cooking class!’ We have those twice a week, sewing twice a week, household chores every day, and two hours’ recreation in the afternoon, where you can mix with the males of this establishment. Won’t that be nice?’ she said, rubbing her hands together gleefully. The woman suddenly winced and held her belly, letting out a sharp breath.
I looked at her.
‘Oh, it’s nothing,’ she said. ‘Just the baby making its presence felt!’
Mary showed me to my room. It was a fairly big room, with floral-papered walls, and rose-pink cornices and skirting boards. A pattern of roses and leaves adorned the cream-coloured ceiling. Colonial pink drapes bunched up either side of the windows, with bows on them. The bed was a king-sized single bed, adorned with a feather doona and two pillows. A wooden colonial bed frame encased the bedding. ‘As for the windows,’ she said, ‘you just slide them up like so, and these butterfly locks, you twist around horizontally, to stay up, and when you slide them down, you lock them like so, so that they’re vertical.’
‘We had these furnishings donated to us,’ said Mary proudly. ‘This is actually the best room in the house. There’s a desk over in that corner. You know, if you wanted to, you could actually study, and we’d take you on as a permanent boarder.’ She looked wistfully at me.
Studying was the last thing I wanted to do.’ I’ll think about it,’ I said. It was tempting, just to study and secure my pied-à-terre permanently.
I stayed on there for four weeks, and on the last week, I sneaked into Cane’s room, pulled the curtains closed, locked the door, and jumped into bed with him. We’d been seeing each other for the four weeks I’d been here, and now with Mary and her husband, Mark, at the hospital, as Mary had gone into labour, we decided to have a nookie under the sheets.
Two days later, I was told to go to the office. Mark looked at me with an almost sorrowful look in his eyes. ‘You’re leaving us today,’ he said. ‘In fact, in half an hour, you’ll be gone.’
I thought of my room. The best one in the house. I begged, asking for a reprieve, but he shook his head. ‘I’m sorry’, he said. ‘You’re a beautiful girl, but you’ve turned into a harlot, and we can’t have any harlots living on the premises, you know. We’re a church-run facility, and we could get our funding cut if the community ever found out. And you wouldn’t want that, would you, Colleen? Think of all the people we’ve helped along the way. Now, be a good lass, and pack your bags. Sadly, we are unable to assist you any further. Besides, you would’ve been asked to leave eventually, anyway. We’ve decided to make this establishment an all-male facility. Girls are too much trouble. You’ve just confirmed that for us.’
‘So you’re going to get rid of the women, in order to accommodate males only? Just because me and Cane decided to have sex?’
‘’Fraid so. May I remind you that you were told about the rules when you came? You’ve no one to blame but yourself, you know.’ Mark had a grave look on his face, his brown eyebrows knitted together in a sorrowful scowl. He looked at me as if I had just broken the Ten Commandments.
‘That’s bloody great, that is. What does your wife say?’
‘She was the one who suggested it. After all, as she reminded me, I’m on the Baptist Board.’
Bloody typical. Where’s this forgiving Jesus everyone keeps talking about? I thought.
‘We just can’t risk it’, he went on. ‘What happens if you get pregnant? It would be nothing short of scandalous. We’d be thought of rather darkly by the community around here in Edwardstown. Not good for homeless youth at all. We are trying to run a respectable shelter.’
I looked at this beanpole of a man and thought to myself that it wouldn’t take much for this smug, self-righteous, Bible-bashing do-gooder to be knocked over in a violent breeze. In fact, I pictured him standing on a boat with the mast whipping the back of his neck, and being swept into the ocean, with a few white pointers feasting on his scrawny flesh !
Miserably, I dragged my feet to my room, and packed up my personal effects. There was no room for the ornaments that I had collected along the way, so I reluctantly offered them as a donation.
I took a bus and headed for the city, and looked at a noticeboard that I had discovered in town. To my surprise and delight, someone was looking for a third woman to fill a three-bedroom house. I answered the ad and went for an interview. I was accepted that night. Julie was in a wheelchair because of spinal problems. Rhonda wore glasses and had a rather voluptuous figure, with short curly brunette hair. These women were fanatical Christians. Because of my Baptist background, they decided to let me move in that night.
So, for eighteen months I went to Julie’s church, raised my hands, shouted, ‘Hallelujah, praise the Lord!’ And, I guess because I was young and impressionable, I thought it’d be great if the whole world was one big happy bible-thumping family.
During my stay in Adelaide, my sister, Berta, was due to marry her long-time lover of over five years, James. Much to my disappointment, she chose her best friend, Gwen, to be her matron of honour. I felt as if a knife had been inserted into my back. Once again I began to realise that the rift between my sister and me was becoming visible. James had her under his thumb now, and she was going to become the subservient, Germanic hausfrau that my mother had brought her up to be. To make up for my sister’s callous choice of bridesmaid, my mother told me that I could invite my best friend to the wedding. Berta was already stressed with the preparation of it all.
She barked into the telephone one evening to me: ‘This isn’t Mum’s wedding, Colleen, its mine! I don’t want you for a bridesmaid, and neither does James. And how dare you have persuaded Mother to invite one of your girlfriends along? Who the hell do you think you are?’
‘Well,’ I said, ‘it just goes to show what a rotten sod of a husband you’re marrying. He never liked me, anyway, and now you’re bowing down to please him!’
‘I need to inform you’, went on Berta, ‘that James wants nothing to do with you. In fact, it would be better if, after today, we saw very little of each other. After all, I don’t want my marriage to fracture because of you, Colleen. Is that understood?’
Two years after the wedding, she gave birth to a son, and named him after my brother-in-law, then a girl, and finally, their last child was a boy. A few years later, after my own daughter’s birth, I was forbidden to see Berta and her family because of James’ irrational hatred towards me. James threatened divorce and this justified Berta’s reasons of not having any contact with me. For fourteen years I have not been able to spend Christmas with her, because of James’ animosity towards me, and his hatred grew when I became pregnant with my own child.
Towards the end of the eighteen months, I decided to go grape-picking at a vineyard in Magill, mainly to get Social Security off my back. I had been filling out dole forms with fictitious job interviews, and they had threatened to cut my income if I did not actively and truthfully find work.
I stumbled through the front door that evening, anxious for a shower. I was sticky with grape juice and mud, I was cold, and my hair was a matted mess of tangled curls. Rhonda was still in the bathroom after I had been home for over an hour, and my patience was wearing thin. ‘Would you hurry up and get out of the bathroom? You’re not the only one that lives here, you know,’ I said, banging on the door so hard that it rattled on its hinges. It had been a shitty day, with rain, hail and lightning, and when the sun was out, it was like working in a blazing inferno, not to mention nature’s little vampires that enjoyed stinging me every two seconds. I wasn’t prepared to wait any longer for a shower. ‘At least I worked all day, while you just sit on your arse, studying that stupid Bible of yours,’ I went on. Rhonda came out and eyed me off coolly, saying that it wasn’t good Christian behaviour.
‘You’re a fine one to talk. Thanks for once again being so bloody selfish with the bathroom.’
‘Right, you’re leaving. In a week, I want you out of here,’ snapped Rhonda, exasperated.
‘Yeah, sure, not a problem. I was getting sick of living here, anyway!’
‘Fine!’ And with that, she slammed her bedroom door.
I decided to ring my father that evening, and ask if it was OK for me to return to his place. I had had enough of being a free spirit. For now anyway. Overjoyed, he said he’d be there on the weekend. And I made him promise that I would live by my own rules and not his. In fact, I made him promise not to interfere in my life anymore, or I would walk out once again. He relented and apologised. I was prepared to try and make another fresh start.
I had completed another secretarial course at a private business college, and for graduation our typing teacher, Miss Cooke, took us to Les Girls in St Kilda. Men became transvestites dressed in shimmering silver bikinis, with feathers in their long, lustrous hair, and walked down the aisle of tables and sang in a male voice. I made a mental note not to tell anyone in church that I had been to a transvestite venue, even though I had wickedly enjoyed myself that night! Sometimes being a Christian was hideously boring!
Eventually, after I arrived home, the novelty of being back wore off after a week or two. So, I found another group of Christians who were looking for another room-mate, in the Western suburbs of Melbourne. From Moonee Ponds, I moved to Elwood, where I shared a two-bedroom flat with Amanda, another straight-laced accountant. I groaned inwardly as I thought of James, my brother-in-law. Amanda practised operatic singing in her spare time. Her voice resonated such high, vibratory notes, that the glass tumblers rattled whenever she sang. Slowly, I was getting tired of it.
‘Listen!’ I said, exasperated. ‘If you want help with the mortgage, you better cut down on trying to be Joan Sutherland, because I’m bloody well sick of it! Every night after work I have to listen to your singing. It’s driving me insane.’
Amanda glared at me. ‘Well, if you don’t like it, you can leave!’
‘Don’t worry! I will!’ I moved back to my parents’ house.
I had started going to Richmond Assembly of God, where they babbled in mystical tongues, people fainted in the spirit, practiced clairvoyance in the guise of prophecy from God, and Bible studies were conducted twice during the week. There were camps that I went to, and I would, often preach to my parents and Wolfgang when they were a captive audience at the dinner table. I was getting totally disillusioned, however, as they kept preaching from the platform that God and Jesus are all you need in life, and that they can solve all your problems.
So, if they could solve all your problems, why did I still have mine? Every Sunday, I put in ten per cent of my income, but Jesus and God didn’t do much for that ten per cent. And then there were the offerings, on top of the ten per cent tithes, which I also put in, so as not to disgrace myself even further. I very rarely left church with much change from a hundred dollars. I didn’t dare tell anyone at church that I had been seeing psychologists or psychiatrists, as this was frowned upon rather severely. All the pastors spoke about the Bible stories being stronger than one’s own experiences, and how the Bible could solve everyone’s problems, no matter how difficult it may seem at the time.
‘Do you have a problem?’ said the senior pastor one Sunday. ‘Hand it over to Jesus! He’ll solve everything for you. You must have faith!’ he said, his eyes boring down hard on me, as if trying to penetrate into my very soul. I tried it, but it didn’t seem to work.
‘And read the Bible!’ he went on, wiping his sweat with the pristinely ironed handkerchief that his devoted wife pressed for him. ‘Believe in the Bible, my fellow brothers and sisters, because the Word is stronger than anything you could possibly experience in life! If the exact opposite happened to you, then believe the Word, the Word, the Word,’ he said spitting into the microphone, knocking the microphone from his lapel, to which it was clipped and thumping his fist on the bible. ‘If your experiences don’t match up with the Word, then throw away your experiences for the truth that is in the written Word, the belief of the ages, for it is far stronger than your own personal life experiences!’
This made no sense to me at all, how can one throw away their experiences in favour of the Bible, and anyway, weren’t we meant to learn from our experiences? The Bible was starting to be a useless piece of literature that didn’t seem to be working for me anymore.
Slowly, I drifted away from the church, and questions that had begun to gnaw at me many years ago started to emerge once again. Did Adam and Eve commit incest in order to bring about the tribe of Noah? And if Mary was really a virgin, why didn’t other virgins get pregnant? However, I was not popular when I broached these subjects to the pastors, who warned me that if I didn’t stop I would be quietly ostracised, no longer part of the “Family.” They did not want dissidents in their flock, scattering the sheep and causing division. ‘Do you understand me, Colleen?’ said the senior pastor.
I walked away after that. The whole thing was a joke. They were out to take your money and scare you into submission with their hellfire and brimstone stories, if you didn’t commit to the church and to Jesus. Besides, it was good business. Richmond Assembly of God boasted over 7000 followers in the late 1980s, and people relished giving away their hard-earned cash of approximately $100 to their pastors. No wonder the pastors had the latest designer suits, the latest model cars, Home Beautiful style houses, with their church’s interior boasting plush carpet, fine furnishings, and a stage sporting the latest in stage lighting and musical instruments.
They also immersed themselves deeply in the doctrines of the church. Richmond Assembly of God was a fundamentalist church, and the followers were fanatical. No one could think for themselves, and, as I was starting to question this whole religion business, I was no longer welcome. Their love, which had once embraced me, was now becoming cold, like huge chunks of ice that eventually froze me out of their congregation. It didn’t matter anymore. If they wanted my true opinion of Jesus, I would have said he was a rebel, a goat, certainly not a sheep. It was the people who were sheep, and who were brainwashed into religious conformity. None of them could think for themselves. They had to be guided by the pastor on the platform, to ensure their safe passage into heaven.
I was accepted into the public service after I had finished secretarial college for a second time. Working for Telecom was far from stimulating. During my time there, I felt restless and bored. After all, all I was doing was filing letters into pigeon-holes and cataloguing warehouse entries. My mother had been ecstatic when I landed the job. ‘You’re in there for life, Colleen,’ she said. ‘Now we don’t have to worry about you anymore.’
I merely shrugged my shoulders and left for work, only to be hounded by a willowy seventeen-year-old supervisor, Malcolm, who happened to get his supervisory position because he went to school with the boss’s son. I was sick to death of working underneath a supervisor who was five years younger than me. All he could think about were cars and insurance, and lamenting the fact that insurance companies were trying to rip him off because of their high premiums. He had even asked me if I would claim the costs instead of him. Naturally, I refused.
‘I wouldn’t mind a pay rise, though, since I do half your work,’ I commented.
‘Pay rise? I don’t think so!’
Working for the public service was a thankless, never-ending job, and pretty soon, like everyone else that worked on my floor, I ended up having two-hour lunch breaks, and twenty-minute tea breaks, and taking a flexi-day off once a fortnight. The Flagstaff Gardens were close by, and in spring I’d find my favourite oak tree, lie on the grass underneath and fall asleep. It was utter bliss to be away from the office and commune with the grass for a couple of hours! Reluctantly, I made my way back to the office. I was inevitably always late. My supervisor would pounce on me after I walked towards my desk, complaining that I was ten minutes late. ‘Keep that up, and I’ll be putting in a report to Bradley about your lack of work performance,’ he said sourly. I gave him a finger.
Dispiritedness was starting to set in. I no longer wanted to be in this job, as Malcolm was constantly haranguing me at work, and there would be times at the end of the day that I felt I was working in a prison, so tedious was the workload. I found myself being stood down with thousands of public servants in Melbourne and elsewhere, due to the “recession we had to have,” no thanks to Paul Keating and Bob Hawke.
‘You’re unemployable,’ Mum said, exasperated. ‘See, Colleen, what happens when you don’t conform? You only make it harder for yourself!’
Glowering at her I said, ‘Why don’t you just drop that line? I’m sick of hearing it!’ Besides I was retrenched, I didn’t get the sack!’
I felt like scattered driftwood churned out to sea, with waves pushing me in the opposite direction to where I wanted to swim. I felt disillusioned, in turmoil with myself, and tremulous every time something went wrong. In the end, I sought counselling from a psychologist, but on my meagre salary, finding the money was impossible.
For a while, I did temporary office work assignments; however, nothing was really going my way for working back in an office again. Besides, I had had enough of being a typist, secretary or whatever else male bosses needed me for, so in the end I went back on the dole permanently.
It was around this time that my eldest brother, Hans Junior, was going to marry his secretary, Charlene, a Singaporean lady. Hans Junior had been working for a number of years in Singapore, after finishing his university studies as a mechanical engineer. I never saw him much when I was growing up, as he had already moved out of home while I was still at school. He was 12 years older than me. I had just started high school when he began working for Esso, on the oil rigs off Bass Strait. Now he was in Singapore, and that is where he met his future wife. My father was ecstatic, for even though he was a man of many contradictions, he certainly was not racist, as he had often reminded my mother that “we too were migrants once,” and Australia had welcomed us with open arms.”
My mother, on the other hand, in private conversations to Berta on the telephone, made it absolutely clear that Hans Junior should have married either a German or an Australian, not such strange people with strange habits, and even stranger language. I was invited to the wedding, but my father, still exerting authority over me, told me that I had to stay back and continue looking for work. He refused to be embarrassed by my lack of employment in front of Hans Juniors’ in-laws. ‘Hopefully when we come back Colleen, you’ll be earning again!’
My mother never tried to get along with her daughter-in-law, and Charlene had always felt like the outsider, particularly when they visited my mother’s house in Eden, and my mother spent more time with Berta’s children than with Charlene’s. She always ostracised Charlene’s family from the rest of the Mueller family at meal times. Charlene was always glad to go back home to Singapore or Dubai, feeling at a loss, that she was never good enough for her mother-in-law’s eldest son. My mother always managed to make Charlene feel as if she was an outsider. This caused friction between Charlene and Hans Junior as he refused to intervene, not wanting to further upset our mother. For my part I saw my mother for what she really was ---- a racist bigot. Charlene refused to be at my mother’s deathbed, when my mother died of stomach cancer in 1999. She arrived with my eldest brother and their children in tow, 2 days before the funeral commenced. Charlene felt no obligation to this woman who had shunned her, her sisters, brothers and parents from her wedding.
In the end, working as a secretary saw my mental health deteriorate, and my local GP put me into a private hospital for depression, but it was the 1980s, and they decided that I wasn’t depressed, that I was schizophrenic instead. After I resigned from office jobs permanently, frequent trips to mental hospitals drew fractious comments from my family. My parents didn’t know what to think, but I know that my father was downright humiliated that there should be someone in his family who was “completely nuts,” as he so succinctly phrased it. Because of his prejudice against people who were a drain on society, he felt totally ashamed that his daughter now joined all the other lunatic misfits crowding the fringes of society, and demanding welfare cheques from the government. I liked it even less, as he kept repeating that I failed him as a daughter, and I told him how he had failed me as a father. The arguments started again, and it felt as if I was on the edge of an abyss, with an invisible arm stretching out to pull me down into its obscurity, threatening to strangle me, the way a boa constrictor strangles its prey.
And so, the late 1980s and early 1990s saw me venture in and out of mental asylums. On one occasion, I had the misfortune of being raped by a male nurse. The door to my ward slammed shut, and Dominic forced me on the floor and brutally shoved his penis into me, all the while clamping my mouth shut, so that I wouldn’t scream. I wanted to complain, but to whom? The nurse who was sitting at the nurse’s station told me that I must be hallucinating again, after I told her. She decided to give me some thick, vile-tasting syrup, then injected a sedative into me, saying that I had better sleep for a while. There was no point telling my father what had happened, as he was forever commenting that the treatment I received in those hospitals was no more than I deserved. After all, did I forget that I was a social drain on society, a misfit, and that no matter what went on, it was no more than I merited? Anyway, I couldn’t expect the red-carpet treatment, now, could I?
That same evening, before dinner was served at the hospital, four orderlies forced me onto a mattress so that another needle could be jabbed into me. After that, I was placed in isolation, with more tablets and syrup, and when I refused to settle, the nurses decided to tie me to the bed. Waking up in the morning, I felt stiff, and my arms were sore and all feeling had gone out of them. An orderly came into the room and unstrapped me, rubbing my arms to take away the numbness. A nurse walked in with a small tray. After swallowing six pills and some more syrup, I could barely eat breakfast, as huge waves of sleepiness washed over me, while another nurse spoon-fed me cornflakes. I looked at this nurse and tried to plead my case before her, telling her that the doctors had made a misdiagnosis. She looked at me and replied, ‘I don’t think so, Colleen.’
‘But these tablets,’ I said, barely able to move my mouth, ‘they’re not doing me any good. In fact, I feel worse every time I take them!’
‘Now, now, Colleen! That’s not the case at all. Here, this is the last spoonful’, and looking at my chart, she noticed that I was down for PRN of Haldol. ‘Now, Colleen, I’m going to give you some more Haldol. This medication that you are on is for your own benefit, and you will get better. But you must stay on them!’ she warned. ‘And it seems that you are rather hallucinogenic, if you believe that these tablets are no good for you.’
Walking back into my isolation room, the nurse told me to lay down on my side while she jabbed me with a needle. Then she placed a medicine cup against my lips as she told me to drink the Largactil syrup. I tried to leave the bed, but the nurse was too quick for me, and once again my wrists were strapped securely to the steel bedhead. The nurse closed the thick steel door and left the sliding peephole open, so that they could observe me while they walked past.
No longer could I cry or show any form of emotion, as the tablets had seemed to dry all my emotions up. My physical movements became stiff, and occasionally I was plagued by involuntary jerky movements. I had developed tardive dyskinesia, and this was responsible for the involuntary muscle movements. I was in that observation room for a week, and didn’t leave hospital until about six weeks later. I must have looked a sight, as my face was so round, and my eyes like sunken saucers because of all the medication that the doctors had coerced me into taking.
Years later, in my thirties, I was advised that schizophrenia had been a misdiagnosis, and that the medical staff at this particular hospital had over-medicated me, bordering on medical neglect and malpractice. But at the time, there was nothing I could do, for I had been placed in hospital and committed, which meant that I had no choice but to stay until they decided that it was time for me to leave. And besides, no one sued psychiatrists, for who would believe the so-called insane people of the community? Even my own family would not put up a fight at the injustices I had received at the hands of the mental health nurses and psychiatrists. As for me, it felt as if I was living in a chemical straightjacket, that, try as I might, I was unable to break free from.
Even though I was back home again, I still felt confused, angry and empty inside towards my family. My parents were moving to NSW soon to finish their retirement in a small seaside town called Eden on the far south coast of New South Wales. Eden was famous for its Killer Whale Museum—now abandoned—and for its wood-chipping industry. Rich in magnificent ocean views, my father’s house boasted one of the best views in Eden, with the balcony taking in the full panoramic view of sapphire-blue waters, and the glorious views of the killer whales as they frolicked in azure waters on their annual migration.
I stayed on in their house in Melbourne. My brother Wolfgang was angered that I was allowed the same status as he was in the house that now belonged to my eldest brother, Hans Junior. He had envisaged the house for himself, so that he could finish his surveying degree at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. Forever furious and hostile towards me, I heaved a huge sigh of relief when he graduated and left for Perth to practise surveying. The sooner the better as far as I was concerned. It was like living with an angrier version of my father, and I didn’t relish too many days with him. He decided to leave his car behind while living in Perth, and I happily spent many days driving it. The temptation was just too great, and in the end I bought the Gemini from him.
Finally, I had had enough of being alone, and with my brother now gone, I had decided to give Matchmakers a call on a Saturday-night radio show. I had about twenty replies. I chose a guy who had worked as a storeman for the Ford motor company in Campbellfield, an outer suburb of Melbourne. When I first met him, he was sporting jeans, a cream short-sleeved shirt and a leather jacket. He offered me the bottle of wine he’d brought, and we drank the wine with nibbles that I had prepared.
I was ardently in love with him. Or, so I thought. We went on picnics, barbecues, and it was fun just playing the domestic housewife; but after six months, the fun wore off, and we hardly spoke to each other. In fact, it was like living with a walking, eating corpse, who barely knew I existed, and was just happy enough to come home and expect dinner on the table at six o’clock, and then spend the evening watching television. It was as if I barely existed. In the end, I confronted him.
‘It’s not working out, Craig. You’ll need to find somewhere else to live. You never speak to me, you act as if I’m just a doormat to wipe your feet on at the end of the day. I can’t do it anymore. It’s been three years, Craig. I’ll give you a month, and then I’ll pack your bags and put you out on the street.’ I was furious with myself for ever ringing up Matchmakers in the first place. On a Tuesday while he was at work, I packed his bags and neatly placed them on the nature strip. That evening, he knocked on the front door, and he threatened me with suicide. I advised him to do it while I wasn’t around.
Unfortunately, we were still making love until the day I threw him out. I ended up pregnant with his daughter. It wasn’t supposed to happen. All the psychiatrists that I had been seeing had told me that once I was on anti-psychotics, my periods would become irregular, and falling pregnant would be virtually impossible. I trusted them. After all, they were men of science, weren’t they? Surely they knew what they were talking about? And if I couldn’t trust them, then who could I trust? So, I thought no more about it, and just kept having sex. Sure enough, my monthly cycles were erratic. I was only menstruating every second or third month on average, and when I didn’t menstruate at all, I thought it was the drugs. I certainly didn’t think I was pregnant.
After I had thrown Craig’s bags out, he coerced his way inside and walked over to the phone, determined to ring my father. I refused, and told him if he was not out of the house in five minutes, I would call the police. As luck would have it, the phone rang. It happened to be my father on the line. I told him that we had split up, and that Craig was just leaving. Exasperated, Dad said I was a loser. ‘He’s been good to you,’ commented Dad, ‘and now you’re throwing him out on the scrap heap? What’s wrong with you? You can’t keep a job, or a boyfriend, for that matter. What did we, as parents, do to warrant this? Where the hell did we go wrong?’ said Dad, taking everything personally, as usual.
I don’t know, I thought.
‘Craig’s not moving, and you’ll stay with him for the rest of your days. I’m sick of worrying about you, Colleen. At least if you’re with him, your mother and I don’t have to worry about you anymore.’
‘Dad, you’re not listening to me. I don’t want him in my life anymore. The relationship is finished.’
‘Well, I hope you are not pregnant.’
‘No, I’m not pregnant. I can’t get pregnant because of the tablets I’m taking.’
‘Well, if you’re pregnant you’re staying with him. I’m not having a single mother in the family. Jesus, how did I get a daughter like you? Always the rebel, the non-conformist. You’re a misfit. Plain and simple. If he moves out, you’re coming to live with us, so we can keep an eye on you. You obviously are unable to look after yourself. Don’t forget, you’re schizophrenic. You can’t do it on your own. God Almighty, a misfit, a drain on society, a drain on the family. If Hitler were still in power, you’d be mercifully put to sleep. It would have been the kindest thing to do.’
Not wanting to hear any more Nazi rhetoric from my father, I excused myself from the conversation and slammed the phone down. I turned around to Craig, and asked him to leave. He refused. I rang the police.
The police came, his bags were packed into the boot of his car, and he drove off, his tyres squealing down the road, his exhaust pipe leaving a trail of fumes in its wake.
Now alone again, I decided what to do next. I really did not want to live with my parents, but I knew that when my father found out that Craig was gone, he would put a ‘To let’ sign out on the front lawn, and that would be the end of me living in the house, even though he had sold it to my eldest brother, Hans. I rang a girlfriend in Adelaide. She promised me accommodation, but I decided not to take it.
I was at an impasse. Not sure where or whom to turn to, I left Melbourne for Eden. I was already thinking that I might be pregnant, as I didn’t have a period for over four months. Arriving in the evening by bus, my mother collected me from the bus stop, and we made the six kilometre trek back to her house. It was a two-storey house, with slate floors and leadlight windows with tulips etched in the panes of glass in the entryway. On the left was a guest room with an en suite, and opposite the guest room was the door to the garage. The laundry just in front of the guest room sported slate floors as well. The stairs were carpeted with cream carpet and beige flecks throughout. The formal dining room was to the left of the kitchen. The dining room housed a rich Tasmanian oak mahogany table with matching sideboard.
I went into the lounge room, where my father was seated in his favourite chair of floral design. The lounge and formal dining room were open-plan living, with a three-seater couch and two matching floral chairs. Paintings of Australian bush scenes graced the walls, painted by my uncle in oils encased in gold-leaf frames. My father was pleased to see me, or, more to the point, pleased that I’d come to my senses, and decided to live with them. He turned the sound down on the television, and looked at my stomach. ‘My, you’ve put on weight!’ I said nothing. ‘But, anyway,’ he went on, ‘it’s good to see you.’ I nodded, and went into my bedroom and unpacked, not daring to believe that I could be pregnant.
My father had been diagnosed with cancer seven years previously and was in remission; however, according to my mother, a tumour had begun to grow on his brain, causing him a great deal of pain. In spite of his cancer, his skin was still a vibrantly healthy olive. Finally, in the sitting room one evening, he confronted me. He wanted to euthanise himself. We discussed my poor suicide attempts with tablets and alcohol, which caused me to remain in ICU a few days after my stomach was pumped. My father pleaded with me to use my tablets, saying that his tumour was killing him with pain. I refused to be drawn into the discussion.
I left my father to sulk alone in the lounge room while I poured a cup of coffee, borrowed a cigarette from Wolfgang’s packet, and listened to the sounds of the ocean on the balcony. The stars hung like diamonds as the sky turned from deep mauve to indigo, and the moon glowed a buttery orange as she rose up from her watery horizon. I went to bed that night exhausted from the long trip to Eden, and wondered again if I could possibly be pregnant.
I wither and you break from me;
yet though you dance in living light
I am the Earth, I am the root;
I am the stem, I am the fruit,
the link that joins you to the night.
The following week, my father went into hospital, where extra morphine was given, and within half an hour he was dead. My brother, mother and I were there to see him depart this life. So, my father passed on to a world of no pain but, instead, beautiful rays of white light that never stop shining. I felt sheer relief at his passing away. No longer did I need to be frightened of this man who was quick with his temper or his hands while I was growing up, and who still verbally abused me, even though I was an adult. There was a sense of freedom that he had passed on; however, I was not fully free, because I still had Wolfgang and my mother to deal with. Not to mention the fact that I could be pregnant.
The funeral was held about a week later, with all of the family gathering in the church, giving my father a Catholic send-off which he would have hated. The church was full of mourners, as my father was always popular wherever he went. His bad side never showed much in public. Most people were unaware that he had a psychopathic personality lurking in him, which Wolfgang had skillfully copied.
It was at the family gathering that my mother learned that I could be pregnant, from Charlene, Hans Junior’s wife. My mother glared at me in disbelief, and told me to make an appointment.
So, I made the appointment with my mother’s doctor, who declined the request for a pregnancy test, stating that it was impossible because of the medication I was on. Instead, he gave me another injection. The next month, I made another appointment, and this time demanded that he test me. By this stage, I was already six months pregnant. He apologised for making a mistake. Now it was left to me to break the news to the rest of the family.
My mother drove into the parking bay of the doctor’s surgery. As I adjusted my seatbelt, I felt my hands become cold and clammy. I felt the all too familiar knot tightening in my stomach. My mother peered at me intently. ‘Well? What did he say?’ she asked, already guessing the answer before I had a chance to reply. ‘You’re pregnant, aren’t you?’
‘Yes,’ I mumbled sheepishly.
‘Well, that’s just lovely, isn’t it? Not only do I have a schizophrenic for a daughter, I have a pregnant schizophrenic for a daughter. Jesus, Colleen, what will everyone think?’
‘How about ‘congratulations?’
‘This is no time for your sarcastic comments. You’re a disgrace to this family. I have never been so humiliated as I have been by you. Now you’re going to be walking around Eden, and everyone will be staring at you, and making snide comments behind your back, which will reflect on me.’
‘So who’s paranoid now?’
‘Well, what did the results say?’ asked Wolfgang, as we walked into the dining room.
‘I’m six months pregnant, OK?’
‘No, it’s not OK! You’re a fuckin’ loser Colleen. It isn’t enough that you’re mentally defective, you have to go and get pregnant as well. And who’s the father?’
‘Another born loser! Well, you better figure out what you want to do. But don’t expect any help from me.’
‘And when have I ever expected help from you, Wolfgang?’
‘I sold you my car that you sold back to a car yard. That’s the first and last time I do anything for you!’
‘Are you still grumbling about that? That happened ages ago!’
Wolfgang glared at me in animosity. ‘Just remember, Colleen, your kid gets nothing from me.’
My mother, as usual, was in the kitchen, boiling the kettle for one of her many cups of tea, gazing out the window at the ocean with a pensive, faraway look on her face. The kitchen overlooked the ocean, and it was a spectacular view right around the perimeter of the house. My mother built her kitchen in similar style to her previous one in Templestowe, with the added feature of a dishwasher. I could almost hear my mother’s thoughts: We should have stayed in Germany. Colleen would be sterilised and possibly institutionalised, and we wouldn’t have to worry about her. But who knows what Germany is like today? The nation has gone soft, according to my sisters. Oh, to be back in the days of the Nationalist Socialist Party, where purity of race was worshipped! Not like today, where they let every defective human being remain alive and walking the streets. They should all be put out of their misery, for it’s no life for them, or their families.
I sipped my coffee, glancing occasionally at my mother, as we both sat at the round teak table that graced the family room, with four wooden chairs. The family room was cordoned off by the kitchen bench, and sliding doors opened out to the balcony, with floral drapes adorning the windows just touching the floor. An artist’s rendition of Australian bushland painted in oils with a gold-leaf frame graced the walls. My mother sighed heavily as she switched on the television set in the family room and watched Days of Our Lives, followed by The Young and the Restless.
My mother never bothered with a second opinion regarding the fact that the diagnosis of schizophrenia could be wrong. The doctors all said it, so it must be true, and she believed them. After all, they were “authority figures,” so they must be right. What my mother failed to realise was the fact that, like with any trend, it was commonplace in the 1980s that schizophrenia seemed to be bandied around like some psychiatric fashion statement. Nobody bothered to question the reasons as to why my notes were so vague, or that there was a possible misdiagnosis. In the end, all they could really come up with was the fact that I had a complex personality disorder, with a possibility of a schizoid defective disorder. This label was later dropped to severe stress and depression at times, possibly due to my upbringing.
The medication was horrible, and turned me into a complete zombie, and I was constantly tired. I was overweight, and my eyes seemed to sink back into their sockets while my face was an oversized balloon. The injections of fluphenazine were rejected by my body, and caused me to vomit for over a year before my body could tolerate the medication. Also, the injections were responsible for blurred vision, and I was unable to read, which for me was as bad as if my left arm had been amputated. Being a bookworm all my life, with an inquiring nature, this was extremely devastating for me. It was as if I was literally being kept in the dark. On the odd occasions that I forced myself to read, massive headaches would result, so that I would end up going to sleep in the hope that these headaches would wear off. But still, the psychiatrists insisted that I take the injections. All the doctors assured me that I wouldn’t become addicted to the medications, and that, if I felt any side effects that meant the medications were working.
As far as I was concerned, that was twisted logic. It is also a well-known fact in psychiatric circles that the medications can also be responsible for causing the patient to have symptoms of various illnesses. This was brought on by the various medications they were taking. The doctors and nurses failed to realize that psychotropic medication can be responsible for giving patients various illnesses that they did not show any symptoms for previously. The doctors naturally refused to accept that they had brought the symptoms on themselves. When different symptoms occurred as a result of the side-effects from current medication, the doctors just gave their patients different drugs and noted that the patient had developed another illness. The doctors ignored the fact that the drugs been given to patients were responsible for developing further illnesses. No-one bothered to ask me if I heard voices, if radio waves interfered with my thinking, or if I was being bugged, or whatever else so-called schizophrenics are supposed to experience. For myself I was given drugs to counter-act the side effects I was experiencing.
I have often wondered how many people have been wrongly diagnosed, and their lives turned into complete turmoil because of misdiagnosis from the mental health profession. I doubt that mental illness under the biopsychiatric banner based on the medical model regarding genetics and chemical malfunctioning in the brain even exists. The psychiatric profession, desperate to be seen as true medical doctors of the mind, is playing God with people’s lives due to the unnecessary medication that they are being forced to take. Problems like depression or post-traumatic stress disorder would be better treated if people were made aware of their toxic social environment. The only way to effectively treat patients I believe who suffer from these ailments, is by taking them out of the environment that caused their so-called illnesses in the first place. By doing so, the patients are less likely needing dangerous psychotropic medication, in order to cope with their less then satisfactory living standards.
A few days after I announced that I was expecting a child, my mother turned around and accused me of being an alley cat and a slut, as well as a mentally defective woman who could not possibly keep her child. My mother vowed that I could expect no help from the family, or from her.
‘You’re crazy if you think you are going to keep it, Colleen! You’ll have to get rid of it. I mean, what will the neighbours think? Besides, you’re mentally defective, you can’t have a child. You’ll never be able to look after it properly. And I certainly won’t be looking after it! In fact, I’ll be making sure that you get rid of it! She’ll be up for adoption! In my day,’ went on Mum, ‘Chancellor Hitler sterilised people with mental health impurities, so that they were unable to pass on their defectiveness to their offspring. Mental hygiene was as important as physical hygiene. Because of your mental defectiveness, there is an extremely good chance that the child you are carrying will be defective as well. We already have one defective person in the family, we don’t need a second one!’ And with that, my mother grabbed a book and went outside. But she didn’t read much. She just stared across the balcony and looked out to sea, hoping to spot a killer whale, as it was the time of year that these splendid mammals were making their migration to warmer waters.
My brother Wolfgang agreed with what our mother said. ‘You know, in China they abort women’s pregnancies as far along as yours. That would be the best for all concerned. You always were a bloody problem, Colleen, from the time you could walk. Never appreciative of anything anyone ever did for you. Getting everything you’ve ever wanted, while I got nothing, when I was growing up, and still you fuck around with your life, and we’re expected to clean up your remains. While the rest of us went without, you ended up getting records, books, pocket money, new clothes, and whatever else Mum and Dad felt like giving you at the time. You selfish, selfish cow! No wonder we’re all jealous of you!’
These fights were endless, and my mother still refused to protect me from Wolfgang’s tirade of abuse. In fact, it was like living with a replica of my now-deceased father. As usual, she turned her back towards me, and busied herself at the stove, leaving me once again emotionally drained and unprotected.
When the arguments between me and Wolfgang became raucous, my mother would storm into the kitchen and shout, ‘Enough!’ Invariably, I was left with the blame, and told to leave my brother alone. After all, he worked hard overseas and he was stressed out, according to my mother, when he came home. So, it was only natural that he should use me as a punching bag. My mother said that I should treat his violent outbursts with grains of salt. My mother would justify her reasons for allowing Wolfgang to remain under her roof by emphasising that he did all the odd jobs around the house now that my father had passed on, and that ‘[Wasn’t] it good, Colleen, that I don’t have to pay for a maintenance service to come in? Don’t forget, Colleen, you should be proud of the way that he treats us. I certainly could not see you helping me where he is concerned.’
I just groaned inwardly, and realised that things were never going to change. I would always be treated as the scapegoat of the family. I bit my bottom lip and bore it all stoically.
‘Besides, Colleen,’ my mother continued, ‘you were always troublesome, from the day you were born.’ My mother glanced at the clock on the wall, and shoved two pills into my hand with a glass of water. ‘Any more outbursts, and you’ll be given more tablets,’ she warned. I took the tablets mainly out of fear, as I did not want my mother committing me to a psychiatric hospital, or Wolfgang yelling into my face, threatening me with a belting if I chose not to take them.
I wished fervently that I could move elsewhere, but I had nowhere else to go. I was rather ignorant of women’s shelters or other aid agencies that could have assisted me in finding accommodation away from my tyrannical family.
What’s more, my mother held me hostage to my finances. Every fortnight I was expected to give her fifty per cent of my pension for board and lodging. Every fortnight she drove me to the bank, and watched me take the money out of the ATM. Then she’d hold out her hand demanding $250. This left me with just over $200 to buy formula, Milton solution to soak the bottles in, not to mention the fact that the meager amount of money I was left with had to service my own needs as well. I could have received rent assistance from the Department of Social Security, as it was known back then in the 1980s and 1990s. She however, did not want to jeopardise her Australian or German pensions. In short, my mother cheated the government, and left me an ‘economic prisoner.’ Because of the lack of money, and my poor knowledge regarding women’s shelters, I had no choice but to stay in my mother’s intimidating, autocratic house, while my brother Wolfgang could verbally and emotionally abuse me. There were occasions when he wanted to physically abuse me as well, but I threatened him with the police, so he backed off.
My mind was in turmoil as I thought about what my mother had said. I couldn’t understand how my mother, who never spoke about the war, and who supposedly hated Hitler with a vengeance, could still uphold the beliefs that Hitler had portrayed in order to produce the Master Race. Besides, all those so-called professionals that I had been seeing couldn’t begin to fathom the abominable living conditions that I was forced to live under. I may have been to old for beatings, but my mother and brother ensured that my living conditions would remain intolerable just the same.
When I was seven months pregnant, Dr Mason decided to put me into Pambula’s small bush nursing hospital. Pambula, a small coastal town of 1100 people, was settled in 1797 by George Bass. The modern-day township is a few kilometres from the river, as the river is prone to flooding when the rains set in. In the late 1800s, Pambula boasted a rich gold-miners’ town that had boosted the local economy.
Suffering from pre-eclampsia and toxemia with high blood pressure, Dr Mason said that he needed to monitor me, as there was a real chance that my child and I could die if we were not under medical supervision.
Six weeks before my gestation period was over, the medical staff in Pambula decided to send me to Woden Valley hospital in Canberra. My baby needed to be delivered fast, if they were to keep both me and my child alive. Naturally, my mother wasn’t there to reassure me. It would have been too much to ask her to try and give me some support before the birth. All my mother could say to me over the phone in regard to my nervousness was: ‘Have you taken some more tablets yet, to calm you down? Pass me back to the nurses’ station. I want them to give you some more tranquilizers.’
I put the phone down, thinking that she was ruthless and cold-hearted, traits which followed me from the time I was a child. She would do her best to cause me and Blanche grief for the rest of our days. Like Hitler, her legacy would live on, her frosty heart showing no remorse. Callousness oozed out of her pores the way blood dribbles from an open, infested wound that would never completely heal, constantly knocking the scab away from the surface. Silently, I fumed, and, deep down, I feared for myself and my child, knowing, but not wanting to comprehend, that my family would sabotage my chances of being a mother to her.
That night, I dreamed that a dragon had come to take my child away, while I looked on, my nails digging into my flesh, my arms cradling air. Waking up in a cold sweat, I poured myself a glass of water, and stepped outside for a cigarette. Tossing the covers over me, I went back into a fitful dream-filled state. I awakened in the morning as if a ten-ton truck had squashed me on the hard bitumen, the sun agonizingly hot, my face scorched and my womb strangely barren. My child was nowhere in sight. I turned my pillow over, soggy from the tears that spilled forth, remnants from the nightmare that had just passed.
On the day of the delivery, my obstetrician, a cheery, bespectacled fellow in his forties, dressed in a white shirt and bow tie with a suede jacket, listened to Blanche’s heart. ‘Her heartbeat’s healthy,’ he said. ‘You’ll be given an epidural this afternoon, and hopefully, if it takes, you’ll be able to see the baby being delivered. However, you need to be prepared that you may still have to undergo a general anaesthetic if you fail the cold ice test after the epidural. This would mean that the epidural failed.’ Feeling nervous and apprehensive, I nodded, hoping that it would take, so that I could hold my little girl in my arms, if only for a moment.
But it wasn’t to be. Curled up in a foetal position outside the delivery room, I was given an epidural, a spinal injection, the needle being about five or ten centimetres in length, or so I thought. Barely breathing, the needle was driven into my spine. A tiny droplet of blood appeared on the lily-white sheet as I bit my bottom lip, willing myself not to move. Had I moved, there was a real chance that I could have been physically disabled, the needle slipping dangerously in my spine. The epidural over, I could relax as they hoisted me onto the delivery table. Feeling the ice around my belly I knew the epidural didn’t take, so an anaesthetist on standby injected me. The last thing I remembered was the humidicrib near the wall on my left side, waiting for its next occupant. A mixture of elation and trickery blanketed me. Excited that my baby was due, albeit six weeks early, yet feeling cheated, too, that I wasn’t witnessing her birth. Was this a sign of things to come? I wondered, as I let the waves of drowsiness sweep over me.
Waking up in the ward about two hours later, with tubes hanging from my arms and a catheter bag inserted, I was informed that my baby was four pounds, which was considered to be a good size for one six weeks premature. Had she been born on time, she would have been at least eight pounds. At change of shift, a cheery male nurse wheeled me into post-natal ICU.
Making room for my bed, an ICU nurse, Jemima, wheeled Blanche next to me. Opening the humidicrib, she carefully placed her into my arms. I was euphoric. She was so tiny, yet so beautiful; my own little treasure trove of joyful delight. I shed a few tears of joy at the wonder of birth, and how miraculous she truly was. To me, she was almost like a fairy child, woven by the Fairy Queen of Creation. I held her with complete awe, forgetting all of my fearful thoughts, and the ominous sign that forbade me to witness her birth. She was tiny, but perfect. Her toes and fingers were where they were supposed to be, her almond-shaped eyes and her oval face nestled in the crook of my arm. Her hair was a light-brown mop, fairly thick for someone born six weeks early.
Five days later, I was released from my tubes, which were holding me to my bed. I was able to get dressed for a few hours, and I spent my time with Blanche in ICU. Of course, I was able to hold her as often as I liked. Just because I was a single mother, with possible psychiatric problems, didn’t mean according to the neonatal nursing staff, that I had no rights to my child. In fact, it was refreshing that these nurses didn’t judge me in any way, nor did they pressure me into giving up my daughter for adoption.
It was in ICU that I learned to bathe her, feed her, and generally spend as much time with her as I possibly could. Blanche needed to put more weight on before they would release her. Giving Blanche her first bath, I had to firmly but gently hold her, so that she would not wriggle away from me. As she kicked the water, she reminded me of a frog, holding her feet and legs together in a triangular fashion, making gentle waves in her small tub. She let out little sighs of contentment as I carefully cupped my hand and poured the crystal-clear fluid onto her skin.
It was a bitter blow when I was advised that breastfeeding might not be in her best interests, because of all the tablets I was taking. I refused to see this as a bad sign, and concentrated on bottle-feeding her instead. However, once again I felt cheated, and deprived. It seemed that my whole life was governed by tranquilizers and injections, with their invisible chains holding me in their vice-like grip. Would I never be free?
In my mind’s eye, I was surrounded by a thick forest, with phials of injections hanging from the boughs, with tablets instead of blossoms budding from them. The clearing that would free me from my tranquilizers and injections forever seemed to be constantly out of reach. Bracken and thorns obscured my pathway to liberty. An unsavoury feeling of solitude swept over me. For one fleeting moment, I felt secluded from motherhood. Vulnerability and the fear of being different began to take hold of me. Skeletal fingers began to clamp down on my heart, willing it to freeze. I became a non-existent entity.
The joyful delight at giving birth was short-lived. My mother came in to my room several days later, with my dead father’s sister. My father never thought much of his sister, Ursula. He had always thought she was nothing but a meddlesome old busybody who couldn’t keep her nose out of other people’s affairs. Not content with her sons’ marriages, she tried as best she could to turn them away from their wives, to the point of almost creating marital mayhem and eventual divorce. However, the sons must have listened to their wives, and as a result, Ursula’s attempts failed. But my mother was determined that Ursula’s attempts wouldn’t fail this time. They both sat on the bed looking pensively at me. My mother wasted no time in admonishing me.
‘Well, this is a fine kettle of fish, I must say!’ said Mum haughtily. She was sporting a grey pleated Fletcher Jones skirt and pink floral blouse. Opal and coral rings adorned her fingers. An opal necklace reflected the turquoise colours, as the sun radiated through the window. Beams of light danced upon her necklace. She still wore her wedding ring, even though my father had been lying in his grave for two or three months. My mother’s lips were outlined in light pink lipstick, along with the fake eyebrows that she drew with her brown eyeliner pencil.
Ursula was dressed in a grey pant suit, with a cream-coloured silk blouse, and a golden pendant accentuating her neckline. Her feet were clad with sensible black lace-up shoes. She, too, stared pensively at me, her eyes like daggers, piercing my very soul. Her grey hair was cut into a pageboy effect and curled underneath. Her green eyes were covered by spectacles. A dark, pensive frown overshadowed both their faces.
‘We really should think about Colleen’s daughter and what to do about it, Hilda. She really is in no fit state to look after a child, now that there is no doubt at all that she is mentally defective. Look at her, she just cries at the drop of a hat. She is just too traumatized by all of this. We really must see about calling the social worker in, and making plans for possible adoption.’
I was panic-stricken as I watched these two formidable women decide Blanche’s future and mine. My mother despised me from the day I was born, and now held me in even lower regard than when I was growing up. I felt like scum in her eyes, and she did absolutely nothing to alleviate me of this thought. I, the mental defect and the local alley cat who could not keep her legs together. Never mind that the doctors had told me that it was impossible to get pregnant while on my current medication. These medical people would deny any responsibility, and suing them was completely out of the question. After all, who would believe a mentally unhygienic deranged person? To my mother, I would always be troublesome, her cross to bear on a daily basis. Cheer up, Mum, I thought, being your daughter has been a pain in the backside, too, like haemorrhoids that refuse to budge.
‘Yes, I think adoption is the only way to go,’ repeated Mum. ‘After all, Colleen, you are on psychiatric medication. That alone makes you an unfit parent, especially with your diagnosis of possible schizophrenia. Let’s face it, you’re an imperfect human being. Taking care of a child requires that one is in full use of their senses.You, Colleen, are a deviant, a fringe-dweller on the edge of society. Your baby deserves the very best that life can offer it. And that is a life without you. I’m sure you’d agree.’
Dressed in a blue maternity nightie, my thick, short hair making my face appear more round than it already was, I glared at both of them, my eyes like fiery, poisonous darts, scanning their faces. ‘My baby,’ I said huskily, ‘is not up for adoption, now or ever. Do you both understand that?’
‘Now, Colleen,’ said Mum patronisingly, ‘you are a misfit, not only in the family, but also in society. Because you’re mentally unwell means that you are in no fit state to make a decision. We, your Aunt Ursula and I, will be making plans to have your child adopted. After all, you are unable to care for this child. You’re not of sound mind. This is for your own benefit, Colleen, as well as your child’s. It would be unfair on this illegitimate child that you’ve brought into the world to have you for a mother. Surely you can see that? After all, Colleen, what would the neighbours say if you were to walk around Eden with a pram, and no wedding ring on your finger? How would that look, Colleen? We’d be the most talked-about family in the whole of Eden. Do you think I’d like that? Besides, I came here to retire and live in peace, and it’s not going to happen if you decide to keep your baby. She’d be better off elsewhere, with a family who can’t have children of their own. It’s best if you just forget about her. In time, it will be but a distant memory.’
I was exhausted, and I just wanted to sleep. I had hoped to politely ask them to leave, but one didn’t tell my mother anything. She was not one for considering the feelings of others, and her presence commanded attention. Ursula didn’t help matters. I felt that I could have been suffering from post-natal depression, but that was more ammunition for them, more signs that ‘Colleen couldn’t cope.’ It was a weakness, and my mother despised anyone who was flawed. I was a drain on society, as she and my father had lammented so often during my life. She had often said that I was not wanted in the family. If I ever had a child, then that child certainly would not be welcome. I was a blight to my mother’s perfect ideal of family.
Both women’s abhorrence of me was cold and deliberate, calculating nature’s sharp knives cutting through my very soul, leaving me to bleed for a daughter that I possibly would never know. Evil dripped from my mother’s lips that day, as both she and Ursula planned my demise. Both women were determined that Blanche would become a stranger to me.
‘Your child may be mentally defective, Colleen, and we can’t have another mental defect disgracing the family,’ went on my mother. ‘Since schizophrenia is genetic, and since she has inherited your gene pool, she is most likely to have the disease. I will not have your brothers and sister being burdened with two mentally deficient human beings. Christ, if I would have known you were pregnant earlier, I would have ensured that your pregnancy be aborted. As Wolfgang has so succinctly stated, Colleen, they abort women’s children in China who are seven or eight months pregnant. Australia is far too lenient, and as such, we now have a live problem on our hands.
‘Now, Colleen, since you were a problem for all of my days, I don’t need a replica of you in the form of your child. I want the remainder of my days to be trouble-free. As I stated before, I will not have you walking around Eden with a pram, mentally unclean, with no wedding ring on your finger. My God! I’d be the laughing stock of the whole town. Who knows what she’ll be like as she grows? No, Colleen, I can’t bear to think that you have brought a possible degenerate into the world. She needs to be adopted out. This is for everyone’s benefit, including your own. One day, Colleen, you will thank me for this.’ They rose up to leave. ‘Bye bye, darling. You just get some rest, and I’ll see you later. Ursula and I have decided to have a nice hot lunch at her place, before going shopping in the afternoon.’
‘Shopping for new parents that have the perfect gene pool?’
‘Now, that’s enough!’ said Mum, waving her finger accusingly at me. She turned to Ursula, saying: ‘See, she can’t even be trusted to say the right thing. Always having the last word! She was like this all through her life. Well, I’ve had enough!’
‘Then leave! Go on, and take Dad’s meddlesome sister with you! I’m vulnerable, and all you can say is we’re getting rid of Blanche. You’re a lovely, caring mother, aren’t you? It’s all very convenient for you, this “illness,” isn’t it? Go on! Leave!’ And with that, I threw my flowers onto the floor and dumped the water from the vase into the waste-paper basket. With my left hand, I lifted the vase over my head, and hurled it at both of those witches as they left my room. They both scuttled out the door like the cowardly rats they were. The vase broke into a million pieces, crunching beneath their shoes.
Diana, who was on morning shift, and who had witnessed it all from the nurses’ station, told them both to leave, and that quite possibly I could have post-natal depression. ‘Both your attitudes toward my patient are not helping. You,’ said Diana, facing my aunt, ‘are not welcome on my ward anymore.’ Ursula hastily retreated and walked toward the lift, leaving my mother to trail behind. My mother muttering quietly, ‘Great, so she’s got post-natal depression on top of it! Wonderful, absolutely wonderful!’
Relief, like the welcome patter of rain after a scorching hot day, engulfed me, as Diana skillfully managed to get rid of them. Diana walked into my room, shaking her head. ‘I’ve seen those types before,’ she mused. ‘You’re going to have a helluva battle on your hands. If I were you, I’d take the baby and run.’
‘I’ll ring housekeeping, so they can clean this up. Do you want the flowers?’
‘No! Get rid of them,’ I said, Diana’s comment ringing in my ears. The trouble was I had nowhere to run to.
When I was no longer tied to the tubes of the drip and catheter, I was able to walk around the hospital grounds, whilst at the same time making frequent visits to see my daughter. Dark clouds threatened my horizon however, the illuminating rays of the sun became just that little bit weaker. Deep down, I knew that the dark tunnel my soul had to walk through was not that far away. Images of a man with Blanche in his arms, turning down a different path, became stronger. I stood in the background, my aching arms languishing by my side, knowing that I might never hold her again.
Presently, Blanche was able to leave Woden Valley Hospital, and Dr Mason decided to admit her to Pambula Bush Nursing Hospital, which was about a thirty-minute drive from Eden. When she had gained more weight, she was able to go back home to my mother’s house. It was while she was in Pambula hospital that the nurses rang the Department of Community Services (DoCS), as I was receiving psychiatric treatment in Canberra. The Department had appointed my mother as a foster carer until my treatment was finished, when once more I could resume care of my child.
If truth be told, I was in a state of confusion, my mind in absolute turmoil because of my mother’s reaction to the birth. Before the birth, I was already feeling tense. In my feverishness, the thought of going home absolutely chilled me to my very core. I knew that I would be unable to function under my mother’s critical gaze when I was with my child. I decided to plead with the nurses that I possibly had post-natal depression, and could I stay in hospital for a few more days? So, the nurses decided to put me in the psychiatric wing of the hospital, in the hope that after a short stay—that is, usually four weeks—I would feel encouraged to go back home and resume mothering. The truth of the matter was that going back to my mother’s house was like going into a witch’s den, my mother’s cauldron of hatred bubbling eternally on an open fire, while her imps scurried around her, doing her every bidding.
Being in the psychiatric ward was no different from other times, they were just as forceful with their medication, with their lack of understanding and wisdom in regards to my situation. What I really desired was long-term counselling, but that is something you just don’t get in mainstream psychiatry. There are only very few nurses or psychiatrists who are trained in psychology. Most psychiatrists just carry a prescription pad and offer a quick chat, with the promise that the pills will cure your illness, and you won’t be on them forever. This, of course, is a lie, as every psychiatric patient will inform you that the medication will not cure the diseases, and at times the medications are responsible for the symptoms themselves. Of course, I pointed this out to them on several occasions; however, they told me that I must have been in complete denial, and had no real understanding of the way I felt. I told them that they were not inside my mind or body, so how would they know?
I saw my notes flipped open carelessly inside the nurses’ station, near the entrance, one morning. The notes stated that: “Patient is in denial of symptoms and refuses to take medication.” Of course, this didn’t go down too well. After all, hadn’t I been the one to request some treatment before going home? Hadn’t I queried the nursing staff as to whether or not I had post-natal depression, but they were adamant that I was suffering from schizophrenia instead? All I was really doing was avoiding the inevitable, so horror-stricken was I about the thought of staying on with my mother after the birth of my child. After that, they increased my medication even more, and decided to make me an involuntary patient.
To me, the whole profession of psychiatry was questionable, and the doctors knew full well that the drugs they prescribed to their patients could have subtle but debilitating effects on the brain, such as causing brain atrophy, for example, and bringing on various different symptoms so that further medication had to be administered. The tablets were the cause of the symptoms, never the cure.
If I complained that the tablets were debilitating to me, the doctors just scoffed, and increased my medication even more. Reading my notes again one day, I saw that they had written: “… As patient is in denial regarding her illness, indeed, having delusions of grandeur that her illness doesn’t exist, it is imperative that she be administered these tablets in higher dosages, so that she can function as a normal human being in society.” However, one doesn’t take psychiatric tablets if one wants to be a normal citizen within society. It is the tablets that cause the symptoms of the illness that the psychiatrists are trying to ‘cure’. The tablets are also responsible for debilitating side effects. I lived in a zombie-like state. My movements were stiff and jerky, almost robotic. I became lethargic to the point of sleeping nearly all day. I was literally in a chemical straightjacket. There was definitely no thought of making my life better, on the doctors’ part. If post-natal depression was suspected, the worst possible outcome was sending me back into an environment that was psychologically unhealthy, as surely my mother’s home was. However, the doctors treated me for schizophrenia instead, with no real thought to query this illness. Even though I thought I had post-natal depression, they ignored my request to examine me for this particular illness. Instead, they increased my medication further, insisting that I was wrong regarding Post-natal depression. If I was suffering from PND, which, according to me, I surely was, then the worst possible outcome was sending me back home to my mother’s place, which had become a house of torment for me.
I knew I couldn’t stay in hospital forever, so I packed my bags and made the three-hour bus trek home. Overwhelming waves of deep depression and anxiety engulfed me, which I did not experience in hospital. I put on a brave face, as I had no one else to turn to, and nowhere else to go. I did not want to further arouse my mother’s suspicions that she was right in her opinion of the situation that I now found myself in. In all honesty, her attitude towards me and my child had brought on my feelings of helplessness and despair. I felt discouraged, disillusioned and deeply confused that no one was listening to me, and I believe that this caused my post-natal depression to get worse. Waves of desolation engulfed me as I sank deeper and deeper into my depression. I knew that my mother had made a sharp indentation against my happiness, ensuring that, if she could, she would separate me from my daughter forever.
I was naturally ecstatic to be with my child again. The drugs, however, were laborious, the side effects leaving me feeling stiff and awkward, debilitating my physical movements. I was wearing a chemical straightjacket. With my mother muttering to herself in the background, ‘She can’t cope, she’s an unfit parent,’ it left me feeling even more inadequate, if that was at all possible. Forever chastising me about the way I changed her nappy, or bathed her, not to mention nursing her, she made sure that I would not succeed in my aim of keeping my daughter by my side. Forever looking at glossy magazines, depicting people’s wonderful family life, I became more and more discouraged that my life had gone so horribly wrong. Always at the forefront of my family’s bigotry and preconceptions about the ideal mother, I was finding it more difficult to give Blanche the care and attention she needed. I wanted my mother’s approval, so desperate was I for her warmth and compassion. This was silly, naive thinking though, especially when, throughout my life with her, I never witnessed any of this. All I ever received was total condemnation and rigidity, to the point whereby I became paranoid from her neurotic behaviour towards me. Her attitude towards me was like skating on ice and then falling into a freezing lake, while she looked on, willing my demise.
It was close to Christmas, and this was to be Blanche’s first and only Christmas with me. It was not a pleasant one. Naturally, the family was there, and James, now Berta’s husband, was barely civil to me, with my mother and Berta discussing my plight in the background. I had become a bloody nuisance. ‘Honestly, Berta,’ said Mum, exasperated that I still had my daughter with me, ‘couldn’t you talk to James and see if he wouldn’t mind?’
My ears pricked up. What are those two bitches plotting? I thought to myself. I was in the dining room, and they didn’t realise that I was listening to what they were saying.
‘You’ve always loved children,’ went on Mum. ‘You’re a born mother, Berta. An extra one—just think. You would bring her up the way she’s supposed to be brought up, in a family with two parents. What’s more, you’re sane, not like Colleen, who I always knew was strange from the beginning. I’ve tried with her,’ went on Mum, ‘but she’s turned out to be nothing but trouble, anguish and heartache. And it can’t go on like this. If James agrees, we could tell the Department of Community Services, and then we could make arrangements for her to be adopted into your family.’
‘And what about Colleen?’ asked Berta. ‘How do we stop her from visiting my place all the time when I have her daughter? What I don’t like is that I would bring her up, and Colleen would receive all the glory. While all I get is more drudgery and hard work. Besides, James doesn’t like intruders coming into the house, and that’s what Colleen would be, especially if she’s going to come every month or every fortnight to see her child. How do you propose to stop that, Mother?’
‘Oh, don’t worry about that, we’ll sort something out, I’m sure, and then we may even be able to enforce it through the adoption procedure.’
Those scheming bloody cows. Over my dead body! I was on my own. I could see this now. Without the family’s support, it was going to be difficult to prove that I was capable, and competent as a mother. I was a lone trumpet in the wilderness, with no one bothering to take my feelings into account. From that day on, I knew I would have many failed hurdles to jump over. I thought of the ominous signs in the hospital, failure to see the birth of my daughter, and being unable to breastfeed her. And then, Blanche leaving hospital without me. I remembered, too, Dr Mason from Pambula Hospital, ringing the Department and advising them of Blanche’s absent mother.
Now my mother was trying to get my sister to adopt her. Little did I know how brutal and how forceful my family and the Department could be as I fought for justice, for my child. I was indeed a non-entity. The natural right to be a mother was stripped from me, like a chook being plucked of its feathers while still alive. If they had stabbed me with a knife, the pain would have been just as excruciating.
Barren and desolate like the desert before me, I could see parched, empty dunes and continual dry stubbles of bush, reaching towards far horizons as the days of my motherhood were cruelly scrutinised under the microscope. It would take all my courage now, to try and win this malicious battle. Blanche and I had become lone voices in the wilderness, with no support from my family.
My mother, with her beliefs in eugenics, where the mentally ill are sterilised and not allowed to have children, much less care for them, held firm. My mother wasted no time, for in January of 1994 she telephoned the Department of Community Services. The following day, Joanna, a child protection officer, was invited for coffee, and for a bit of “a friendly chat,” as my mother put it, as to the best outcome for her granddaughter. The battle for my child to stay with me had begun.
There was a wave of expectancy the following day. Wolfgang had gone back to work overseas and scheming Berta had taken her husband and three brats back to Swan Hill. I was in the lounge, having just fed Blanche prior to putting her down for her morning nap. My mother had just ended her telephone call to the Department to ensure that Joanna would be here in the afternoon at two o’clock, as planned the previous day.
My mind was like the churning ocean, with giant waves bouncing off the boulders that had been around for thousands of years. Diving into them, with my body battered and bruised, was merely a hypothetical desire. If I could, I would have dragged my mother to the most tumultuous part of the south coast of NSW and thrown her in to the turbulent waters below, never once showing any remorse. Of course, this would never happen. The most I could hope for was that the phone might be out of order, with Telstra experiencing a fault in the system. Of course, this was not going to happen, either. Instead, I walked into the kitchen, wanting to tear that phone from its socket, and after pursing my lips and scowling, eyes flashing daggers, I said, ‘If you go through with this, you’ll never, ever, hear from me again. Maybe that would be a good thing.’
‘Yes, I believe that adoption would be a good thing,’ said Mum. ‘After all, we can all be free of this unwanted burden that you have placed on the family.’
‘Don’t twist my words around! What are you thinking of? Do you think you can dispose of me and my child like we’re sacks of potatoes? Something you can throw out after we’ve started sprouting and passed the use-by date? As far as I’m concerned, you’ve passed my use-by date long ago. If Dad was here, in spite of his harsh, brutal treatment, he’d ensure that I’d keep her. Now, since he’s gone, you’ve changed! I don’t know you anymore! You have no thought for anyone but yourself, and those stupid ideas that Hitler filled your head with when you were a kid. Not to mention any thought about me. You’re mean-spirited. A nasty piece of work.’
‘Yes, well, fine, are you finished? By the way, you’re to sign those necessary papers and hand her over to the State this afternoon. Joanna assured me when I rang just now that the two o’clock appointment will go ahead. Please, Colleen, it is best for all concerned that you do this quietly and without any commotion on your part. We want a peaceful handover. Now, you haven’t had your medication yet, have you?’ And with that, she placed two tablets in my hand with a glass of water. I had no choice but to swallow them.
‘Remember, Colleen, if you don’t take these tablets that I’m giving you, then I’ll tell Dr Mason to certify you, and he will. Don’t be difficult. You are mentally deficient, and everybody knows that mentally deficient people cannot look after children, let alone think and look after themselves. You do understand what I am saying, don’t you?’
I silently cursed the day that I ever went in for that psychiatric assessment in Box Hill five years ago, and I hated the doctors back then for labelling me with a diagnosis that I was sure was invalid. How could I prove it, though, this late in the game? My credibility as a mother was like walking a tightrope between having her in my care or enforced relinquishment. I felt that I was being punished for becoming pregnant, and for being a mental defect. And while my mother could not request a lethal injection to have me euthanised, she ensured that she gave me as many tablets as physically possible. As a result of this, I could barely function, either physically or mentally. As for my emotional state, it felt that my tears had dried up, and there was no water left in the well.
Upon reflection, all the psychiatrists had been vague about my symptoms, but decided to place the label of schizophrenia on me nonetheless. Standing in front of my mother, I felt inadequate, useless, damaged goods. Ultimately, it was as if she were part of a “moral policing squad,” architecturally moulding my fate to a life sentence of severed motherhood for the next eighteen years. Naturally, I was presuming that Blanche wanted to see me after her eighteenth birthday. Or would she feel too rejected and scarred, that no one in my family loved her enough to see that we remained unified, like mother and child are supposed to be?
The matriarch of the family was allowing her poison to spread throughout the family, and Berta and Wolfgang were continuously encouraging her that she was doing what was right and true in their eyes. Destiny now had her hands securely fastened around my daughter, as I waited for the cuckoo clock to strike two. After two o’clock, I would sign those dreadful papers that would relieve me of all responsibility, and have a much easier life, as my mother so succinctly liked to phrase it. I felt as if I was falling down a bottomless pit, with darkness all around me. Today, my signature would rip Blanche away from me, possibly forever.
I could imagine Joanna promptly putting the phone down after her conversation with my mother, and grabbing a clean manila folder. I envisaged her neatly inscribing on the side of the folder, ‘Blanche Mueller’, in a black marking pen, along with a departmental number, ‘7857358’.
Apparently, according to my mother, Joanna was a trained social worker, in her first year out of university. She had explained to my mother that after a hectic Honours year, with the option of completing her Masters, she had put that on hold, and had travelled to Bega. Apparently, she had found a neat little cottage just outside of Tathra, where she enjoyed beach walks on the weekend, and being swallowed up by the magnificent sunrises on her way to work, a mere twenty minutes by car. Trust my mother to get chummy with her, I thought, as I sat on the balcony sipping my coffee and chuffing on a cigarette. I cried silently to myself, not wanting my mother to hear me and coerce me into taking some more tablets. I frowned as I sat there, looking out for killer whales, thinking that this Joanna, or whatever her name was, wasn’t the only one who needed the beach to unwind. I had a strong urge to go to the beach myself, but that would just give my mother more Colleen-can’t-cope ammunition. I stayed put and read a Maeve Binchy novel instead. My focus though, was not on the page that I was reading.
My mind drifted to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald. About a month ago, a protective officer had visited a toddler with severe bruising around his left eye, but told the mother she could keep her child if she promised to receive counselling for anger management. The following day, the mother was at the police station, arrested for suspected manslaughter. Apparently, the mother had been drinking, and the toddler was crying for his bottle. Unable to put up with his cries any longer, she picked up one of her large beer bottles and crashed it over the toddler’s head. The mother reeled back as the toddler let out a final hideous squeal, like a pig before its executioners at the abattoir.
I cringed as I thought of that unfortunate toddler, and the inadequacies shown by the Department of Community Services. Now I was expected to hand my daughter over to them, so they could supposedly “care” for her. I wondered how many times the child protection workers got it wrong, and how prejudicial they were in their judgments of certain groups within society, when it came to looking after children? I groaned inwardly as I thought about my own situation, and how my mother eloquently lied over the phone, in order to ensure that her grandchild would be disposed of. That way, according to my mother, I would not have to worry about caring for her anymore. After all, my mother had said, the family was doing me a favour. Deep down, however, I knew that the favour was to themselves. They were thoughtless about the effect that the removal of Blanche from my care would have on me, and how rejected she might feel as time moved on.
I knew that my daughter would be placed in temporary foster care prior to the adoption papers being signed, with no consensual input from me. In fact, it was all under duress, with the family ganging up against me. They refused to see that their own horrendous behaviour was responsible for me “failing as a mother,” when in reality I was unable to tolerate my mother’s brother’s and sister’s attitudes towards me and my child.
It was also easy to say that I was unable to cope because of all the medication that I was taking. However, my mother deliberately refrained from saying to the Department that she coerced them down my throat every time I tried to assert myself, or she didn’t want to hear the truth. My mother and brother would then yell at me with all kinds of obscenities. The last word from my mother was that I walked around like a zombie, and I was in no fit state to look after my daughter.
After having bailed my mother up about her attitude on several occasions, she just put the tablets into my hand and threatened me with scheduling to a psychiatric hospital if I chose to “disobey” her. I often fantasised about leaving her and Wolfgang, but with half of my Social Security allowance being taken from me every week, it was impossible to escape from my prison. My mother held me hostage to the pills and to my finances, so that I became an economic prisoner, as well as a psychiatric one. According to her, lack of money was reason enough that Blanche should no longer remain in my care.
And now, with the Department hot on my trail, Blanche would be taken away for adoption, while in the background, I, her natural mother, would weep bitter tears. I knew that after twenty-eight days’ grace, which I was allowed should I decide to revoke the adoption, our paths may never cross again. For I knew that at the end of the month, adoption procedures would get underway, and applications to the Supreme Court of NSW would eventually be forthcoming. And in the meantime, the Department would scan their files for the ‘ideal parents’ to be found, all at my mother’s behest.
Nervously, I viewed the time: 1.30 pm. In half an hour, the investigative officer from the Department of Community Services would be here. I still wore my smoky-blue windcheater that had a milk stain over my right shoulder, after Blanche had burped up her morning feed. I had no intention of getting changed into something more suitable. My black track pants had coffee stains on them. My mother popped her head into the sitting room. ‘You could at least change your clothes,’ said Mum, forever worried about appearances, ‘before she comes, you know.’ I ignored her, and stayed clad in these “disrespectful” garments that were screaming out to be washed. As far as I was concerned, this was child abduction week and not fashion week. Viewing my mother’s appearance, I noticed that she was clad in a casual pair of red and blue tartan slacks, with a white short-sleeved summer blouse. Because it was still rather cool after this morning’s rain, she pulled out her red v-neck sweater. Dark-brown loafers completed the effect. Her lips were painted in medium-pink lipstick, and her usual false eyebrows were painted in a medium-brown eyeliner pencil. Since her dark-brown hair was short and curly, she just ran a comb through it, not bothering about adorning her hair with clips or combs. The doorbell rang promptly at 2.00 pm, and my mother went downstairs to answer it.
My stomach started to churn, as I realised that within the next hour I could very well lose my baby. Hot beads of perspiration formed on my forehead, my hands felt clammy almost to the point of feeling slippery. I heard the quiet, ominous tread on the stairs as Joanna followed my mother into the family room. Blanche’s soft breath blew on my neck, as she breathed gently and peacefully on my right shoulder. I could have put her in her bassinette, as she was a dead weight, but the weight in my heart was far heavier than her sleeping body could ever be.
My mother walked into the living room. ‘Come, Colleen, why don’t you come out? Joanna would like to see Blanche and yourself,’ as if I was too shy in meeting a long-lost relative. I walked into the family room. I looked over at Joanna, who appeared to be about twenty-three years old, with long dark hair and an olive complexion. Sporting jeans, a red shirt and a tailored, checked blazer, she had placed her briefcase to the right of her. A manila folder lay open, with ‘Blanche Mueller’ written in block letters down the side, with a file number. Two or three sheets of clean paper were clipped inside the folder. Red and blue biros were placed strategically near it.
With Blanche cradled in my arms, I forced myself from the easy chair in the lounge and, with a grieving heart and heavy footsteps, I made my way over to the family room. It was like walking down a black tunnel with no light, and handing my child over to an unseen entity. An all-powerful wind seemed to thrust my child further away. In my mind’s eye, I was crouching, begging the entity to give my child back to my languishing arms.
‘Come,’ said Mum, ‘don’t be shy. There’s nothing to be scared of.’ I looked at the kitchen table adorned with cake, with my mother’s best china. A coffee pot graced the centre of the table, along with a crystal three-tier cake stand. What is this, I thought, the Mad Hatter’s tea party? ‘You must excuse my daughter’s appearance; she stubbornly refused to get dressed,’ commented my mother in exasperation. My filthy appearance contrasted with the exquisite setting of the table and my mother’s neat attire. I focused my gaze on Joanna, who was eating a slice of plumb cake with whipped cream. ‘Show Joanna what a lovely baby you have given birth to.’ Groaning inwardly, I gingerly cradled Blanche in the crook of my left arm.
‘Would you put her covers down so I can see her beautiful face, Colleen? I’d love to see her. Your mother told me how beautiful she looks. My, but she is beautiful!’ exclaimed Joanna.
I looked at this twenty-three year old woman with pure contempt, like laser beams protruding from my eyes. The only trouble was, I couldn’t inflict pain or make her disappear. That only happened in Star Wars, not here. Now, my mother was going through the ritual of afternoon tea, to show this protective officer from the Department that she was an exceptionally conscientious hausfrau. How could I think otherwise, that my mother didn’t care about me or my child, who was brought into this world four months ago? No. My mother would show Joanna that she did care enormously, hence the effort that she had put into this afternoon. After all, Hilda wasn’t callous, she merely had Blanche’s best interests at heart.
I thought of my favorite movie, The Sound of Music, towards the end of which the Gestapo had allowed the Von Trapp Family Singers to play in the concert. According to the Nazi official, he wanted to show the world that nothing in Austria had changed, and that “singing and dancing will show this to the world.” Nothing would really change in the Mueller household, either, I thought. I thought if my mother had to serve ten afternoon teas just to keep up appearances, to show that she cared about me and my lost child, so be it. At least visitors who walked into my mother’s family room would be greeted with beautiful cakes and strong premium coffee. Like the ritual of the concert, which served as a smokescreen in the movie, so too would her afternoon teas. And how my mother longed for her customary lifestyle again! I needed to be brought into line, not only because of my illness, but also the disgrace I had brought to the family by falling pregnant in the first place. The tarnished reputation had to be rectified. I could almost hear my mother’s thoughts saying that this was the best possible outcome for all concerned. Blanche would be adopted out, and my mother’s lifestyle would return to normal. As for me, time supposedly heals everything, or so my stupid mother thought. I would never forget that I had given birth, even if my mother thought so, indeed said so to me on numerous occasions. No doubt she would give me as many pills as possible, if she thought that it would anaesthetise the aching wound losing Blanche was sure to leave.
‘She’s beautiful, Colleen,’ repeated Joanna. ‘Now, are you sure that you want to do this? We can help you in other ways, you know, with counselling for possible post-natal depression whilst still assuming the care of your child?’
I looked at this woman. Was she offering me a way out, where possibly I could leave my mother, find my own house with Blanche, and still resume counselling? I knew that any form of counselling would be futile while I still lived in this house, having to endure her and Wolfgang’s stigmatism. Not to mention Ursula ringing up on the odd occasion, urging my mother to go through with the adoption. And my mother, who could never think for herself but, instead, listened and schemed intently with those around her? All these questions came thick and fast; however, I was too frightened to voice them, for I knew that my mother would override me, saying that I didn’t know my own mind, because I was possibly schizophrenic. I decided to remain silent.
My mother cleared her throat gently. Joanna looked up, while my heart sank, and my stomach churned, like a whirlpool in angry seas. Underneath my windcheater, my arms were raised with goosebumps. My mother was not going to drop the proposal of adoption.
‘You see, Joanna, my daughter is schizophrenic, and with her being schizophrenic, there is absolutely no way that she can possibly look after her child. I have been on night feeds ever since Colleen came out of hospital after her daughter, not to mention the first four weeks, when our local doctor, by law, to inform your Department that my granddaughter was under my care, because Colleen was getting treated for a feigned illness, which she claimed was post-natal depression. Naturally, the doctors saw through this, in their wisdom, and treated her for schizophrenia instead. Now, I have already discussed this with Colleen, and with the Department briefly over the phone. ‘And,’ she said, turning towards me, ‘this is why this good woman is here, Colleen, to relieve you of your burden. Believe me, you’ll thank me for this one day. Now, I believe there are papers to sign. Would I be correct?’ Mum inquiringly turned towards Joanna.
‘Wait,’ said Joanna, ‘before we sign her off completely to strangers, is there any chance of Colleen’s sister taking custody of Blanche? You know, the Department would rather see her child remain in the family if at all possible.’
‘Well, it’s funny that you should ask that, because I was discussing this very possibility with my eldest daughter over the Christmas – New Year break. She stayed for most of January, because she has school-age children, as you know, and school begins in Victoria in February. However, after speaking with Berta over the phone, James, her husband, feels that it would be an unnecessary burden on the family. Colleen’s baby would make family life rather difficult, to say the least. Berta is worried, and rightly so, that her marriage, which is secure and safe at the moment, could crack and therefore end in divorce. Naturally, this should be avoided at all costs and, therefore, Blanche passed on to lovely, suitable people, who are desperate to have a child to call their own. It seems that whenever there is a problem it involves my youngest daughter, so it would be better if she gave up her child now, while it is still in early infancy, and while Colleen is not too attached to her. In time, she will get over the loss of her daughter, and I’m sure all that she will have are vague memories of something that is too murky to come to the surface. As a result, it won’t really be clear that she had a baby at all. After all, time makes one forget.
‘Now, Colleen,’ said Mum, turning to me, ‘would you be so good as to do this one last thing for your child? Believe me, Colleen, she will love you for it later on. Now, hand Blanche over to Joanna while you sign the necessary documents.’
Throughout this whole surreal conversation, I wondered what this Joanna must have thought, and what a poor excuse for a family we really were. It was like a knife had pierced into my very soul. My mother seemed determined to sever this cord of maternal attachment that I had, forever. I asked Joanna if I could say goodbye to my child privately for a moment in the lounge room. Joanna nodded. ‘Of course,’ she said, ‘take as long as you need.’
Walking into the lounge, I looked at her, tears brimming in my eyes, knowing full well this could be the last time that I would see her. ‘I love you, Blanche,’ I whispered. ‘You will always be my little angel. But you’re in their hands now, and there doesn’t seem to be anything that I can do about it. One day, when this is all over, you’ll hear about it from my perspective. I promise you that I will never, ever, sign you over to the tentacles of adoption. Until then, may the angels look after you.’ And, kissing her and holding her close for what I thought would be one last time, I gave her to Joanna. I signed the papers and Joanna witnessed them. Joanna placed her in the baby capsule. She bundled the papers, and carefully deposited them in her soft red leather briefcase. She slung the briefcase over her right shoulder. Mum walked with her down the stairs, carrying Blanche inside the capsule. The car door slammed. Joanna revved the engine. The entity had relieved me of my “burden.” My mother silently secured the front door. I could hear her quick, firm tread on the stairs. I gazed out at the ocean. I willed a tidal wave, but the tidal wave was in my imagination. How strange, I thought, that one can just sign papers and pretend that something, whatever it is, never even happened. Once, I was a mother …
Blanche didn’t stay away for long. Much to my mother’s dismay, I started to deteriorate rapidly after I signed my child over to the state of New South Wales. My mother decided to ring the Department. She was passed on to Joanna, the protective officer who had seen us a few weeks previously at my mother’s house in Eden. Joanna came over the next day. I had twenty-eight days in which to change my mind, should I decide that adoption was not in the best interests of me or my child. Much to my mother’s dismay, my reaction to the whole scenario was not what she had envisaged. But we had passed the cut-off date, and now my mother was compelled to seek out a lawyer in Eden, in order to try and rescind the decision from our end.
My mother drove me into Eden. She pulled up in the parking lot outside Jarred Browning’s office, dressed in a navy-blue skirt, with a cream blouse and navy-blue matching jacket, the cuffs of her blouse curled on top of the jacket. Black patent leather shoes adorned her feet. I, too, had dressed carefully that morning, a denim skirt and striped brown and olive T-shirt, with a jade-green jacket. Indigo shoes graced my feet.
Entering the lawyer’s office, we sat down behind his mahogany desk, on two straight-backed leather chairs. After we explained to Jarred the sticky situation that we found ourselves in, he read the letter I had drafted to the Supreme Court of New South Wales, under the advice of a support group called Mothers for Justice in Adoption. The cracks started to show regarding my diagnosis of schizophrenia, after Jarred read the letter. He looked at my mother, and stated emphatically that this was not something that a schizophrenic would write, and that my command of the English language was impeccable. After he had read it, he said to my mother firmly, ‘You owe it to your daughter to get a second opinion, and to get her off those drugs, which are obviously ruining her life. I believe she is no more schizophrenic than you or I.’
My mother remained silent.
‘Now, Colleen, are you absolutely sure that you want to reclaim your daughter? Because we’ll have to act quickly. We’re running out of time. Indeed, we’ve already passed the twenty-eight days, so we’ll have a bit of a fight on our hands.’
I nodded emphatically.
‘I’ll put you onto a social worker, Peter Thompson, who’ll counsel you, and you can tell him the reasons and your feelings as to why she went into care in the first place. You know, what led up to it all.’
The appointment over, my mother and I vacated Jarred’s office, and drove home. Both my mother and I were lost in our own thoughts. Sitting on the balcony, with my cup of coffee and a Mary Higgins Clark novel, I thought over what Jarred had disclosed to me and my mother during the hour-long interview. He had tried to be positive about going into court and defending me, but, reading between the lines, I intuitively felt that no solicitor in NSW enjoyed going against the Department of Community Services because, more often than not, they failed to win the case for the accused parents. I knew that the Department would be ruthless, harsh, surprisingly cunning and subtly deceptive in court, to the point whereby the magistrate always ruled in their favour. I knew that the Department, from what I had read in newspapers and seen on television, had often fabricated cases.The irony of it was that they could accuse the mother with allegations and that actual proof was not necessary. A recent documentary that I had viewed on Four Corners had protective workers stating that they often fabricated allegations of child abuse, in order to justify their jobs and fill their individual quotas of child abuse allegations. It was irrelevant if the protective officers lied about their quotas, as their obligation to the Department and area managers was supplying an acceptable quota for the month, so that protective officers’ jobs would not be in jeopardy. Those officers who failed to reach their quotas for the month were either severely disciplined or asked to leave DoCS permanently.
Often, too, according to what I had read or seen on television, children were needlessly taken away from parents who, with a bit of positive support, could remain united with their families. However, the Department didn’t need to be absolute in its findings, it just needed to go by ‘allegations’ of child abuse, with no statements from the police or police investigations to verify if the perpetrator in question was the actual abuser. So, the DoCS officers could lie and cover their tracks by stating on departmental document paper that the parent(s) was responsible for assaulting the child, when medical evidence may state otherwise. The protective officers cleverly removed the letters or medical reports that went against their allegations of alleged child abuse.Thus, any incrimination against DoCS had been removed. This ensured that the children were being secretively taken away. Hence, the new generation of stolen children had been created.
I thought about my case, and how determined I was to keep my daughter. It was because of my mother’s false innuendos towards me, which she then relayed to the Department, that the Department accused me of being an unfit parent. Being misdiagnosed didn’t help matters, either. It was the misdiagnosis of schizophrenia that my mother and her sister-in-law, Ursula, pounced on.
This caused my mother to phone the Department and request that Blanche be taken from me, and adoption proceedings commence. DoCS then blew their horn, saying that I would not be a fit parent. It didn’t help matters that my own mother had reported me to the Department, accusing me of being a neglectful and unfit parent due to me being mentally ill. This was enough grounds for wardship and adoption to take place.
Intuitively, I knew deep down that I would lose my child. I was constantly being harangued by my brother and mother. Possibly, the magistrate would take a firm view that, with the unrest that this baby caused in the Mueller household, my child would probably be better off elsewhere. Apparently, DoCS won their court hearings ninety-five per cent of the time. I sighed heavily as I drank my now-cold cup of coffee. I made a mental note to keep my appointments with my social worker, Peter, and infant welfare nurse, Margaret. After all, if I failed to keep my appointments with these people, I may as well not bother going for custody of my daughter after all.
On the advice of Jarred Browning, an appointment was made for me to see a social worker. On Wednesday morning, I dressed casually in jeans, a blue T-shirt and sneakers, and, on my wrist, a bracelet, with my gold watch. I decided to eat breakfast on my mother’s balcony. The ocean was a brilliant sapphire-blue, the sky azure. As always, the lorikeets squawked and pushed each other, tumbling over the feeding tray that my father, before he died, had secured to the balustrade. My mother, dressed in jeans and scarlet T-shirt, grabbed her handbag and keys, and we made the one-hour drive to Bega. I asked my mother to do some shopping. I didn’t want her in the same room with me when I was speaking to Peter. She started to protest, saying, ‘I’m your mother!’
‘By default, not by design,’ I muttered. ‘Give it a rest, will you? You’ve done enough damage as it is over the years.’
Mum skidded to a stop outside Peter’s office, and I grabbed my bag and a letter from my solicitor, after which Peter welcomed me inside. Dressed in a shirt and jeans, with a mop of brown hair and fair complexion, he was in a wheelchair. He explained that he was in an iron lung due to having caught polio when he was a child. He assured me that it didn’t prevent him from doing his job.
I explained how I thought I was wrongly diagnosed, and because of this, my mother and her sister-in-law, along with the rest of the family, didn’t want me to keep this child, because of my suspected diagnosis of schizophrenia. I was already feeling depressed before giving birth, mainly because of their relentless comments. Of course, it didn’t help when my mother and aunt showed up in hospital and threatened to remove my child, so that the family would not be disgraced anymore.
Now my mother felt that she had made a mistake because, instead of doing me a favour like she thought she was, she now realised that she may have acted too hastily, seeing that I was now yearning for my child. She hadn’t thought that this would happen, and now she sought Jarred Browning’s advice. Basically, she tried to move towards damage control, to try and retrieve my daughter. I had hoped, after I had seen Peter Thompson that Blanche could be returned to my care.
‘So, you are basically saying that you were forced into this decision, and now your mother realises her mistake, and wants your daughter returned to you?’ asked Peter.
Peter groaned inwardly, and peered intently at me. ‘I’ll write a letter and a case conference will be set up, and then Jarred, your mother, you and I will attend. And as for your doubtfulness regarding schizophrenia, we’ll have to get that checked out. It’s more than likely that you’ll have to see the visiting psychiatric nurse to make sure you’re handling all of this. You’ll also have to see the infant welfare nurse to monitor your child’s progress. It’s not going to be easy. Once you start involving the Department, they are like Rottweilers that refuse to let go. They will use whatever means they can to lie, cajole and force their disreputable opinions onto you, making you into the heartless monster that you’re obviously not. And, from what I can gather, it certainly wasn’t your decision to begin with; your family and your deceased father’s sister made sure that they would rid themselves of the burden they perceived that your child would be. Not one encouraging word did they say to you to make you keep your child. Their behaviour was rather frosty, to say the least. When did this talk of adoption occur?’
‘Soon after Blanche’s birth.’
‘You’ll need some support, because of the negative attitudes of your family. Who’s the protective worker?’ asked Peter.
‘Clayton Savage. And, for some reason, he absolutely hates me. I get the impression that he thinks psychiatric patients shouldn’t have children. He is doing everything in his power to make me look like an abusive, uncaring mother, who couldn’t wait to get rid of her baby.’
‘Clayton Savage treats all mothers like scum. In fact, it’s his greatest pleasure to take sheer delight in painting a bleak picture of you. It is not in the Department’s interests to reunify mothers with their children, despite what the officers say. His sole purpose in life is to denigrate you, and, like a cat pouncing on a mouse, he will tear you open and rip you apart, every chance he can get. Remember, he’ll take into consideration the fact that your mother contacted the Department in the first place, stating that you were an unfit mother. He’ll do everything in his power to tear you away from your child, much like your family is now doing, when they verbally and emotionally attack you. Now your mother is trying to go into damage control, but Savage will relentlessly pursue you, until he has the pot of gold, that is your daughter. Don’t underestimate him for a second.
‘Another person to watch out for is Jan Richtor, who is like Savage, only in female form,’ went on Peter. ‘They will make false accusations about you, and they’ll get away with it. Meanwhile, you’re doing everything you can to ensure you obey the Department’s prerequisites regarding your daughter. It’s imperative that we get your mother’s support in this, otherwise we’re fighting a losing battle. I still find it hard to believe that your family is so against you.
‘I don’t pretend to know all your family dynamics, Colleen, ‘but it appears that you’ve been their scapegoat from the time that you were a child. You refused to conform, and now they’re punishing you for it. It also appears that your brother and sister are jealous of you, because you obtained gifts from your parents when you were growing up, in order for them to try and soothe their guilty consciences for the way they brutally treated you. And now, they’re punishing you by trying to rid you of your child.
‘You are also their scapegoat. Instead of looking at themselves, and fixing their own problems, you become their regular dumping ground. They blamed you for what went wrong, instead of taking a long, cold, hard look at themselves. Your brother and sister have decided that it’s payback time, and they are enlisting your mother’s support. This is very unfair, and manipulative, not to mention extremely controlling. It’s going to be difficult for you when you get her back, with the way your mother and siblings are behaving.’
The appointment was over, and another time was penned into Peter’s diary. I thanked him and left his office, assuring him I’d be there the following week.
After leaving Peter’s office, I muttered to myself that it’s a cruel world when we attack the vulnerable. I thought about Peter’s life. Apparently, he had contracted polio in the 1950s, prior to vaccination in Australia. Yet, he excelled at school and went on to university. Social work had been his first career choice. He had explained to me that he wanted to show his parents that it was possible to have a life “outside” his wheelchair. If that was the case, why was I prohibited from parenting my own child? Peter had stated to me during the course of the visit that dreams were possible, providing that there were no obstacles in people’s pathways that prevented them from reaching their ideal lifestyles.
Unfortunately for me, with my family and the Department, as much as I was willing to fight for justice, I knew that if I won it would be a miracle. Sadly, I knew that the miracle would probably vaporise in the fog, with no clearing showing me a way out. The horizon was bleak, filled with dark clouds that billowed around me, like a cloak threatening to wrap around me and strangle the life force from me, and my child.
Deep down, I knew that Blanche and I had little chance of remaining united as a family. However I refused to think like that. If I stuck to the facts, then surely the magistrate in court would see how dysfunctional my family was, and see how I was ostracized. Surely then he would demand that the Department and my family leave Blanche and I alone. Surely, the magistrate would compel the Department to offer me support instead of ridicule and circumstantial evidence regarding child abuse. Their constant accusations of child abuse and neglect, and threatening to take my child from me because I was unable to cope, as my mother put it, left me with a bitter tonic to swallow.
The Department had often approached me, saying that I could trust them if I wanted to talk to them. Each time I did that I found that they twisted my words around, and that I was giving them more ammunition for their affidavits and ongoing court proceedings. When I realised this, through Peter, my social worker, I refrained from speaking to them. After all, if I complained about the family to the Department, that translated as me receiving no support from my family. Being supposedly mentally ill was grounds enough that I was an unfit parent, in the eyes of DoCS as well as my family.
My main aim was to keep the appointments that Peter made for me, for at least that would be an outlet where I could speak freely with no fear of reprisal. I felt a rapport with this man, as in the world’s eyes we were both ‘disabled’, and with that tag being placed upon us, we were subject to ridicule and people’s prejudical attitudes towards us. But for me to be bullied by my own family for conceiving and wanting to keep my child—as if that was the most shameful thing in the world to do—left me with a sour taste in my mouth. I was now beginning to despise and hate the woman who had given birth to me. I knew that the Department and my family would sabotage every chance I had. Those chances that I did have were not many. The chances of them allowing me to keep my child were becoming increasingly dim every day. With my mother’s and Wolfgang’s aggressive behaviour towards me, with no support from my sister, I was fighting a losing battle. Still, I had to try, so that one day, if I would be torn away from Blanche, I could say that I tried to keep her, if I ever met her again.
I finally came to the conclusion that it didn’t matter if you were black or white. If you were vulnerable, you were an easy target. No one would support you. It was disheartening just the same, when it was your own family. I sighed heavily as I walked up the main road of Bega towards the coffee shop, where I would meet my mother for lunch.
‘Well, how did it go?’ asked Mum, after I had seated myself at the table she had chosen near a far corner, next to a window overlooking the street.
‘OK, I think. They won’t just hand her back, though. There’ll be a meeting, and I have to give them an undertaking that I will see Robyn, the mental-health worker, and Margaret, the infant welfare nurse. Obviously, I’ll be in touch with Peter, and Clayton Savage my protective officer. All these people will be keeping an eye on things.’
‘Well, that’s lovely, isn’t it?’ commented Mum sarcastically. ‘I’ll have all these official people walking through my place, sticking their noses in, just so that you can get your baby back.’
‘And whose fault was it to begin with?’ I hissed, my eyes flashing indignantly. ‘It was you and Ursula who visited me in hospital, after Blanche was born, saying that I’m an unfit mother. You never gave me a chance to prove myself. Then you tried to encourage Berta to adopt her, and when that failed, Berta has been indignant to me ever since, blaming me for a potential breakdown of her marriage. And Wolfgang treats me cruelly and you do nothing about it. What sort of parent are you? If anyone’s an unfit parent, it is you, Mother! You were unfit towards me all my life. Now you’re more than unfit, you’re blatantly insensitive, cold-hearted and bloody callous. Now you have all placed me in a quandary, as I try to prove myself to all these people that I’m not an uncaring, or incapable mother. It was you that said that, from the time that she was born. It’s about time that you saw me for who I really am, and not who you think I am. But you never bothered to see me for who I really am, so I guess it’s a bit much to ask that of you now. So, because of your false innuendos and not giving me a chance to prove my motherhood, you ruthlessly rubbished me from the time you found out about my pregnancy. Now I have to prove myself to a ruthless government entity. You have put me in a predicament, Mother, that I can’t seem to crawl out of. Now I’m in the cold-blooded clutches of the Department, and they will refuse to release their grasp of Blanche and myself until I can prove my case towards them. It won’t be easy!’
My mother walked to the car and drove home in stony silence. Pulling into the driveway, she wanted help with the groceries. I ignored her and headed for the beach.
As I sat on the pristine sand, I discarded my socks and sneakers, allowing the saltwater to lap at my toes. I walked along the beach to my favourite spot and perched on a rock. Dreamily, I looked out to sea The early afternoon sun magically danced on the turquoise ocean, the light bouncing like diamonds on its shimmering surface. What should have been an enchanting day at the beach turned into a slightly sinister affair, as every paradise has its serpent.
As I closed my eyes, I found myself being escorted through the corridors of my mind where, once again, I found myself in the building where I went for my psychiatric assessment. If only I went left instead of right, I would have found myself making an appointment with a psychologist and not a psychiatrist. I really didn’t know the difference between the two professions, thinking that they were both the same. Obviously they weren’t as I discovered soon after.
And now, several years later, I found myself with a child that the psychiatric fraternity said I would never have, because the tranquilisers would not allow me to fall pregnant. How wrong they were! Now we were both suffering. My arms languished on my lap. I ached for her. I was desperate to hold her, feed her and just rock her to sleep, or to play with her in those moments when she was awake. Now, I wondered again what my real purpose in life would be. First, my dream of riding in the Olympics had been wrenched from me, and now motherhood, almost shattered before me, like broken shells on rocky shores. I felt like a priceless porcelain doll, shattered into a million pieces. I wondered if the pieces could ever be glued back together again.
The waves came crashing in and tumbled around the rocks where I sat, filling the rock pools that surrounded me. The tide was coming in, midday had turned into mid-afternoon, and then four o’clock turned to five o’clock. I stayed to watch the sunset. Splashes of claret, peach and lavender filled the sky. The sky was filled with a splendid display of crimson, as the sun’s fiery ball kissed the surface of the watery horizon goodnight. The darkness moved in, as azure mixed with indigo, and the first jewels of the night studded the sky. A pale cream moon deepened to a buttery orange, outlining shadowy crevices, her mountainous peaks visible. I gazed at the ocean one last time that evening, before going up the sandy path towards my mother’s home.
The morning of the case conference dawned bright and sunny. After meeting Peter Thompson, my social worker, at his office, he explained that Jan Richtor, Clayton Savage, and Jarred Browning, my solicitor, and Kevin Fairweather, the Manager of Protective Services at the Bega Department of Community Services (DoCS) office, would all be present. We filed into the conference room with my mother in tow, feigning support.
I saw Clayton Savage for the second time. He was grotesquely fat, weighing at least 130 kilograms, his small, puffed-up head an oversized golf ball waiting for someone to strike, so that it could roll off his shoulders. Jan Richtor, in her fifties, had a face like a dry, shrivelled fig, feigning concern for my plight, and saying on a number of occasions: ‘It is always the desire of the Department to ensure that the natural mother is reunited with their child.’ I gave the protective workers an undertaking that I would see Robyn and Margaret, who were the psychiatric nurse and infant welfare sister, respectively. Two days later, Blanche was returned to my care.
I was ecstatic when she came home, and I easily fell into the role of motherhood, without much effort. To my horror, she was suffering from a severe form of nappy rash, due to the foster carers not bothering to change her nappies when the need arose. Quietly seething under my breath, I eradicated this problem by allowing her to roll on the floor without a nappy, and in about a week she was free from any signs of it.
Wolfgang came back to live with my mother and me again, as he had two months leave from his overseas job surveying for oil beneath the ocean’s depths. As usual, it was like living with a pressure cooker, as I never knew when he was going to explode. He did whatever he could to make life miserable for Blanche and me. I couldn’t even walk into the kitchen without him hollering at me for no apparent reason.
One morning, as I was rinsing Blanche’s milk bottles before putting them in Milton Solution, he looked up from his newspaper and, like a volcano, he erupted; a dragon with fiery, poisonous smoke breathing from his nostrils, as his words pierced another hole in my heart.
‘Fuck you, Colleen, why don’t you do us all a favour and take all of your tablets, and hopefully kill yourself. That way, I wouldn’t have to put up with you anymore, or your stupid kid. And you can take her clothes from the lounge room, because I shouldn’t have to sit in there with all of your baby’s shit all around me, not to mention her toys on the floor! It’s bad enough that I’ve got to put up with her crying when her nappy is being changed, or when she’s waiting for her bottle. I come home stressed from bloody work, and I find all this shit around me! You conned Mum good and proper, didn’t you, in enticing her to take your stupid bitch of a daughter back! ‘“Oh, I miss her, I miss her”’, you stupid snivelling bitch! What are you crying for now? Mum’s not here now to back you up. No! She’s pissed off for the day to go to golf. You better get used to it, Colleen, no one here wants your baby and no one wants you, either. Remember, you’re defective, just like that baby of yours!’
Wolfgang grabbed his car keys from the kitchen counter, saying he had some errands in town to do. He sped out of the driveway, probably to find a lonely spot out on a cliff edge, and plan my demise. Intuitively, I knew what my brother was thinking. I knew he wanted to kill my baby, possibly try to drown her in the bath, as we’d had a discussion the previous week in the car. Wolfgang commented that if he ever had a baby and it had Downs Syndrome, for instance, he would try to drown it in the tub and make it look like an accident. About two weeks later, after the conversation he and I had in his car, I believe he did attempt to drown Blanche, with my mother possibly aiding and abetting nearby. However, while I did not witness it, I do know that Blanche never wanted my brother or mother near her again when it came to bath time, as she screamed hysterically when either of them was near her. With me, however, she was her sweet, charming self, enjoying her bath times immensely. From then on, I made myself available, and did not let my brother near her. I still suspect to this day that my mother aided and abetted him, for at the time she made no effort to stop Wolfgang’s murderous rage.
Weeks later, we received a letter from Hans Junior’s wife, Charlene, stating that Wolfgang wanted me dead, and then all his troubles would be over. After reading the letter, which my mother made no attempt to hide, she warned me not to mention his death wish for me to him, as she did not want my possible death on her hands.
‘But let’s face it, Colleen,’ went on my mother, ‘if you were to pass on, you’d feel at peace, wouldn’t you? After all, you’d see Dad, and you wouldn’t have to worry about this life anymore. Don’t forget, you have tried to commit suicide on a number of occasions, so Wolfgang would just be giving you a helping hand. It would be such a relief to all of us, especially me, as I wouldn’t have to worry about you anymore. None of us would. After all, you’ve been nothing but a trial since you were born. But just forget about it. After all, it’s Wolfgang venting his anger. Deep down, he does love you, you know.’ Feeling even more trapped, I sullenly sipped my coffee as I decided to play “spot the whale,” and helped myself to one of Wolfgang’s cigarettes that he had left behind. Secretly, I hoped that the oil ship he was working on would hit rocks and sink, drowning him in the process, but I knew that I would not be so lucky.
After Wolfgang’s violent outburst of anger, I took Blanche into my room and placed her in her bassinette to go to sleep. I dried my tears, and wondered if all their animosity towards me would ever stop. It wasn’t the first time that I felt like a misfit in my family, and I knew that it definitely wasn’t going to be the last. I found myself wishing that my father was still alive, for, in spite of his overly harsh treatment of me throughout the years, there is no way he would have put up with Wolfgang’s behaviour. He wouldn’t have allowed his sister, Ursula, to have talked my mother into involving the Department in the first place either.
As usual, my mother never did anything to stop Wolfgang from being so bitter and hostile towards me. She just waved it all aside, making excuses for his stony-hearted comments, mentioning the fact that she needed him to help with the maintenance of the house. ‘I’m glad to have him here, now that your father passed away. I’d be lost without him,’ she told me on several occasions. It was pointless trying to discuss Wolfgang’s attitude towards me in a civilised manner. It nearly always ended up in a screaming match, with my mother making vindictive remarks about me towards Wolfgang. According to her, Wolfgang was the perfect son.
One evening, Blanche was playing on the floor, and I was serving up the dinner. Two stray beans had found their way onto my brother’s placemat by mistake. Again, Wolfgang exploded. ‘Can’t you fuckin’ serve the dinner properly without dropping beans onto my placemat?’ Roughly, I secured his plate on the mat, and dumped the pot of mashed potato near him.
‘You can serve yourself. I won’t be spoken to like that!’ And getting up from my chair, I accidentally pushed it over. Picking up my daughter, I went outside. Lighting a cigarette, I rested it in the ashtray while I cuddled and rocked her to sleep. Overcome by weariness—or was it to escape the tension that surrounded her?—she fell asleep, while I heard the sliding door open. My mother stormed towards me, and I prayed that Blanche would remain asleep.
‘How dare you deliberately upset your brother, practically throwing his food at him?’ she hissed. I groaned inwardly. Another case among many of twisting truths, of using me as a scapegoat—the harbinger of all the family ills. That particular evening, I sat out on the balcony until I was sure they had finished eating, before I went back inside. I put Blanche down in her crib, and cleared my dishes away. I threw my meal, uneaten, into the bin.
I still made weekly visits to see Margaret, the infant welfare nurse, and she always commented to me how good Blanche looked, and how well-fed she was. No sign of nappy rash, and Margaret was pleased that Blanche had put on weight while she was in my care. I had always dressed her beautifully in jumpsuits and little dresses, which was important to me, as I didn’t want anyone else saying that I shouldn’t have my child.
Eventually, I wanted to have a night out with a rock‘n’roll club that I had joined. I joined it for the company and the music, but, most of all, to give myself a break from the stifling heat at home, with my mother and my brother constantly on my back. I had made a point of telling my mother two days before that I was going out that night, and that I would be getting picked up. She agreed, saying that she would look after Blanche, and if I wanted to stay the night at someone’s place, to ring her so that she wouldn’t have to worry about me. Naturally, I agreed.
It was a fantastic night, the wine freely flowing, along with plenty of food, and everyone laughing and skirts twirling to the rhythm of Bill Haley and the Comets. At the end of the night, Tony asked me over to his place and I readily agreed. Although there wasn’t anything in it, we let our hair down at his place, enjoying the rest of the night together. Of course, when I got there, I explained that I had to ring my mother because she was babysitting for me. Tony nodded and showed me the phone that was in an alcove near the kitchen.
My mother, however, seemed to have conveniently forgotten what she had told me. ‘You go to a rock‘n’roll night, go back to his place, and abandon your child. I’m phoning Child Protection in the morning. Wolfgang agrees with me, don’t you, Wolfgang?’ hollered Mum over the phone.
‘That’s right,’ yelled Wolfgang into the phone. ‘We’re not bloody babysitters!’
‘What’s your problem, Mother? We discussed this two days prior, and now you’re accusing me of abandonment. What is wrong with you?’
‘Yes, well, things change.’ Mum obviously couldn’t think of what else to say. ‘You just tell him to bring you home this instant. You can siphon some petrol from his lawnmower, if the petrol station is shut.’
‘Oh, don’t be so bloody stupid, Mum. Since when is lawnmower petrol going to get me back home? It’s over eighty-five ks’ away. And besides, it’s lawnmower fuel, not bloody car fuel. I’ll see you in the morning. Maybe after a good night’s sleep, you’ll be more rational!’ And with those words, I slammed down the phone.
‘God, what is the problem with your mother? Isn’t she the full quid? It’s not you, Colleen, it’s her that is the irrational one,’ commented Tony, horrified. ‘Are you sure you’ll be all right going back tomorrow?’
‘Tony, what choice do I have? My baby is there in her house, and, honestly, I have nowhere else to go at the moment. Mum could help me set a place up, but she honestly doesn’t want me to do that. It’s as if she’s setting me up for failure.’
‘So she brings in the Department for good measure, and they take her side of the story?’
‘Of all the people I’ve known,’ said Tony, ‘I’ve never seen anyone treated the way your family seems to treat you, even though I have only seen glimpses of it. I wouldn’t be in your shoes for quids!’
‘Don’t get involved, Tony, it’s not worth it. Now, where were we up to?’
And so, at 8 am, with the sun already having made its way in the sky, with the lorikeets and pink-feathered galahs squawking overhead, the three of us piled into Tony’s red Celica. Tony had decided to take his friend Andrew with him, me feeling sick the whole eighty-five kilometres to Eden. We parked the car in the driveway and rang the doorbell. My mother never thought to give me a spare key, said she didn’t want me to lose it. Really, it was just another form of control. My mother opened the door. ‘So, you’re back after the abandonment of your child. And who are you two? Colleen’s boyfriends for the night?’
‘Mum, this is Tony and Andrew.’
My mother exploded. ‘How dare you take advantage of my daughter! You rude, filthy men! Get out of my driveway, now! Go on, take your car and leave. I never, ever, want to see you two on my doorstep again. Do you understand me?’
‘We just wanted to bring her safely home, and to say that no harm has come to your daughter. All we did last night …’
‘Save it! I don’t want to hear about it. Taking advantage of my mentally disabled daughter, who obviously doesn’t know her own mind! What sort of men are you? Now, if you don’t leave, I’ll call my son.’ My mother called Wolfgang anyway.
Tony and Andrew got into the car, muttering, ‘We’re going, we’re going.’
‘And I’m coming with you. You can take me to see Margaret, the infant welfare nurse. It’s got to stop. One way or the other, it has just got to stop.’
After being dropped off at Margaret’s house, I was greeted by jasmine cascading over the entryway as I rang the door chimes. An elderly lady greeted me. I learned, rather quickly, that this was Margaret’s mother, Dora, who lived with her daughter. Aided by a walking frame, wearing a royal-blue track pant, black turtleneck skivvy and blue slippers, she answered the summons of the chimes. She looked at me inquiringly. ‘Who are you after, dear?’
She invited me into their kitchen that was clad in slate, with a wooden table and four chairs, and a red-checkered tablecloth. An arrangement of dried flowers completed the centrepiece. Tiles adorned her kitchen sink and stove, with every fourth or fifth tile portreying a bowl of cherries. On the stove was a thick cast-iron pot with strawberry jam bubbling away.
The back door slammed, and Margaret walked in with three large baskets of strawberries. Margaret, fair-skinned like her mother, smiled at me, her eyebrows slightly raised, silently questioning me as to why I was at her house on a Sunday. She put the kettle on, pulled mugs from the cupboard, and went about preparing coffee.
‘I’ll leave you two women alone,’ said Dora, as her walking frame made soft clicking sounds against the slate floor, towards the sunroom.
‘Look, normally, I wouldn’t be around here at all, it being a Sunday. It’s not like me to disturb people on a Sunday unless it’s an emergency.’ I felt that I had to say something in defense.
By now, it was just too oppressive and I had reached a crisis situation. With no emotional support from my family, and my mother’s treacherous behaviour towards me and my daughter, I knew that it was just a matter of time before she would be taken from me permanently. My mother truly was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, feigning support and empathy towards me, under the guise of giving me back my child. She had beguiled me into thinking that, as my mother, she would always be there for me, lending me support if I needed it. Her support would never be forthcoming. I knew that now, and I wanted to escape the punishing environment that I found myself in. But unless we had a roof over our heads, it was not going to happen. I needed to get away from my mother’s clutches, so that I could breathe freely. Just as importantly, I needed to get away from my brother, with his unpredictable, cold, calculating personality. I could no longer be a mother under their roof. Shaking, I drank some of my coffee, accidentally spilling some on the pristine cloth.
Margaret shook her head in disbelief. ‘To be honest, Colleen,’ she said, as she poured herself a cup of coffee, ‘I never thought much of your family. I don’t believe half the stuff they say about you, and, quite frankly, your mother’s a piece of work, not to mention that brother of yours. From the little that I’ve seen of Wolfgang, he’s rude, arrogant and very contemptuous of you. He’s extremely unsavoury in his comments about you. For some reason, your mother likes to indulge him in his negative attitude. It is almost as if she is setting you up for failure. They’re not giving you a chance. You are not an unfit mother! Your brother’s intense hatred of you doesn’t help, and your mother is either too gutless or too ruthless towards you to send him packing, never to return. But she’d send you and your child packing if she could. The truth of the matter is that you broke one of her taboos, which is being a single parent. That is why she continuously harangues you. Furthermore, we know that she thinks you’re defective because you are supposed to be mentally ill. Those pills that you’re on won’t help. Besides, no one’s bothered to see if you really are schizophrenic. But you are no more mentally ill than my daughters. You are just living in an extremely intolerable environment. It’s a wonder you can keep it all together. It’s bloody hard around here, Colleen, because this is such an isolated part of New South Wales. We only get the dregs of specialist doctors, and these doctors themselves have a bit of a history. Either that, or you end up going to Canberra for the day to see a specialist. Did you ever see that Doctor Boydon?’
‘Margaret, that was a pointless exercise. Why would I want to enter into therapy with her in order to try and heal myself, only to come back home to more haranguing by Mum and Wolfgang? The moment that I’m assertive, both her and my brother are savagely abusing me for not doing something, or whatever the case may be. I can’t say to Mum I want to go down to the beach for a couple of hours to have a break from her and Wolfgang. From the morning when I wake up, I’m being harangued, either by Wolfgang or her. Blanche has been back in my care again for over four weeks, and their harassment has been constant and continual, but where do I go?’
‘There’s a place, Colleen, in Sydney,’ went on Margaret, ‘called Charmian Clift Cottages, where you can go and learn parenting skills, learn about yourself, and basically have time out between you and your family. Would you like that?’
I was at my wits’ end, but I couldn’t say no. I didn’t want to go down to these cottages. There would be mothers there with difficult kids that I would have to put up with. Who knows if I would really achieve the desired aims that Margaret was talking about? Besides, as soon as my brother and mother heard about it, they would brutalise me into staying with them. All I wanted was a house where Blanche and I could live. By the time that came about, however, my mother would have already done the damage. As a result of this, Blanche would no longer be in my care. And, slowly but surely, my mother was succeeding.
‘Listen, I’ll try anything, just to get away from the suffocating clutches of my brother and mother. But first, I’d like you to go and simmer them down before I go back there. She was so vehement with me this morning, in spite of the fact that I explained to Mum what I’d be doing. I was frightened of her, and my brother, and that is why I am here. I feared for my safety, and I was frightened that if I went inside, Wolfgang would have given me a few backhanders. She is sabotaging any chance of Blanche and me remaining together. It doesn’t matter that she thought adoption was a mistake. She is doing everything in her power to ensure that I fail in my aim of keeping my child with me. And she is doing it deliberately.’
‘Do you want to give Charmain Clift Cottages a try? This is our final hope, Colleen. After that, I’m not sure what to do.’
Shrugging my shoulders, I nodded pensively.
‘Now, I’ll go and discuss it with them, and try and calm them down. I’ll most definitely say that you did not abandon your baby last night. That is extremely disquieting to hear something like that, especially when it is not true.’ And with those words, Margaret collected her handbag, mobile phone and keys, leaving me to muse alone for an hour.
Upon hearing Margaret pull out of the driveway, I felt desolate, almost as if stormy, salty waters would throw me into a turbulent whirlpool amidt large boulders jutting out of angry shorelines, threatening to push me down into bottomless depths. Like sharks in a bloody eating frenzy, I felt that I was pulled one way by my mother, and then a different way by my brother. I felt physically severed, my limbs torn, with sinew spilled all over oceanic floors. I wanted to escape the prison that I found myself in. Even hospital was better than being in my mother’s house. But I knew that, even when I was in hospital, it gave the wrong impression to everyone that I was schizophrenic, when I was almost certain that this was a misdiagnosis. It was escaping from one prison to another; however, in hospital in Canberra, they treated me with more dignity than my mother ever had. But it never helped my cause, and only served to verify my mother’s adamant claim that she should have left Blanche in foster care.
Now I was going to these “cottages” in Blacktown, in the hope of having some much-needed respite from my mother. Then if fate was on my side, I would hopefully find and secure a Housing Trust house, where Blanche and I could live our lives in absolute tranquility. The days of being hideously tortured by my mother or brother would soon be over. I let out a huge groan. I desperately wanted it to work. I knew this would be our last chance. Blanche’s future with me rested heavily, like an oversized burden basket weighing me down, so great was my desire that Blanche and I would remain unified.
Driving down from Merimbula to Eden—about a half-hour drive—I knew that Margaret would ponder over what I had said. Possibly, in her working career, she had come across difficult cases, but none where the families closed ranks on one member of the family, in order to sabotage my efforts as a mother to my child. My mother was nothing but a cold, calculating, devious bitch, and Wolfgang was definitely a psychopath, not to mention a potential murderer. I shivered as I thought about that fateful night when he, along with my mother’s potential assistance, had tried to drown my daughter. Why my mother adored him, I don’t know, but I do know that Wolfgang, along with her, worshipped Hitler and the Nazi philosophy. Even though my mother said that she hated Chancellor Hitler, I knew that, deep down, she thought highly of him, otherwise why would she still use his principles as her guiding light?
I knew that Margaret was doubtful of my diagnosis of schizophrenia, but the family and the Department seemed to be using the diagnosis to their advantage. In short, my mother’s and brother’s behaviour was horrendous, especially in wanting me and Blanche dead. I thought of the letter that Hans Junior’s wife had written to my mother, commenting on the fact that Wolfgang wanted my time on earth to be over. A cold shiver ran down my spine.
Also, Margaret knew that every time I asserted myself, my mother just pushed more tablets down my throat. If only my mother would not accompany me to the bank, demanding half of my pension and half of my Family Allowance! Then I could take my baby and leave NSW forever! This was just wishful thinking on my part. I could leave NSW, as far as my mother was concerned, but it would not be with my child.
Margaret arrived home about 2 hours later. Upon entering her kitchen, she made herself a cup of coffee, explaining to me that both my mother and Wolfgang were a nasty piece of work. Wolfgang was extremely hostile and negative towards her as well as me, and my mother kept repeating that I had abandoned my daughter for a rock’n’roll night.
‘However, when I questioned her about it, Colleen, she did say that she would babysit for you that evening and that you would ring her should you decide to stay overnight at that chap’s house. Why she’s twisting the truth, I don’t know. She’s rather vindictive, your mother, isn’t she? Plus, she still adores Hitler as if it were only yesterday that she was saluting him, commenting on the fact that Hitler killed all of those people who were deemed mentally unfit. She claims that she may even have you sterilised so that you are unable to have any more babies. That way, your negative gene pool won’t be passed on. Apparently, she doesn’t want any more grandchildren who may be genetic defects. I don’t know, Colleen, but it appears that your mother is still married to that Adolph Hitler who was nothing but a madman, a warlord and a psychopath! ‘Colleen,’ went on Margaret, ‘their attitudes won’t change; however, I managed to calm them down long enough to at least agree to the fact that you and your daughter would be better off in Sydney for a while, at these cottages. Let’s hope that, while you’re in Sydney, you’ll be able to secure Housing Trust accommodation after you have finished your three months at Charmian Clift Cottages.
Oh, by the way Colleen, I had a private chat with your brother, just a few days prieviously. I spotted his car halfway between Merimbula and Eden, on a lonely outcrop, and I pulled my car next to his, and invited myself to join him in his thoughts. I started questioning him about his antagonistic feelings towards you, and wondered why he is making you suffer so needlessly.’
‘Mmm. And what did he say?’
‘He denied that the family was making you suffer, but then he said that you were a mistake and a misfit from the beginning. That nobody wanted you in the family. He went on to say that if he were you, he’d be extremely careful, as your baby apparently almost drowned in the bath the other day. He went on to say that it was an accident, on your part.’
I shook my head, and explained to Margaret what Wolfgang had said in the car to me regarding a hypothetical child of his who had Downs Syndrome, and how he would mercifully put the child out of its misery. ‘A week or two later, Margaret, he and my mother were bathing her, and that’s when she started to scream hysterically. From that time on, she has never wanted anyone else bathing her except me, where she becomes her happy, sweet, charming self. But if she catches a glimpse of my mother or brother, then she starts howling hysterically, and I have to close the bathroom door and lock it so that neither of them are able to enter.’
Margaret shook her head in absolute horror. ‘This is your only chance with Charmain Clift Cottages, Colleen,’ went on Margaret. ‘Try and make it work.’ And with these final words, Margaret drove me back to Eden.
So, the day came when I went for the interview, with Wolfgang driving me down to Blacktown, a ten-hour drive from Eden. We stayed in a hotel overnight, and the next day, I went for the interview and was accepted into their cottages.
It was a cloudy day, with patches of drizzle descending on Eden airport, as my mother and I waited for the plane to arrive to take Blanche and I to Sydney. As usual, my mother grumbled about having to pay for the airfare. I just shook my head, while looking outside the waiting room for the twenty-seater plane to arrive. My mother wanted an argument, but I refused to take the bait.
The plane touched down on the tiny tarmac, and passengers alighted, then about seven people boarded the plane. Picking up my hand luggage and holding Blanche in my right arm, I proceeded up the steps. I didn’t bother saying goodbye to my mother. If truth be told, I was glad to be away from the so-called home that was really a gilded cage, with Wolfgang and my mother the chief keepers. Sitting on my seat, I managed to rock Blanche to sleep. Apprehensively, I looked at her and prayed that Charmian Clift Cottages was the answer, but by this stage I was beginning to have my doubts. In an hour’s time, the plane landed at Mascot Airport, Sydney. Relief and a sense of freedom enveloped me as I arrived. The stifling, fiery furnace of my mother’s house was but a distant memory, a scorched, barren land that I had no intention of returning to, or so I hoped.
Upon arriving at the cottages, I was shown to my room, which was tastefully decorated. Floral curtains draped the windows, gathered to the left and right with a bow holding the gathered fabric together. A pine chest of drawers varnished in a rustic finish, with matching wardrobe and full-length mirror, stood next to the wardrobe. For decoration, an antique water pitcher and bowl were placed on the chest of drawers. A cot was also in my room, and with Blanche still sleeping after her bottle at Mascot Airport, I gently put her down and tucked the covers around her. I unpacked, had a coffee, and was shown around the place. There was a common room with a large-screen television and stereo. The kitchen was fully equipped with every baking dish and saucepan imaginable, and the childcare centre had loads of toys, play dough, paints and other bits of equipment that the children could enjoy, while the mothers were doing their own courses that were assigned to them.
From the beginning, Dorothy and I became firm friends, both of us looking out for each other’s babies, and chatting over endless cups of coffee. I enjoyed Sydney. For the first time, I felt as if I were a mother in my own right, without having to be answerable to my own mother every second of the day. In fact, Sydney, for me, was like a bustling oasis in the middle of a blazing barren desert. Here, I enjoyed countless ferry rides over to Manly, and thrived in the bustling metropolis that is Sydney and suburbia.
My stay in Sydney was short-lived, as I thought it would be, and it was with trepidation that I made my way back to Eden once again.
My mother greeted me rather aloofly. As usual, my mother threw all the negative words of wisdom that she could muster, while Wolfgang continued to holler at me on a daily basis. Thankfully, he was leaving to go overseas again, as his two-month leave was almost completed.
I knew that I needed to get away from my mother and find my own place to live. Both Blanche and I desired peaceful surroundings. We were not going to get it with my mother barking in the background, like a crotchety hyena, wanting more than just the spoils of an animal’s left over remains from a previous hunt.
House-hunting in Bega was easy, and with a couple of references that I had secured from my previous renting days, I managed to secure a medium-sized weatherboard house. With a big backyard housing a giant peppercorn tree, it was perfect for Blanche and me. My mother helped me move, and immediately started advising me on where to put the furniture in the house. I asserted my authority, as this was my house and my domain. In a fit of rage, my mother deposited Blanche hard on the floor, so that she started to cry, and told me that she never wanted to see me or my daughter again. That was fine by me. However, after a less than supportive move, I felt my depression coming upon me in waves. I started to doubt my own capabilities, and decided to seek out day care for my daughter. I needed to have some time out to recover from my mother’s antagonistic attitude towards me and my child.
I decided to phone the local council, thinking that they handled such matters like family day care. To my dismay, I was advised to ring DoCS, as they were the ones that handled day care arrangements for mothers in the community. To my absolute horror, I was shocked when, answering the doorbell the following day, I found Clayton Savage towering in my doorframe, with his 130-kilogram bulk of flesh. I hated this man as much as I hated Wolfgang. Every day, I had prayed that somehow Lady Fate would cause Clayton Savage to be in a car accident, his car wrapped around a Stobie pole and his head decapitated, rolling down a nearby ditch. Dressed in trousers that failed to hide his gut, he looked as if he had been pumped up with a bicycle pump, with his shirt buttons popping open. I glared at him, my eyes poisonous eyes like daggers boring through his own. Clearing his throat that had the flesh of a pelican’s beak, his Adam’s apple bobbed up and down as he was about to speak, but I interrupted him.
‘What are you doing here? I asked for a day care mum’s phone number, not you.’
‘We need to asses you to see if your child is in any immediate danger. You see, day care is only given to working mothers, not single mothers; and, furthermore, to ask for two days respite is, we feel, rather unusual, and I think you are about to have a breakdown again.’
‘With you in the picture, it’s probably possible; and no, you’re not coming into my house.’
‘Well, if you don’t let me in, I will just call the police and say that I’ve had a notification of a child at risk, and you will be compelled to let me enter. Do you understand?’
‘I understand that I’ve asked for day care services, nothing was mentioned about my child being at risk. As you can see from here, she is a perfectly happy, healthy baby, enjoying her toys. You don’t need to come inside making a false assessment of the situation!’
‘Getting agitated, are we? That’s not good for your child, is it?’ He swaggered past me, a smirk appearing on his face as he jostled me aside. Helping himself to a chair at the kitchen table, he lit a cigarette. Thick clouds of smoke billowed around him, and filled the kitchen and lounge area while toxic fumes enveloped my daughter. ‘You wouldn’t have an ashtray, would you?’
‘Please, can you not smoke inside? I’d prefer it if you would you know, away from Blanche.’
‘Sorry, but I need to observe.’ The smoke rings were getting thicker, as he puffed arrogantly on his cigarette.
‘Oh, look, Colleen, she’s bottom-shuffling. Now, that’s not normal, is it? She is supposed to be crawling around. After all, that’s what normal, healthy babies do. I wonder, maybe a trip to the physiotherapist would be the order of the day. Just to make sure you haven’t dislocated her hip.’
Shaking my head in utter disbelief, I looked at this fascist son-of-a-bitch who was abusing his power, showing no respect towards me or my child. Not only was he coercing my daughter to breathe in second-hand smoke, he was accusing me of giving her a dislocated hip, just because she bottom-shuffled.
‘How dare you falsely accuse me of deliberately hurting my own child? What is it with you that you have to make up stories about me, just so you can collect her at the end of the day, saying that I am an unfit mother? On what grounds do you place this?’
‘Face it, Colleen. You’re possibly schizophrenic or psychotic; your reality becomes distorted, therefore Blanche is a child at risk. It’s probably in your best interests to hand the child over to the care of the Department, so we know for sure that no danger will come to her. I mean, let’s face it, I don’t like the look of her hip, the fact that she’s bottom-shuffling at all suggests …’
‘It suggests nothing’, I said quietly, although I was fuming inside. I looked at him in exasperation, my whole body trembling, my face a furnace of flames, red-hot embers glowing in my eyes. ‘What it suggests is that you’re an abrasive, unsupportive bastard, looking for phony excuses to sever all ties with my child. Just to prove to management that you’re doing your job. You took advantage of vulnerable women in the sixties, and now you’re once again taking advantage of indefensible women in the nineties. Is that how you people justify your jobs? By taking advantage of the predicament that I find myself in?’
‘It’s in the Department’s interests’, drawled Savage, taking another slow draw on his cigarette, ‘that no child be removed from its mother unless it is absolutely necessary. By the way, what were you doing before I came in?’
‘I was doing the last of the washing, as well as putting some clothes away.’
‘And does she follow you from room to room?’
‘Of course she does! She’s not frightened of me, if that’s what you mean. She only starts hollering if she can’t see me, which isn’t very often.’ I knew that I should not have said this, that I had made a grave error of judgment. Inside I was fuming like a volcano wanting desperately to erupt, and as a consequence not thinking clearly.
‘Oh? You leave her alone, do you? You shouldn’t leave her to fend for herself, that’s not very responsible. Maybe it would be better if she did come with me tonight.’
‘Listen,’ I said through clenched teeth, ‘I go to the toilet and have a shower. I don’t leave the door open during those times. I have never abandoned my child!’ I thought back to the rock ’n’ roll night, when my mother accused me of the same thing, though it wasn’t true, as we had arranged it two days previously that she’d be babysitting Blanche on the night.
‘According to your mother …’
‘Listen, I don’t give jack-shit what my mother said. She’s no different to you, with her false innuendoes. She’s another one who deliberately antagonises me and falsifies events. I have never abandoned my child! And besides, she got it wrong when she agreed to babysit that night. As Margaret Purvis said to her, I didn’t abandon her, it was all prearranged that she would babysit for me, and then she throws it back in my face. Don’t go twisting my words around just to make me look bad, or to satisfy your job of a professional child kidnapper!’
He took out another cigarette. He offered me one, but I declined. Besides, I was concerned about the smoke Blanche was inhaling. In Sydney, she had suffered croup, and had to be taken to the hospital in Parramatta. The last thing I needed was a recurrence of that night.
‘We have an aggressive streak’, he said. ‘Now, I’d
like you to sign this paper here and here, which states that you allow day care of your child to commence, and that the Department
will be keeping a close eye on the progress of Blanche.’
‘And if I don’t sign it?’ It was the bit about the Department keeping a close eye on my daughter that I was wary of.
‘Colleen, don’t make this any harder for yourself. You called the Department, and we answered. Simple.’
‘Do you think I wanted to do that? It’s only because Bega City Council doesn’t control day care that they referred me to you people. I regret having done that, now.’
‘By the way, I’ll ring you back with an appointment regarding the physiotherapist. She’ll need to look at that hip of Blanche’s as soon as possible. From where I sit, it looks dislocated.’
‘There’s the door!’ I said. ‘Now fuckin’ leave!’
‘Remember, Colleen, we’re watching you closely.’
I didn’t know what to think after that. I couldn’t believe how everything regarding child care was under the auspice of the government. It appeared to be an architecturally designed ploy for taking children away from their mothers, who needed respite for one or two days. I didn’t expect to receive false allegations against the care of my child. Nor did I expect to be treated so disrespectfully, to be accused of a malicious act that didn’t even happen, just so Clayton Savage could justify his reasoning for being on my doorstep. I was asking for day care, not reporting a child at risk. It seemed the ultimate insult to good ethics, and honest judgment, that the Department seemed to deliberately struggle with. In fact, there was nothing ethical about the Department at all.
As time went on, I was to find both Clayton Savage and Jan Richtor formidable foes. Extremely hostile towards me, they seemed to be misguided in their assumptions regarding mothers with psychological issues. In fact, as the months went on, their jaundiced perceptions became more brutish. Dislocating her hip was the first false allegation made against me, and the physiotherapist could find no justification for Savage’s comments.
It’s an irony of the Department that alleged allegations of child abuse are all that is needed to take the child away, with no real thought of the damage they are doing to the mother. In fact, mother and child are a unit, one that should not be broken, and, and if it does get broken, it should be on hard-core facts, and not merely based on supposition. What hurt me the most out of all of this was the way my family had dealt with the whole issue of Blanche’s birth, my mother’s and brother’s attitude towards me in particular, and now it seemed that I and Blanche were paying the price for it.
Clayton Savage, along with Jan Richtor, called around several times while I was living in Bega, and this, I believe, caused me to have another breakdown. Jan Richtor had used her cunning departmental skills to try to get me to open up, saying that she would be there if I needed her. I first thought that she was genuine; however, I was to find out that her sole purpose was to extract information from me, which she later twisted and used for her own hidden agenda. It was the meetings with Savage that had started my depression rolling again. Richtor decided that it might be better if I just signed some ‘temporary care order’ forms, so that Blanche could go into care for a short period of time. By this time, it felt as if a tornado was passing by, snatching Blanche away from me into the callous hands of the government. Even though I had agreed to treatment for my depression, it was the perfect opening that the Department needed. Jan Richtor used her clever powers of persuasion to coerce me to change my thoughts regarding the relinquishment of my daughter. The dark entity of adoption was ready to wrap its poisonous tentacles around me. With deliberate harassment from my family and the Department, and feeling like a joker, I was playing into their hands, with both parties holding the trump cards.
After another visit from Savage, another landslide had begun. Accusing me of punching my daughter in the eye, apparently evident because she squinted, an appointment to the doctor in Nowra confirmed what I already knew. No signs of bruising were apparent, and my daughter’s squint was purely genetic. My mother and I both had the same problem; it could only be rectified by wearing spectacles. Even though the Department was aware of this doctor’s report, they chose to ignore this as they wanted the opposite to ring true so that they could write in their reports that what they said was justifiably correct. It didn’t matter what the treating specialist in Nowra said, I was still bullied into signing the foster care papers. The Department was not satisfied with the doctor’s report, and still claimed that I was a violent mother towards my daughter. According to the Department, the doctor had made a grave error in medical judgment.
While she had been in foster care previously, it was noted that she screamed profusely during bath times. I was the only one who could bath her successfully. In fact, she always hollered hysterically when my brother was nearby, and this was due to the fact that he had tried, albeit unsuccessfully to drown my daughter while my mother in the background looked on. But how was I to explain this to the Department? Clayton Savage would blame me, since I was the one supposedly suffering from insanity, while my mother and brother were supposed to be the sane ones!
With insanity as their backbone for the allegations against me, they claimed I was an unfit parent, and my so-called loving family was to be pitied for having to support me and my child. Savage would do all he could to ensure that Blanche would be severed from the silver cord of me, her mother forever. I remember when Wolfgang and I were in the car together. He explained to me that if he had twins and one of them had Downs Syndrome, he would ensure that the Downs Syndrome baby drowned in the bath, making it look like an accident. As my mother was so sure my baby was schizophrenic, I have often wondered, since that conversation with Wolfgang, whether or not he and Mum plotted together Blanche’s probable death by Wolfgang attempting to drown her. Leaving me with the blame was easy to do, since I was supposed to be a mental defect, or in my mother’s words, sub-human, and sub-humans were not meant to procreate, because of their impure bloodlines. After all, my mother didn’t want any more mental misfits in the family, and, apparently, nor did Wolfgang.
Wolfgang had his own hidden agenda, filled with jealousy, rage and hatred towards me, because of all the things I received—more material possessions than he did—while growing up. As petty as it sounds, he was only too willing to separate me from the one that I treasured the most—my child. I remember the letter Charlene, my eldest brother, Hans Junior’s wife, had written to my mother. In a visit to my eldest brother, Hans Junior, in Singapore, Wolfgang declared that: ‘Colleen is the cause of all our problems, and it would be better for all concerned if she were dead’. He was a black hole in my universe, sucking me in, his victim, by being jovial and kind, and then trying to destroy Blanche and me when the evilness inside his very being began to surface. It was as if he enjoyed being a psychopath. Like my father, he was devoid of a conscience, and violence was his trademark. To the Department, however, I was a potential murderer, who inflicted physical violence on my child, and, being mentally unfit, was poor mothering material.
Another mental breakdown was inevitable, and after being admitted to Goulburn Valley hospital, the Department was demanding custody of my daughter.
Blanche was now in permanent foster care, while I had the unenviable task of trying to fight for my own civil rights as a natural mother. The enforced relinquishment of my daughter was brought on by uncaring prejudiced officials, who cared nothing for the anti-discrimination laws. They cared nothing about the laws the departmental workers had themselves put in place to ensure that both mother and child wouldn’t be abused by the system that these workers are supposed to represent. I was a single mother, with a history of psychological and physical abuse at the hands of my family growing up, with ongoing abuse at the hands of my mother, my brother, sister, brother-in-law and my mother’s sister-in-law, Ursula—who had planted the idea of adoption in my mother’s head in the first place. Like a red rag to a bull, my mother did everything she possibly could to ensure that the cords of me and my child would be severed forever.
Christmas 1994 was lonely and painful. I was now ostracised by my family. Blanche was now in long-term foster care, and I no longer existed in my family’s eyes. I often heard hushed whispers in the kitchen and family room between my mother and sister, with Berta barely talking to me. She was still angry towards me that her marriage almost collapsed regarding the plot that my mother instigated, to allow Blanche to become Bertha’s adopted child.
So, now that Blanche was in permanent foster care, before she became a ward of the state, it was decided by the Department that I could have weekly access visits. In spite of the access visits, the Department soon grew weary of this arrangement, pleading lack of resources. In other words, they claimed that they didn’t have the staffing or the money to ensure that these visits went ahead. Through pleading lack of resources, the Department had once again sabotaged any real hope of unification taking place. In fact, they had said to me on several occasions, ‘The safety and wellbeing of the child comes first, and we are not interested in the needs of the mother or successful reunification at this time.’ Clearly, they were stating to me that: ‘You won’t ever get your hands on your daughter again, so go away and don’t bother us anymore. It’s high time you think about adoption, for this is the Department’s sole purpose, so that your daughter won’t be shifted through various foster carers anymore.’
My mother, according to the Department, would have been the ideal substitute to oversee the access visits, did her bit to thwart the arrangements. She was either playing golf—of all things—or going out for barbecues with friends, and not worrying about the fact that she had caused all this angst from the beginning. Now all she cared about was her next social outing.
Relying on the Department was like relying on quicksand, for they were determined that I should fall quickly, by being buried alive, suffocating in the toxic molten lava that was my family and the Department. I still kept my appointments with the mental health worker and my social worker, desperate that, somehow, there may be a slim chance of Blanche returning to my care. My solicitor, Jarred Browning, was becoming rather peeved that my own mother wasn’t assisting me. Along with the Department, she had sabotaged my chances of motherhood.
‘You need to be supportive of your daughter, if there’s any hope of reunification with Blanche’, explained Jarred, while I was meeting him with my mother one Tuesday afternoon. ‘Right now, all you seem to be worried about is when your next golf meeting is happening, or other social events, without any real concern about Colleen and her daughter. Until you support her in her access visits, Colleen can forget about being reunited with Blanche. Don’t forget, I know that it was your idea, Mrs Mueller, to put Blanche up for adoption in the first place. While it’s good that you’ve realised that Colleen was grieving for her child, and you were seeking to rectify your misguided judgment regarding adoption, it seems to me that, because of your deceptive attitude in allowing Colleen to believe that you had made a grave error of judgment, you then discard the child to the care of the Department. Because of this you have sabotaged any real chance of reunification taking place. This has got to stop, one way or the other, for both Colleen and Blanche’s sake. And don’t blame Colleen that it’s all her fault that the Department now has her daughter, and that she brought it all on herself. If the doctors in question had not given her wrong information to begin with regarding the anti-psychotic medications that she is on, and that it was impossible to become pregnant, not to mention whether she is schizophrenic, which I seriously doubt, she would not find herself in the predicament that she is now in. Do you understand where I am coming from?’ My mother sullenly glared at him, her lips pursed together and a deep scowl overshadowing her face.
Walking back to the car, Mum started hounding me again. ‘Well, it’s very easy to blame the mother, isn’t it? I should monitor you more carefully, and not let you visit this solicitor on your own. Now I look as though I’m at fault, when it was you that ended up pregnant in the first place.’
‘Mum,’ I groaned heavily, ‘I’m thirty-one years old. In this day and age, there are plenty of women who are single mothers. I don’t understand why you are so against it. If you would stop ranting and raving on to Berta and Wolfgang, and whoever else calls, that all I have ever done was cause you grief, I might be in a better frame of mind to keep my child. But no, you were the one that started the ball rolling with me being incapable of looking after her. All you’ve ever done up to this point is emotionally abuse me, not to mention pouring tablets down my throat, when you’ve antagonised me in the first place. Then you wonder why I get so upset, mentioning to everyone who’ll listen that I can’t cope. If it wasn’t for your rigid, neurotic ways, maybe I could have coped. Everything I do, in your eyes, appears to be wrong. Furthermore, you use my wrongness to phone the Department and say that I’m having difficulty in caring for my daughter, so that Savage and Richtor think that I’m either neglecting her again, or handing out physical abuse to her. The truth of the matter is that you can’t stand it yourself when professionals start saying that you could possibly be at fault through your own sabotaging ways.’
It was around this time—just after the New Year of 1995—that the Department informed me that I was to make an appointment with a visiting psychiatrist. Being under medication, and still severely depressed, meant that I was not of sound mind to sign the adoption papers. The psychiatrist, nevertheless, stated that I was of sound mind to sign the adoption papers. To ensure that the papers would be signed, my mother, forever the overpowering demigod in my life, went with me into his office. Speaking on my behalf, she stated that it was my decision, and that she had nothing to do with it. Once again, she was abdicating any responsibility regarding her actions that she dealt out during the whole calamitous affair. Thanks to my family and the Department of Community Services, I knew that I would never see my child again. So, in late January or early February of 1995, adoption papers were drawn up with all the necessary particulars about my brothers and sister and Blanche’s maternal grandparents.
About the same time, a formal hearing in the Children’s Court of NSW declared that Blanche be made a ward of the state until the adoption became finalised. Peter Thompson, my social worker in Bega, had stated emphatically that the Department, along with my family, had sabotaged any form of reunification with my child. My child and I were cruelly thrown on the scrap heap, the Department going against its own Care and Protection Act, which states that a parent must not be discriminated against, even if the parent is deemed to have a disability. Not once did Clayton Savage do anything to assist me in ensuring that I and my daughter remain together in our own accommodation. Nor did he offer me the support that I so desperately needed at the time, if Blanche and I were to remain together as a family unit. Rather, the Department did all it could through their false allegations against me, claiming that I was psychiatrically unfit to be a parent. The Department also claimed that my child was at risk of being harmed by me, even though the medical doctors and physiotherapist deemed these allegations to be misguided and therefore untrue.
It was extremely easy for the Department and, in particular, Clayton Savage, to lay the blame of child abuse at my feet. He completely ignored the doctors who were examining Blanche. In their letters to the Department, they claimed that they could not find any grounds for these allegations. Indeed, it is common that at least a quarter of babies bottom-shuffle, which is what Blanche did, and that the so-called squint in Blanche’s right eye was not caused by me punching her, but was a genetic defect, rectified only by spectacles as she grew older. As for the potential drowning, I still suspect that Wolfgang was responsible for trying to murder her. Because I was supposedly a mental defect, the allegations of abuse, culminating in potential homicide, were firmly placed on my shoulders. Therefore, according to the Department, I was an unfit mother and, as a result, they went against the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act, section 71, sub-section 2, which states that it is unlawful to discriminate against a parent on account of their disability, regardless of what that disability may entail. Now I was faced with battling the Department on my own, as I was forced by my family and the Department to sign the adoption papers under duress. In my wildest dreams, I did not want to believe that my family had hated me so much that it was their evil intent to take my daughter from me.
In short, it became a David and Goliath battle between me and the Department. I could expect no support from my family if I decided to fight the State of New South Wales for custody. They hated Blanche almost as much as they hated me. Through their evil intent, they happily agreed to adoption, refusing to see the harm that they had created and would continue to create in the years to come. As for my mother and brother, they remained true to the Nazi regime and its philosophies.
Because I was such a disgrace to the family, my mother approached me one morning while I was having a coffee on the balcony. The ocean was a brilliant sapphire-blue, and the sky azure as the sun made a shimmering diamond pathway on the silky surface of the sea. It was March 1995, and my daughter was two months into her wardship order by the State of NSW. My mother came and sat down with me, dressed, as usual, in track pant and T-shirt. Even though my father had died almost two years previously, she still wore his wedding ring.
‘We need to talk’, said Mum quietly, but a forceful tone belied her casualness.
‘About what?’ I sighed.
‘Colleen, you cannot have any more children. I simply will not allow it!’
Sneeringly, I looked at her, shaking my head. ‘And how do you propose to do that?’
‘Simple. In my day, if a woman such as you was found to be mentally ill, she would be sterilised. No questions asked. She would not be given a choice in the matter. Now, you know as well as I do that you are mentally ill, and we can’t have another birth where, genetically, you pass on your mental defectiveness to another child. It wouldn’t be fair on you or the child, or on society. You’re already a drain financially on the family, and it isn’t fair for society to have another infliction such as another child that you may happen to give birth to.’
‘And what happens if I refuse sterilisation?’ Inside, I was seething, a bomb ready to explode. I was not going to give her the satisfaction of becoming angry, as this would only give her more ammunition.
‘Colleen, if you don’t do as I say, you’ll have Wolfgang to answer to!’ she said quietly through clenched teeth.
With those words, my mother went inside to resume her ironing of Wolfgang’s clothes. Staring out to sea, not expecting to see any whales, I pondered the fact that I was a prisoner not only of the Department, but also of my family. I was frightened of my brother. If I refused to become sterile, I didn’t know what would happen. I could almost imagine Wolfgang waiting in the waiting room at the hospital, ensuring that I wouldn’t escape until the medical procedure was completed. It seemed that there was a compelling force that prevented me from breaking away from my mother’s home that was really a gilded birdcage. There would be no escape. So, I decided to go along with my mother’s hideous plan of taking me to see the gynaecologist in Eden. I was, after all, mentally defective, and mental defects are prohibited from procreating. In my mother’s world, anyhow.
The sky was a dove-grey as my mother bundled me into the car to the gynaecologist’s office in Eden. My mother dressed casually in jeans and a purple T-shirt, while coral and opal rings adorned her fingers, and her opal necklace accentuated her neckline. I was clad in track pant and white T-shirt, grotesquely overweight because of the pills that I was forced to swallow. While she sat outside his office, I was inside signing a consent form. The gynaecologist explaining that it was a fifteen-minute procedure under general anaesthetic. As an afterthought, he asked if I was under duress. ‘No’, I lied. The thought of my mother’s omnipotent presence in the waiting room, radiating enforced authority, forced me to state that this was totally my decision. After all, I didn’t want her in his office spreading her vile philosophies of the so-called goodness and purity of race that spewed forth from the Nazi propaganda machine. And, simultaneously, hypocritically stating that she hated Hitler to the extreme. Without hesitation I signed the form.
Wolfgang became more violent towards me, if that was possible; however, he refrained from physical abuse, though he tried. I threatened him with the police if he laid a hand across my face. Because of his violent behaviour, I decided to go to the Bega courthouse and fill out an Apprehended Violence Order against him. Even though I was still living with him and my mother at the time, I felt I needed to do this for my own protection. The police came to my mother’s house with the filed AVO addressed to Wolfgang. Now, ordinarily, the AVO should have been placed in Wolfgang’s hands, but I was beginning to see that it didn’t matter what authorities you dealt with around the New South Wales far south coast. Everything was done in a slapdash manner, if it was done at all. So when the AVO was served, my mother was at the door to receive it.
I heard Mum thundering up the stairs, even though I was out on the balcony reading a Maeve Binchy book.
‘Colleen! I want a word with you! Why did you serve an AVO against your brother? You won’t get a single penny when I die, you mark my words! You don’t turn against your brother like that! I have housed you, fed you, and kept that baby under my roof against my better judgment. And now look at what you’ve done. I’m going to rip this up and pretend that this never happened, and when Wolfgang comes home from running some errands, he’ll be none the wiser, and things will go on as before. Do you understand me?’
Inwardly, I groaned, and I cast stormy eyes towards her as I huskily said, ‘I don’t want your money. It’s blood money! Don’t think you can buy me off by offering me $55 000 at the expense of my child, when you die! You’re no different to Judas Iscariot from the Bible!’
‘I’ll pretend that I didn’t hear that, you insane bitch!’
I decided to leave NSW, as I could no longer reside in a town where my child was taken from me. My mother kept condoning Wolfgang’s behaviour, and I could no longer tolerate his abuse. I was physically and emotionally exhausted. Speaking to a counsellor, Ravenna, in the women’s shelter in Bega, advised me about an organisation called St Luke’s in Ballarat, Victoria. They were willing to take me on as a client, with the possibility of regaining custody of my estranged daughter. I eagerly took up the offer, as this was now my opportunity to escape from the clutches of the evilness that was this paradisiacal wonderland called the far south coast of New South Wales. Boarding the bus back to Eden after speaking with Ravenna, I felt as if the huge boulder that I had been carrying rolled away. I relaxed and thanked the Universe for, at long last, showing me the way out of my prison that I had found myself in.
As usual, I found my mother in the kitchen pouring herself a coffee. I explained to her that I was leaving NSW and moving to Ballarat. Ballarat was an ex-gold mining town, the richest in the world in the 1800s, in the lowlands of Victoria. It was famous for the Eureka rebellion, brought about by steep licence fees that gold prospectors were forced to pay by their colonial administrators. The Eureka flag, a white cross on a blue background, was a symbol of solidarity and resistance to tyranny.
My mother gazed pensively out the window. ‘So, you are abandoning your daughter to the State Government of New South Wales? Well, I did the right thing, then’, mused Mum. ‘It was right that, as a family, we encouraged you to sign the adoption papers, and to have you sterilised. That way, you can give your daughter a better chance at life than you could ever have hoped to have given her. Furthermore, you won’t be procreating and thus passing your negative gene pool on to another child. When you get settled, will you tell me where you live?’
I gave my mother a quizzical look, and shook my head in total disbelief. ‘You expect me to keep in contact with you after all the angst and anguish you have caused me to bear? I’m through with you! I’m through with all of you. I’ll contact you if I decide to, don’t you even try to contact me. Is that clear?’ My mother looked away, a pensive frown overshadowing her face.
‘Maybe when we meet again, you’ll have de-nazified yourself, because, quite frankly, it sickens me to the extreme listening to you glorifying the Hitler regime. You’re just as dehumanising as what Hitler was, not to mention the philosophy of eugenics, brought about by social Darwinism that Hitler, your goddamn saviour, glorified!’
Two days later, I was on a Greyhound bus to Melbourne. It was October 1995, and Jeff Kennett was Premier. Arriving at Spencer Street station at around six am, I had about a two-and-a-half hour wait for the Ballarat train. Boarding the train, I was a little apprehensive as to what I would find in Ballarat, but I was also totally relieved to have left the snare of my mother’s and brother’s poisonous tentacles behind. Two hours later, I arrived at Ballarat station, where Karen, a social worker from St Luke’s, met me.
After booking myself into a caravan park, I had started to make plans to get my daughter back somehow. At the moment, the Department was moving along rather quickly to try to get Blanche adopted out. Already, they were wanting to send photos of my daughter to the respective ‘adoptive carers’ with profiles about Blanche, to see if I agreed with their choice of ‘parents’.
Without further ado, I enlisted the help of Victoria Legal Aid, in Ballarat. At the same time, through my lawyers, I was not required to view the photos or make the decision as to which ‘parents’ I chose for my daughter. According to my Victorian lawyers, it was rather obvious that I was under duress when I signed the papers in January of 1995. Now I was left to try to unravel the decision I had been coerced into making. I found the lawyers in Ballarat to be more than helpful, and these people went out of their way to ensure that I would get a fair hearing. To be sure, it was a harsh and cruel Department that charged mothers on allegations only, with no substance of truth in any of their accusations against me. In fact, to accuse someone of unfit mothering, based on false diagnosis and misleading testimonies, is a bitter pill that I still swallow daily.
Finding accommodation in Ballarat did not prove difficult. I had managed to secure a two-bedroom flat for four years, with the thought of getting my daughter back. True to my word, my mother did not know about my whereabouts, and she wouldn’t know for three years where I was living. Although Swan Hill was a fair drive from Ballarat, I didn’t inform my sister, either. Firstly, I didn’t want her informing my mother as to my whereabouts. Secondly, I also needed a long healing interval where I could once again focus on what was important to me. I knew that I was not welcome in my family circle anymore, and that my mother despised Blanche and myself. Berta never wanted to see me again, as she was still holding fast to a grudge that I was responsible for a potential split between her and James, if not now, then sometime in the future. As usual, my mother had nothing to do with the potential divorce between my sister and brother-in-law, should there be one, even though it was her suggestion that Berta adopt Blanche soon after her birth. I was the family scapegoat once again.
It was proven that I did not have schizophrenia, and a letter by the Ballarat psychiatric team was proof of this. According to them, it was only depression that I was suffering from, and the diagnosis of schizophrenia was made at a time, in the 1980s, when it was ‘fashionable’ to do so. So, I decided to come off all my medication cold turkey. My body responded as if I was going through drug withdrawal symptoms, no different from junkies withdrawing from heroin.
Naturally, I was angry and disheartened that a misdiagnosis had cost me the relinquishment of my child. As stated by an exceptional doctor, after I had fought for custody of my daughter, the doctors who diagnosed me should not have based their assumptions on only one symptom. As a result, these doctors had left me with a psychiatric label that had caused me an unplanned pregnancy. In the 1980s and early 1990s, the treating psychiatrists had assured me unequivocally that the neuroleptic medication that I was required to take would under no circumstances leave me pregnant. Even though I could have quite rightly sued, it was unheard of for a psychiatric patient to sue their psychiatrists for wrongful diagnosis, medical negligence, as well as medical malpractice. After all, I was certified quite wrongly as ‘insane’ by the State of Victoria, and who believes the voice of one who is diagnosed insane?
It was to their credit that the psychiatric team in Ballarat in 1995 had realised their profession’s misguided diagnosis of my condition and wrote me a letter, stating that the diagnosis of schizophrenia was clearly an ill-informed one. It was this ill-informed diagnosis that the Department and my family had so readily clutched onto. Now I was fighting for my very existence as a mother, and as a human being. It felt that all natural justice had been denied to me, but, sadly, in Australia, there is no Civil Rights Tribunal that one can take their grievances to. I was no different from the Jews in Hitler’s Germany, made to feel sub-human by the very parents who bore me, being severely punished, through the seizure of my daughter, me her parent for being ‘mentally defective.’ Procreation was strictly forbidden, hence the sterilisation, to ensure that my negative gene pool would not be passed on to more of my children, should I desire subsequent offspring.
Physically, I felt like Raggedy Ann, torn to pieces and discarded through the false allegations and the constant physical and psychological torture that my family had put me through. Often, I wondered about the attempted murder allegation, wondering why they never took me to a police station to have me formally charged. Years later, however, I found out that it was obvious that the Department, being a powerful government body, did not have to bother with preliminaries such as statements from police officers. It was also lawful that the Department could ‘convict’ parents on potential allegations only, and that was enough grounds for the child to become either a foster child or a ward of the state, before adoption took place.
The police, on the other hand, need actual evidence for the potential allegations to become facts, based on a statement and evidence from the person they are charging. The Department’s reasoning for refusal of a police statement from me was because I was mentally disturbed. However, that became a smokescreen, a convenient excuse for the potential allegations to become ‘fact’, even though they had no evidence to support their ‘facts’.
It’s a sad but true fact that after 1985 or 1986, when the New South Wales Rann government was in power, a bill was passed in Parliament that stated NSW bureaucracy didn’t have to be held accountable for their actions. Lie detector tests for government bureaucrats were totally forbidden. Small wonder, then, that these protective workers can say what they like and have full support from their colleagues, without being challenged. Furthermore, fabrication of child abuse documentation is often falsified, in order to justify their jobs. Only a woman who is desperate to regain custody of a child that was rightfully hers from the beginning would have the stamina to fight against a government bureaucracy. As a departmental worker said to me years later: ‘We are not interested in the union of the mother and child. We are there only for the child.’
At last, the day came when, in 1996, I was able to fight for custody of my child. The long months of angst-filled waiting had finally paid off.
My solicitor, Jarred Browning, and barrister, Mark Prescott, had worked as hard as they could on the case, and my psychologist and social worker had prepared their evidence; and now it was the long drive down to Eden. I had packed a bag containing skirts and blouses for court, and took some music with me for the ten-hour drive that was ahead of me. My social worker, Graham, was travelling with me. Belinda, a close friend, was willing to make the journey with us. We stopped at her house in Springvale, a south-eastern suburb of Melbourne. Dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, with her black shoulder-length hair layered, a fair complexion, with gentle brown eyes and a slightly upturned nose, she greeted us at the door. She had lunch prepared for us, chicken with salad. An hour later, at about 1:30pm, we hit the road again, breaking only for coffee stops. It was a long, wearisome journey. Towards nightfall, we became subdued, each of us lost in our own thoughts. Graham pulled up at my mother’s house in Eden at about 8:00pm. Dropping our bags off in the basement bedroom, Graham went on to his own motel room in Eden.
After Belinda and I had freshened up in the en suite bathroom, we went upstairs. Finding my mother in the kitchen, we sat down, while my mother served Belinda and I roast pork with roasted potatoes and pumpkin, along with apple sauce. My mother was an excellent house manager, with exceptional culinary skills. However, all my life, she was a tyrant, with her nurturing skills non-existent, except perhaps when I was physically ill as a child, with the usual childhood ailments.
My mother tried to alleviate my fears by saying that Blanche had adapted perfectly into her new family. Belinda, mindful of my feelings, even if my mother wasn’t, said firmly, ‘I don’t think Colleen needs to hear that at this stage. It would be better, Mrs Mueller, if you were to encourage your daughter that it’s a good thing her going for custody, rather than condemning her for it.’
My mother stared stonily past Belinda at a painting on the wall, an artist’s rendition of Australian bushland. Easing herself away from the dinner table, she said that we could help ourselves to coffee. We ate our meals in silence. Pouring coffee for Belinda and I, we moved to the balcony so I could have my usual cigarette after dinner. We drank our coffee in silence, as we were only too aware that my mother might catch certain pieces of conversation. After saying goodnight to my mother, we went downstairs and prepared for bed, Belinda giving me one of her luxurious massages.
As usual during the night, I had the old, familiar dream that had haunted me for months, where Clayton Savage was pushing Blanche in front of him, while I tried running after them. However, walls were blocking my way in trying to reach her. As usual upon awaking from the dream, my heartbeat was fluttering wildly. In the morning, I awoke with tears soaking my pillow.
While Belinda and I were having breakfast, prior to Graham, my social worker, collecting us for court, the phone rang. My barrister, Mark Prescott, was on the line. He wondered if my mother would testify on my behalf. Reluctantly, my mother agreed. Turning to me, my mother gave me one of her fiercest scowls, repeating the fact that this was entirely my fault, and how dare I put her in a predicament where she went against Berta and Wolfgang?
‘You mark my words, Colleen, you will never, ever, see your child again! I’ll make sure of that! Just you remember, my dear, your child is better off without you. Besides, I was supposed to have played golf with Annaliese, and now my day is ruined because of you. I’ll see to it that you lose, and that you never hear from her again! You’ve been a poisonous thorn in my flesh from the day you were born. Well, no more! Now I have to be a witness for you in court. Well! I never wanted to do that. You are an unfit parent, and the sooner you realise this, the better for all concerned. Remember, you nearly drowned your child!’
Glaring at my mother, I walked up to her and slapped her hard across the face. ‘I should have done that to you years ago. You’re nothing but an overzealous Nazi! You may hate Hitler, but you worship his principles as if, only yesterday, you were still involved in the German League of Girls. How dare you and the family go against me, your own flesh and blood? But that’s just typical, isn’t it? I was a living mistake, a child you never wanted to have. All my life, I have paid for that. But if I’m not successful, or even if I am, you will never hear from me again! And another thing! When you croak, don’t leave me any of your money. It’s only blood money, anyway. I don’t want to be appeased by your so-called wealth, ever again. Is that understood?’
My mother stepped back, totally astonished, her eyes boring into my own, and her left hand fondling her right cheek, where I had delivered the blow. Once again, I approached her, grabbing her arm so that she could not step away.’ Make sure’, I said through clenched teeth, shaking her, ‘that in the witness box, you say that you were mistaken, and you will gladly do everything in your power to ensure that Blanche remains with me. Is that understood?’ And with that, I turned to Belinda, saying that Graham had just pulled into the driveway, and we had better make tracks. After all, it was about an hour’s drive to Bega, and none of us wanted to be late. ‘See you in court, Mother!’ I called from the entryway.
After I left my mother that morning, I could imagine her sitting down heavily at the kitchen table. She was sure to be in total shock. After all, none of my brothers or sister had ever slapped her across the face before. She probably wondered what she had done to deserve it. But if she couldn’t understand the fact that she had been a proper cow all her life, then there was no helping some people. She deserved the harsh blow that I had delivered to her face. Yes, it was true that she had clung to the Nazi philosophy all of her life. From the time I was a little girl, I had always challenged my parents about obeying authority, especially when the authority seemed to be misguided. Now that I was a grown woman, I saw through the whole Hitler regime and ideals that my family upheld. But those philosophies, which I had so despised, seemed to make sense to my mother. Without these philosophies, my mother would have been a lost sheep in this world. I read into things too much, according to my mother. My perceptions were uncannily accurate. As I had once stated to her, she wasn’t a mother. She was merely an angry bird of prey, leaving bloodied claw marks on my head and arms each time she attacked me. After all I was the rebel of the family as my parents had so often reminded me. How my father had tried to beat it out of me! Apparently, my father knew better than anyone that if you didn’t conform in this world, you would always be a fringe-dweller, a renegade who refused to fit into society. They had punished me, coerced me, and had given me gifts to sweet-talk me into conforming with society, but to no avail. And now, I had done the unthinkable; I had given my mother a backhander! Well, I was not sorry for it. I shrugged my shoulders. In an hour, the red marks would vanish, and when she entered the court room, no-one would ever know that I had slapped her, Nazi-style across the face.
I imagined my mother slowly easing her way into her bedroom, and carefully choosing an outfit to wear for court. Probably, she would wear her crimson suit with her patent-leather pumps adorning her feet, and a matching handbag. I fervently hoped that she would not be late for court.
I thought about my mother giving evidence in the witness box. Hopefully, she would see that she had made an error of judgment, by condemning me to a probable lifetime without my daughter. I was doubtful that after three years of my mother and the family being against me, the chance of Blanche being reunited with me was very slim indeed. To my mother, it was all a game. Both of us knew that attitudes don’t change after five minutes in the witness box; too bad if we hated each other for the rest of our days. Slowly, I felt the world crumble from under my feet. I knew that it would be a number of years before I would see my mother again. Well, maybe that was a good thing. My mother had never wanted a fourth child to begin with; in fact, she had stated to me in the Christmas of 1993, just after Blanche was born, that she wished she had had an abortion in the 1960s when she was expecting me. However, in the 1960s, the only abortions available to women were backyard abortions, and the risk of death was too great. I often wondered why she never adopted me out. But because she is so great on appearances, it would have looked bad in front of the neighbours. She would not be able to handle people talking behind her back about how she gave her child away because it was unwanted.
After Belinda and I had settled into our seats in the courtroom, I scanned the area for my mother. I saw her take her seat near the back, close to the courtroom door. The solicitors, barristers and representatives of the Department of Community Services, New South Wales, filed in. Graham was sitting in the second row from where I sat, next to my barrister, Mark Prescott. Belinda was on my right side, her hand giving me a gentle squeeze for support. The Clerk of the Court rose from his seat. Mueller vs the Department of Community Services, New South Wales, was about to commence.
The court hearing started with my witnesses, Graham and Juliet, a psychologist I had been seeing while living in Ballarat. Juliet was sporting a red floral dress, her feet clad in white sandals. Both Graham and Juliet stated that it would be in my best interests if Blanche was returned to me. There were services in Ballarat, should I need to use them to ensure that my daughter and I remained together as a family unit. Both had stated that my psychological state had been severely disturbed since losing my child, and my family’s attitude didn’t help matters. Graham and Juliet thought that, since I had moved away from NSW, my psychological health had improved immensely. As Graham stated, I had been able to see things in perspective, without my mother and brother haranguing me on a daily basis. According to Graham, my mother and brother were detrimental when it came to my mental health. ‘As, to quote Colleen, Your Worship, they saw my client as a ‘“mentally defective person.”’ Graham went on to state that I was kind, considerate and caring, but that I could no longer tolerate the bullying tactics of my mother and brother. Graham was asked to step down.
‘The Court now calls to the witness box Mrs Hilda Mueller’, said the Clerk of the Court.
Focusing on my mother in the witness box, I noted that she had dressed with undue care, and, in particular, I noticed that her red marks had gone. I settled back in my chair next to my barrister and Belinda, as I listened to the evidence that my mother was trying to give. Silently, I hoped that my mother would remain silent about the red marks that had now disappeared. The magistrate was asking her if she had instigated the adoption of Blanche. Yet mother, in true Mueller fashion, blamed Bertha and Wolfgang, whereas she had tried to undo the damage that she had inflicted on me regarding my child.
‘But, still,’ persisted the magistrate, ‘you still thought it would be for the best?’
‘Well, no … yes, oh, I don’t know!’ snapped Mum, clearly exasperated.
I groaned inwardly, as I thought that the magistrate would now think that I had very little, if any, support from the family at all. In spite of my mother trying to get me out of my predicament, it didn’t work too well. I knew that I would have to do some hard convincing when it came to my turn the following day.
‘All rise’, said the Clerk of the Court. ‘Court is now adjourned until tomorrow morning, the first day of May.’
Graham dropped me and Belinda at my mother’s house, promising to collect us the following morning.
My mother, who didn’t bother staying for the afternoon session at court, greeted us at the door. Apparently, she had left after giving her evidence, feigning a headache. I just shook my head, thinking that her behaviour was typically predictable.
‘My dear mother,’ I said, ‘do you really think that five minutes in the witness box is going to convince the magistrate that, after three years of departmental intrusion, instigated by you, with Bertha and Wolfgang supporting you and terrorising me, that it’ll boil over and then be forgotten? I don’t think so. Face it, Mother, you botched it up! In fact, for three years you have portrayed me as an unfit mother, even to the point where you lied to the Department in order to protect that psychopathic thug, Wolfgang, who I have the misfortune of being related to, trying to drown my daughter and you standing in the background, watching him do it! Somehow, Mother dear, you have just put Blanche safely in the hands of the State. Because of your confusing comments, the magistrate will take that as a yes, and Blanche won’t ever be reunited with me, until she is an adult. I hope you are proud of what you have done!’
Again, dinner was eaten in silence, and Belinda and I went to bed early. The following day, I would be on the witness stand, and I was determined to ensure that my facts would be correct when they started questioning me. I needed to have a restful night’s sleep, so that the barristers from the side of the Department would not trip me up with their questioning.
I dressed with undue care the following day, in a navy-blue Country Road skirt and light blouse with a navy-blue jacket. Navy-blue pumps finished the effect. A silver locket necklace with a picture of Blanche and me inside accentuated my neckline. Make-up was carefully applied, with my hair washed and layered, and curled at the front, making my face appear soft. Graham, my social worker, once again collected Belinda and me. At the courthouse, my barrister, Mark Presscott, approached Belinda and asked if she wouldn’t mind approaching the witness stand. Belinda decided to comply with my barrister’s, request.
My party filed into the courtroom, where, once again, the Clerk of the Court said, ‘All rise. This is the second day of the proceedings Mueller vs the Department of Community Services, New South Wales.’
The magistrate entered the bench, and everyone proceeded to sit down. My mother had decided not to attend on the second day, claiming that she had done her bit. ‘Whatever the outcome, Colleen, my presence, or lack thereof, is not going to matter much.’
I knew now that, without her support, I would more than likely lose the case, and that my daughter would remain in the hands of the State until she was eighteen years of age. My mother’s presence was crucial for the opposing party, as well as the magistrate, to show that she fully supported me regaining custody of my child. It deserved another slap across the face as far as I was concerned, but I knew that was pointless. It was because I had slapped her across the face that, out of spite, she refused to show up. I regretted my actions, but I didn’t show any remorse. I should have slapped her more often, I thought ruefully.
Snapped out of my thinking, I hurried to the witness stand as Declan Barker, the Department’s barrister, called me forth to give evidence. After the preliminaries were over, Declan went straight into the hard-core questioning regarding Blanche and the potential drowning that I was supposed to have caused.
‘Now, it has been stated’, said Declan Barker, dressed in a navy-blue pinstriped suit with a white shirt and dark-blue and pink tie, ‘that you tried to drown your own child while she was in the bath?’
‘No’, I replied. ‘I believe that it was my brother Wolfgang who was responsible, while my mother stood in the background and, as usual, did nothing. I’m sure, like my brother, my mother thought that Blanche would be better off dead as well.’
‘So, correct me if I’m wrong, Ms Mueller, but are you saying that the child’s maternal grandmother aided and abetted your brother in the potential drowning?’
‘What I’m saying is that, though I didn’t see it happen, I’ve no doubt in my mind that both she and Wolfgang wanted my child out of the way. Blanche enjoyed her bath times with me, but with my mother and my brother she screamed hysterically. Since then, I knew that something had happened. I was reminded of the fact that, from the beginning, Wolfgang wanted to drown her, ensuring that it look like an accident. We went for a drive in the car together while Blanche was with my mother, and Wolfgang stated that if he had twins, and one of them hypothetically had Downs Syndrome, he would bathe her and ensure that she had an accident in the bathtub. He then tried to do away with my daughter, because of his intense rage towards me. Also, he felt that he would have been doing the family a favour, as I was supposed to have a positive gene regarding schizophrenia, and I could quite easily have carried that gene on to my child, who one day may be mentally defective herself. No one wanted mental defects in the family. Hence, my brother’s hypothetical statement about a Downs Syndrome child. So, it is my belief that Wolfgang was the perpetrator that night, not me. It’s easy to blame me, because I’m supposed to be mentally ill.’
‘So, you had nothing to do with attempting to drown your daughter?’
‘No! She enjoyed her bath times with me. In fact, I could not leave her alone with my mother or Wolfgang, because she would become totally hysterical, as I stated a moment previously. And it was about a week after I had taken a ride with Wolfgang in his car that the hysterics began. It was then that I thought Wolfgang and my mother had done something to make her afraid. I believe emphatically that Wolfgang should be up here in the witness stand giving evidence regarding this unfortunate incident. But, as luck would have it, he’s overseas surveying the ocean floor for oil.’ I hope his boat sinks! I thought to myself. Besides, the potential drowning incident was enough to take Blanche from me. After all, the Department was responsible for hundreds of child deaths in custody, and they couldn’t risk another death. It would make the Department look worse than it already was.
And so, Declan Barker continued questioning me about my post-natal depression and my depression in general, and I stated that it was only my opinion that I had these ailments. However, it was definite, and here, my barrister passed a letter to the Department’s legal team, that the Ballarat psychiatric team had written, stating that the ‘diagnosis of schizophrenia had been a misdiagnosis from the beginning.’
The departmental child psychologist, Sean Whittaker, was the next witness to take the stand. From the outset, I knew that he was a trained puppet in the hands of the Department. He stated that I was an unfit mother and a known child-abuser, in spite of the medical letters that stated the contrary. I was astounded that he could commit perjury on the stand, and that the magistrate ignored the perjurer without any reprimand. He further went on to say that psychological parenting was a lot better than natural parenting and that, in time, Blanche would forget about ever having come from another person. Eventually, I, too, would forget that I ever had a daughter, and that life would go back to normal as before the pregnancy.
Oh, yeah, I thought. Then why am I here now, fighting for custody?
It may have been the 1990s, I thought, watching Whittaker in the stand, but persecution raged freely amongst the prejudical departmental workers who did their best, and succeeded, in raping me emotionally by physically taking my daughter from me. She’s my only child, and now you bastards are trying to maul me away from her. I will never forget that I bore you, Blanche, despite what that fool Sean Whittaker stated, that in time I would forget about you. And how dare he state that I’m a known child abuser! Deliberately going against the letters that the medical doctors had written when they examined you for injuries that I was supposed to have inflicted on you. I felt like yelling from my courtroom seat next to my barrister that he was nothing but a bloody puppet, and that the Department were his chief puppeteers! You bastard! How many lives have you screwed throughout your poor, pathetic career? I had to place my feet firmly on the polished floorboards, so that I could somehow prevent myself from walking up to him and spitting in his face. What a load of rubbish! Words will never express fully what anguish and sadness I go through each day thinking that out there is my daughter, who was psychologically and physically ripped from my side and put into the hands of strangers. And now I’m in court, trying to regain custody of her from the hands of the government. Despite the medical reports from the doctors that stated that Blanche was in no way physically abused, the Department insisted upon Whittaker stating that I was a known child-abuser. In order for the claims to be held credible, it was necessary for Whittaker to agree with the field officers. After all, I thought sarcastically, he was an ‘expert’ in childhood behaviour, employed by the Department.
Finally, Clayton Savage, whose animosity towards me was like razorblades tearing at my flesh, came to take the stand. He swore on the Bible ‘to tell the truth and nothing but the truth, so help him, God.’
My barrister, Mark Prescott, questioned him regarding denied access of visitation rights between Blanche and me. All Savage did was shrug, saying, ‘We haven’t the resources for visitation rights.’ It didn’t matter what excuse he gave, I thought, for me to no longer be a part of my child’s life was like tearing trees away from the earth. Not only had Blanche’s life been uprooted, so had mine. Both my family and the Department had sabotaged any chances of me being reunited with my child. I now understood the Aborigines when they claimed that they were part of the Stolen Generation. So, too, is my daughter; albeit the White Stolen Generation.
‘So,’ said my barrister, Mark, ‘while my client is yearning for her daughter, you claim lack of resources. Is that fair?’
‘It might not be fair, but while she is now in the hands of her prospective adoptive carers, it is in the child’s best interests not to have anything to do with Ms Mueller, her biological mother. As the departmental psychologist, Sean Whittaker, has stated.’
‘So, you’re not in the habit of reuniting children with their birth mothers. Our interests are for the child, not the mother. Is this what you’re, effectively, saying?’
‘Not when we’ve found suitable accommodation elsewhere. And besides, I’m most ecstatic with the parents that we’ve chosen for the child. Also, I might add, these people were chosen most carefully, and they are to Blanche’s liking and suitability. After all, Ms Mueller was invited to have some input with the choosing of a suitable couple. We can’t be held responsible if she has chosen not to be a part of the selection process.’
‘A choosing that was under duress from your department and from Ms Mueller’s family?’
‘I’m not responsible or concerned about the dynamics of Ms Mueller’s relationship with her family.’
‘But you must be, otherwise you wouldn’t have taken her child from her in the first place.’
‘Your Worship,’ said Clayton Savage, turning to the magistrate, ‘we were acting in extreme good faith, as the Department always does when we take a child away from the mother. After all, we are in the process of the welfare of children, not the welfare of mothers.’
Well, that says it all! I could rest assured that, now, my child would not be coming back to me. No longer would I feel her soft breath against my cheek, like a gentle breeze on a summer’s day, or feel her silken, golden hair against me, spun by the silk woven by the fairies themselves. And no longer would I hear her laughter, or see her take her first tentative steps as she was learning to walk. Nor would I see her embrace the first day of school with sheer wonder and excitement, as she enjoyed her first day with her new classmates. Racking sobs started coming from me, though I tried hard to quell the torrential tide that threatened to overflow its banks from within.
The magistrate asked for closure, then he gave his own injunction. ‘While Ms Mueller has admirably gone on to further her education by doing a BA at Ballarat University, Victoria, and while she has secured a home for herself, I feel that it would not be in the child’s best interests to remove her from her current place of residence. That Blanche, her daughter, seems secure and has been able to fit into her new home, and that her carers are obviously delighted with their chosen child, who is obviously a gift, and a delightful one, at that …’
Rub it in, you bastard! My god! My life went before me as one god-forsaken mistake. I could no longer see my child. She was as good as dead to me. It seemed as if the spiritual silver cord of motherhood had been severed for all eternity. Who knows if she would even want to see me when she turned eighteen? I walked out of the courtroom and onto the balcony of Bega courthouse, my vision blurred by a reservoir of tears that cascaded down my face. Blanche was physically gone, diffracted from me as if she never existed. My womb felt hollow, cheated of a life that it once carried, and now, no longer would ever bear another child again.
My mind flew back to the day that I was on the operating table under a general anaesthetic, having my tubes tied, so that ‘no more misfits with gene pools causing schizophrenia could be born’, as my mother had so succinctly worded it. I had a picture of Niagara Falls tumbling down on me, the force of the waterfall so strong that I buckled underneath the sheer volume of water, only minutes away from being drowned. If only I could be drowned physically, right here, right now!
Would my daughter grow up thinking that her mother was a potential child-killer, or would the Department tell her the truth, saying that, in all likelihood, it was her Uncle Wolfgang and her maternal grandmother who had been responsible for the potential drowning episode? I think not, for all the while in the courtroom it was Savage and Whittaker, the child psychologist, who both claimed that I was the one held responsible for her potential death. This was the ‘truth’ in their eyes, as they saw it. And now, this ‘truth’ would be passed on to Blanche as she grew older. I cursed my mental state a thousand fold, and my family, for having persecuted me throughout my childhood and adult life. As far as I could see, they were to be held responsible for the mental state that I now found myself in through their violent and persecutory characters. The Department had merely seized the opportunity, like a Rottweiler who seizes a bone, and refuses to let go. And that bone was my daughter, Blanche.
Entering my mother’s house that night after the hearing was finished, my mother asked how it went.
Poisonously, I looked at my mother, my eyes boring vehemently into her own soulless icy-blue eyes, showing absolutely no remorse.
‘Please, Colleen,’ said Mum, backing away from my cold, hard stare, ‘it wasn’t my fault.’
‘No, it never is, is it?’
‘Hilda,’ said Belinda, ‘you may have tried to say that you were on Colleen’s side, but I agree with her, that five minutes on the witness stand to try and prove otherwise doesn’t mean a thing in the eyes of the magistrate. What you have done today is effectively disclaimed yourself as having any more rights to your daughter.’
‘Yes, Mum’, I cut in. ‘Don’t bother ringing up my social worker in Ballarat asking for my whereabouts, because for the next few years, you won’t hear from me. Is that clear? You’ve done nothing but cause me grief from the time I was a little girl. Maybe you should have had that abortion back in the sixties, regardless of the risks. Oh, and another thing. Thank you very much for being in the background while Wolfgang tried to drown Blanche, and then leaving me with the blame. And, what’s more, thank you for being a savagely cold, callous mother; a sly, evil witch towards me, since I was five years old. I never, ever, want to see you again! You can keep your Nazi-loving utopia to yourself, for I never want to be a part of this family again. You and Wolfgang, yes, and even Berta: all of you have shown your true colours. You will take me and Belinda to the bus stop in the morning, and that will be the last thing I will ever ask from you. As of tomorrow, I no longer require your ill-fated assistance in anything that I choose to do.’
‘Please, Colleen, I didn’t mean anything by it!’ as if Blanche were just a priceless doll, stolen from her rightful owner.
‘Oh, yes, you did! Face it, Mum. It’s not me who’s the unfit parent. It was both you and Dad all along. Both of you should never have had me to begin with. But then you took all your frustrations and anguish out on me. Every step of the way, you did your best to try and sabotage my chances of having a successful, rewarding life. I hope you’re satisfied!’
‘Please, Colleen, can’t you stay for just a few days? We’ll talk about …’
‘No! There is nothing to talk about! Belinda and I will be leaving in the morning!’
The trip back to Ballarat was a long and arduous one. I was thankful that Belinda was beside me, as I used her shoulder to cry on many a time throughout the journey. Waiting at Spencer Street station in Melbourne, my mind in turmoil, I wondered for the umpteenth time why my mother didn’t have an abortion, and put me out of a miserable existence before I entered the world; a world that I had come to despise. Dark storm clouds ‘illuminated’ my path for months to come. I felt as if I was on automatic pilot, going through the everyday motions of university, penning assignments, and still trying to get credits for my subjects, for a degree in Social Science and Australian Politics that I would never use.
My mother tried to obtain my whereabouts, but Graham, true to his word, did not tell her where I was living in Ballarat. I didn’t need her paying me a visit, one that she had prearranged without my knowledge or permission. So many things that my mother did, regardless of whether she had my permission! I sighed heavily, over a cup of coffee. Not caring about my feelings, or the consequences of her actions. No, true to my word, for the next three years of Blanche’s life, I decided to give my mother three years of grief and angst. Then, maybe she would understand what I was going through by not having my daughter by my side. I felt it daily, that there was a little girl out there who was missing in action, and who I would quite possibly never see again, whom I would never cuddle, never say goodnight or good morning to. Furthermore, I would never see her take her first steps, utter her first answer to a teacher’s question, or celebrate her first birthday party.
I hated my family after that, but time heals, to a certain degree, and while I can never forget, nor can I condone what my family and the Department did to me and my child, I have begged for reconciliation on my family’s part. However, it was not forthcoming, and for over 14 years now, I have not made contact with my family.
On 27 July 1999, my mother died from stomach cancer. She was livid with it, and it spread to her liver and her bowels and, within two months, she was dead. Two days prior to her death, she asked Wolfgang to ring me. I had, after the three-year interval of not talking to or contacting her, allowed for her to know my address and telephone number. As she had a phone by her bed, she pleaded with me to come and see her. I refused, saying that all the while you were visiting my daughter, and not once did you tell me how she was with her new ‘parents’, and that she did not inform me of my daughter’s whereabouts.
‘No, Mum, you can die without me’, I said. ‘I’ll come to your funeral to claim the money that is lawfully mine, yes I’m being a hypocrite I know, but I claim that money as compensation money for the family seizing my daughter and throwing her into the arms of the State. No, you won’t see me before you die. If I still can’t visit my daughter, or know of her whereabouts, then there is no need for further discussion. Also, you have betrayed me yet again, because even on your deathbed, you refuse to tell me where she is. Goodbye, Mother! If there is a hell, it’ll be too good for you!’ And with that, I slammed the receiver back onto its cradle. Shortly, the phone rang again, and after Wolfgang told me what an absolute bitch I was, and how could I not care about our mother dying, was absolutely beyond him, I slammed the phone down again, leaving it off its cradle.
A week later, in early August 1999, we buried her, the whole family giving her a send-off. Berta was beside herself with grief, saying that she lost a friend and confidante, Wolfgang lost a mother who worshipped him, while I looked at her coffin with poisonous eyes. I had come only to claim my share of the estate. I hated the woman for, even in death, she had the power to betray and sabotage all my chances of ever seeing my daughter again. She was the only one—or so I thought at the time—who knew of my daughter’s whereabouts. However, at the wake, I had learned that the whole family knew, but because they had pledged allegiance to my mother’s promise of never letting me find out, they didn’t feel at liberty to divulge the information. As Berta said to me during the wake, ‘Blanche is not a member of this family and, Colleen, neither are you. I don’t want you ringing me up anymore, or having anything to do with my family. Is that understood?’
Disheartened, yet relieved, I gave myself permission to remain separated from my family for the rest of my days. I received my inheritance of $55 000, although I still viewed it as blood money. If I did not take it, then I would never own a house, so I decided to take the money and buy a house with it, even though I sold it the following year.
In 2000, I was called upon by my brother to help with twins that his Chinese partner had birthed. He paid the bus fare for my long trek to Eden from Ballarat. Suffering from post-natal depression, with dark circles under her olive complexion, her black hair tousled, and exhausted from lack of sleep, Carly found it difficult to give her twins the attention they deserved. Wolfgang called me on the phone in Ballarat and asked me if I could step in and assist him and Carly. Against my better judgment, I stayed with him and Carly for three weeks.
The first week, Carly was still in hospital, and the nursing staff was rather concerned that my de facto sister-in-law was not feeding her babies. The head nurse at Pambula Hospital decided to call my brother in to try to encourage her to feed the twins, Marina and Marna. Wolfgang sauntered in and, true to form, bellowed, ‘If you don’t feed my daughters, I’ll get that milk bottle and stick it up your arse!’ The head nurse, Veronica, decided to ring the Department of Community Services. Deep down, I was pleased, as it was high time that Wolfgang be held accountable for his actions. However, Wolfgang was terrified and, being terrified, yelled at me, saying that this was my entire fault, for if the Department had nothing to do with me, they would most certainly have had nothing to do with him. But because they had Blanche, they now wanted Marina and Marna, and that, in some warped way, I was once again responsible for someone else’s behaviour. I wanted them to take the children, for I knew that they would have a sorrowful life with him.
The day Jan Richtor visited the house, she left feeling confident that Wolfgang was overly anxious, and that he understood that he had anger management issues to address, which he never would. She was sure that Wolfgang, being a sensible fellow, would not let his anger get the better of him again. Deep down, I knew that the girls would grow into frightened, introverted children, with no real hope of a loving, pleasurable childhood. Just like my own father, Wolfgang would buy their affection through so-called presents, after punishing them severely for things that they were not capable of doing. In other words, he would turn into a psychopathic father, thus moving further and deeper into the character of Mr Hyde.
It was a week later, and Wolfgang was still fuming that the Department had been called in to check on his daughters. ‘That’s your fault!’ he yelled at Carly, and grabbed her from her chair in the lounge room, by her hair, and started belting her around the face. He dragged her downstairs and locked her in the spare room, which was sometimes used as a bedroom. She stayed there for over twenty-four hours an enforced prisoner at the hands of my brother. The following day he released her, and dragged her upstairs, threw her on the bed, and started raping her.
Nursing the twins, I went out onto the balcony, and stayed there until Wolfgang was finished with her. Wolfgang shoved her into the wall after that, and she was left with a grotesque lump on the back of her head, and bruises across her face and eyes. So bad were those bruises on her eyes that she could barely open them for over two weeks. She pleaded all the while for Wolfgang to provide medical treatment for her. It wasn’t forthcoming. Several times, she tried to leave him, but coming from a village deep in the heart of Indo-China, according to her culture, she had no rights as a woman. She didn’t understand that what my brother was doing to her in Australia was against the law. After all, it was seen as Domestic Violence, but she wasn’t to know this, as she spoke very little English. And obviously, my brother was not about to tell her her rights. So, even though she ran a way a few times, she kept returning to Wolfgang’s dangerous arms and venomous tongue, because she had nowhere else to go, and she didn’t know how to access help. I did not ring the police, for I had to consider my own welfare, and as long as I looked after the babies like Wolfgang had asked me to, then no harm would come to me. However, I hated Wolfgang even more after that, for, while my father had a psychopathic temper, he never once belted my mother. Wolfgang, in my opinion, was filthy scum, and all I could do was sincerely hope that in this lifetime the Universe would send its own form of judgment onto him, and that he would be unable to escape it.
While staying with Wolfgang and Carly for three weeks, Wolfgang asked if I was interested in going for custody of my daughter once again. I wanted to refuse, especially after Wolfgang’s violent conduct towards Carly, recently not to mention him trying to murder my own child.
We were both in the kitchen preparing breakfast, and I was heating up Marna’s bottle. ‘Well, do you want to go for custody, or don’t you?’ he said, getting rather agitated that I was a bit slow with my answer. ‘According to Carly,’ he went on, ‘she believes that Blanche is not happy where she is.’
Stupidly, I agreed, however, I knew that I was waltzing with the devil. When I tried for a second time to regain custody of Blanche, the Department went down heavily on the drowning incident, and I was at home in Ballarat when the necessary legal documentation came through for me to look at. Jarred, my old lawyer from Eden, said that my court case was two weeks away.
After packing my bags and making the long, arduous trek to Eden, I met Wolfgang at the bus stop. Carly was not with him; however, the twins were in their capsules in the backseat of his blue Ford station wagon. Wolfgang was in a terrifying mood, saying that Carly kept leaving him all the time, and didn’t she care about her daughters? Wolfgang then turned to me and said that Carly was no different from me, otherwise I would not find myself in the position of having to fight for custody. ‘Two women who don’t care for their children’, he said. ‘Face it, Colleen, you are a hopeless, screwed-up mother. I should not have let you talk me into this in the first place.’ I glared at him in disbelief, hadn’t he forgotten that he was the who had offered? That evening, he was wilder than I had ever seen him, yelling, throwing heavy objects against the wall, and threatening on several occasions to give me a hiding.
The following day, the court case came and went. It was just preliminaries, but I said to Wolfgang I’d be going back to Ballarat that night. After he screamed at me hysterically, saying what an ungrateful bitch I was, and that he might pull out financially, thus leaving my daughter to think that I had abandoned her once again, I was on the afternoon train, the following day, traveling from Sale, Victoria, to Spencer Street Station. I wondered how to pull out of this sticky situation that I now found myself in. Jesus I thought why couldn’t I have just said no? But like the fool I was, I believed he cared, only to once again witness he violent psychopathic rage.
I didn’t have to worry. A letter came in the mail, saying that I had betrayed his trust, that I had lied to him about Blanche’s wellbeing, when it was his partner, Carly, who had informed him that Blanche was not happy where she was. He was pulling out financially. I was left stranded on rocky shores. I wished feverishly once again, that I never took up his offer of financial backing in order to enlist the help of Jarred, my former solicitor in Eden. He knew that if he pulled out financially, I would have to drop the case, as legal aid in New South Wales would not be forthcoming. Why did he offer to give me legal support in the first place, only to betray me and Blanche by withdrawing his financial support, especially now that the court case was underway? Did he enjoy playing with people’s lives, as if we were mere pawns on a chess board.?
At the time of making the offer of trying to get Blanche returned to my care, he was agitated when I was slow to respond. I was slow to respond because I knew that because of his unpredictable nature he could easily pull out of the case. I had only agreed because I was too frightened to decline his offer of legal assistance. Now he was once again twisting the truth and blaming me for saying that Blanche was unhappy where she was. He had conveniently forgotten that it was Carly, his partner, which had made this comment, as he had originally stated. I thought that it would have been better for Blanche, if I received a few blows from him at the time, rather than making a deal with the devil himself. Once again, I had allowed my family to make a fool out of me. I sat at my kitchen table with a hot, steamy mug of pumpkin soup with a dollop of sour cream, trying to tempt myself into eating it. I put the mug down, and started to cry uncontrollably at how I had once again fallen for Wolfgang’s twisted actions. After forcing myself to drink the soup, which was rather comforting, I rang Telstra and had my phone number changed into a silent line. I was not going to keep in touch, as Wolfgang had asked me to.
It is now December 2008 and, while rummaging through boxes of files, I spotted an envelope in my mother’s handwriting, with the date of 21 May 1999, about two months before she died. I poured myself a coffee and, with the sun streaming through the kitchen window, and the cat sprawled out on the cane sofa, I opened the letter and read:
New South Wales
21 May 1999
I am writing this letter before I leave for my final journey, walking through Death’s misty veil, for I know you won’t be there to say goodbye. I’ve only got myself to blame. I want to say that I am sorry for having moved geographically from Germany but not from the Nazi political regime. It was my life. I strongly believed in the perfection of the human race through the belief in the Aryan philosophy. My whole life was moulded into the fanatical allegiance of the swastika and a unified Germany. Also the Great Depression saw Germany buckle at her knees and an authoritarian nationalistic regime seemed the only way forward if Germany was going to recover as a political and economical viable nation.
The Great Depression in the 1930s prior to Chancellor Hitler coming into power saw homelessness and starvation destroy people’s lives in terms of self-respect especially the male population, as Germany was a patriarchal society. It was the male population who were the chief breadwinners providing employment to the family so that food could be brought to the table and goods bought such as shoes and clothing and toiletries. The Great Depression destroyed all of this. Because of The Great Depression, people formed cliques to assist each other in scavenging for food and goods so that a kind of bartering system emerged. Shoes were bartered for flour for instance, and often the shops were looted simply because people were unemployed. Without jobs and money, stealing for basic food staples became a necessary way of life for pure survival.
Fiscally, Germany borrowed from America in order to finance major German companies such as the Krupps steelworks which employed thousands of workers. Their wages had to be paid, and the German banks were responsible for loaning companies money so that the companies could function, be it in the steelworks industry or in the motor car industry.
Unfortunately 24 October 1929 typically known to historians of economics as Black Thursday, saw a sudden crisis of panic selling as the New York Stock Exchange saw prices plummet to an all-time low. The following week on 29 October, Black Tuesday, 16.4 million shares were sold on the New York Stock Exchange for the next 4 decades. Black Tuesday saw ten billion dollars wiped out, twice the monetary amount in the whole of the United States of America. This all had a major flow on affect [sic] in Germany. As America before Black Thursday and Tuesday allowed Germany to borrow from them, German banks, industry and the German populous [sic] relied heavily on the financing from America in order that Germany’s economy was able to function. It was hoped that once Germany was back on her feet after the disastrous inflation years of the 1920s leading towards The Great Depression, she could pay America back over a period of time. But because of the two major crashes on the New York stock exchange Germany fell into its own black hole. German banks were calling in the loans they had made to companies, to farmers, and short term loans needed to be repaid also from industry and the general population. All these loans came originally from America. Business and farms turned to bankruptcy as a way of trying to say to their investors “we are unable to reimburse you.” As a result the German banks had to advise America that they were having difficulty in replenishing the loans financed by America in the first place. As a result banks began to collapse because creditors were either unable to pay the German banks back, so that Germany could pay America back, or they decided to put their funds elsewhere in foreign bank accounts for example as protection for their own individual finances and that of their families. As a result, the German banks were unable to seize their creditors borrowings, in order to repay America.
Because multiple businesses were failing there were attempts to create an internal customs union between Germany and Austria in order to buoy Germany from complete bankruptcy. However this political union failed to emerge due to the Treaty of Versailles. As a result of this failed political union Germany fell into a deep depression. Naturally less money was available to spend on the basic necessities of life.
It was customary for German workers to take out insurance to buffet [sic] them against the unemployment crisis. However as unemployment of workers lengthened, people applied for a crisis payment. This then devolved into “welfare unemployment support” which various states in Germany supported through the local government authorities. These benefits were short lived. German banks, companies and local governments ran out of borrowing power as the United States of America was calling on all its money-lenders to pay them back as America due to Black Thursday and Tuesday was cripplingly broke. The Nazi Party was born out of the Great Depression and on 30 January 1933, just as the world was beginning to recover from the Depression, Adolph Hitler was sworn in as Chancellor for Germany at the approval of President Hindenburg.
As a girl in school and in the German League of Girls—I was 10 years old when I joined them—we were taught that according to the Aryan philosophy, eugenics, or the ideas of Social Darwinism, was to clean [sic] society of any racially impure bloodlines, through the enforced sterilization of so-called useless eaters sub-culture within Germany. Chancellor Hitler extensively studied the book The Princeples [sic] of Human Heredity and Race Hygiene in 1923 while in his prison cell in Landsberg, Barvaria [sic]. He then implemented it into his own book Mein Kampf (My Struggles), where mass-sterilization and mass-euthanasia became law.
In 1934 after Chancellor Hitler had been in power for a year, I learned through the media and from my father, your grandfather, Colleen, that Chancellor Hitler ordered the mass-sterilization of the mentally ill until 1939. Sterilization was then abolished after 1939 because of the outbreak of the war. After the outbreak of war, mass murder through euthanasia, became the preferred choice of eradicating the mentally-ill. However, a further 80,000 mentally ill patients died through starvation, in German and French mental institutions. I decided to have you sterilized, because I honestly believe, and still do, that I was doing you a favour. However, more to the point, I felt that I was doing society an even greater service, ensuring that your negative gene pool that caused your mental illness would not be passed on. The purity of the German race had to be preserved.
During our class room studies and our lectures within the German League of Girls, we learnt that the mass-euthanasia killings, those deemed to be “useless eaters” were given a lethal injection of Phenol. This eradication of the mentally-ill, the blind, the feeble-minded, Gypsies, Slavs, Poles, epileptics, deformed, homosexuals, alcoholics and the criminals of the Germanic population, to save the German Volk (folk) from the risk of infiltration of impure blood, by these so-called genetically inferior sub-groups. Overall, 11 million people died in Nationalist Socialist Germany; 6 million Jews grouped as Lives unworthy of life, and 5 million “useless eaters” such as the deformed, blind and the mentally-ill. According to Chancellor Hitler, the 5 million “useless eaters”, a term he coined, were a severe threat the racially pure bloodlines of the German Volk. The Jews, categorized as Lebensunwertes Lebens or Lives unworthy of life, were considered an economic burden on our people. After all, the Great Depression already saw good German men starve, and through unemployment they were unable to bring food to the table for their families. Sub-human groups had to be eradicated so that “pure German stock”—that is those who were not useless eaters or the Jews—were able to prosper and thrive.
As a fellow German of the day, Colleen, I was totally aware of what was going on. Whenever I said to you “We didn’t know what was going on”, I lied to you and the rest of the family. I did not want to be responsible for taking part in a murderous regime. I did take part, however, and I believed that those who were sub-human needed to be eradicated, if Germany was to rise to the heights that Chancellor Hitler dreamed of, regarding our beloved homeland. Yes, as part of this tyrannical regime, Colleen, we were responsible for murdering 11 million people. To the world it seemed inhumane, senseless and irrational. I believe most strongly, and still do today, that what Chancellor Hitler was trying to achieve, through unification and economic growth could only happen if various sub-groups within society were eradicated. His dream of an Utopian society was admirable, pure and holy. I have always been a fanatical supporter of the regime, and I firmly believe that Chancellor Hitler had excellent intentions, for Germany to become a racially pure and economically viable society. This could only be done through the practice of eugenics in order for the Master Race to be accomplished, and eradication of inferior subgroups, which were an economic burden on society.
Military subscription was compulsory Colleen, and all those who were 18 years old had to join either the navy, air force or the army so that Germany would be ready should it be called to war. German women were given the important task of seeing that their households ran efficiently. Their men folk were well cared for, so that they could perform important duties outside the home. The children were taught the importance of a unified Germany, through discipline, total obedience and conformity. This was imperative if total unification was to be achieved. Everyone had to tow [sic] the line.
As you know Colleen, I was born Hilda Maria Shwarz, in 1926. I was one of eight children, surrounded by six sisters and a brother, who was the first born in the family. I grew up in Southern Bavaria, Chancellor Hitler’s major heartland, in a town called Kempten. Kempten is surrounded by snow-capped mountains, rolling green hills and extensive forests. Kempten, my darling is considered to be the largest city in Allgaeu, and is situated in the south-west of Barvaria [sic]. Kempten was a Reichsfurststift (freie Stadt) Imperial Ducal Abbey (free City) and part of the Imperial Abbey of the Holy Roman Empire from 1213–1802/3. Kempten is famous for its buildings such as the St Lorenz Basilica, the Burghalde Castle, and Ernst Mayr a Biologist born July 5 1904. Mayr was one of the 20th Century’s leading evolutionary biologists, who believed that species of animals, plants and humans should only be allowed to breed amongst their own kind. However the mixture of humanity’s races was to be forbidden. He was famous for his authorship of the book Systematics and the Origin of the Species (1942). He is still considered to be the inventor of the modern philosophy of biology and its introduction of natural history into science.
My hometown Kempten is also famous for housing one of the sub-camps of the Dachau Concentration camp during World War II. Of this I am proud of, as it meant rehabilitation for political prisoners who refused to be involved in a unified Germany. That is, they decided to become rebellious, and any sort of rebellion needs to be dealt with—severely.
On my tenth birthday, in 1936, I joined the German League of Girls, where I began my induction into the philosophy of Nazism. Regular attendance was compulsory. If I didn’t show up, the leaders of the various groups of girls being indoctrinated, would seek me or my friends out, at school or home, and either our parents would be fined, or sent to concentration camps if they were seen as conscientious objectors towards the regime. Remember Colleen, non-conformists were not tolerated in Germany! That is why we punished you whenever we felt that you were not conforming to family unity. When one doesn’t conform to unity, they are seen as a threat and are at risk of tearing a hole in the fabric. We needed to avoid this, because we knew without a doubt that society does not tolerate anyone who is different. You were different, and you needed to be stopped, however for some reason, no matter what we did, you still became a rebel. Your father and I were besides [sic] ourselves.
Colleen, I enjoyed my time with the German League of Girls. I embraced the sports meetings, the patriotic singing around campfires with the moon hanging low in the indigo coloured skies, with the stars hanging like Chinese lanterns, and excursions into the mountains, with our back packs. We enjoyed singing folk songs starting with our wonderful German National anthem: Deutschland Deutschland uber alless. Uber alles in dem weldt! (Germany, Germany, before all)! and our blessed and holy song crafted by the ledgendary Horst Wessel, National Battle Hymn of the Republic(The flag’s held high! The ranks are tightly closed! SA men march with firm courageous tread) and the Song of the Storm Columns, (We are the Storm Columns / we put ourselves about, We are the foremost ranks / courageous in a fight/ With sweating brows from work / our stomachs without food) All these songs were sacred. Other songs were sung depicting the holy days of the People’s Party, such as Hitler’s birthday where it would be declared a national holiday, no different to the Queen’s birthday in Australia.
I was very good with physical education. Both the German League of Girls and the Hitler Youth’s physical routines were strict, and every 10 year old child had to pass various fitness tests. Running 60 metres in 12 seconds, 2 ½ metre long jump, throwing a ball over 20 metres, somersaulting, tightrope walking, 2 hours route marching, and swimming 100 metres, were all compulsory.
As a requirement, I participated in youth hostel weekends, where knowledge of bedmaking, packing of standard equipment, and taking part in various chores at the hostel, were seen as compulsory for hostel life to run smoothly. Refusal to do any of these chores or failure in the fitness tests was severely punished, and rightly so. Remember Colleen, unity was the pre-dominant requirement of the day. Punishment was harsh, it had to be, otherwise the German League of Girls suffered. Without oneness the whole philosophy of the People’s Party would fail and our holy Chancellor would have devised the German League of Girls and The Hitler Youth Movement for nothing. So whipping, verbal abuse, or other persecutory means were necessary for the children to know their place in the Movements. Obedience through conformity was instiled in us like a mantra and our slogans were “might is right,” and in the Hitler Youth “we were born to die for Germany.” It was necessary therefore, for the leaders of the various groups of girls and boys, to crack their riding crops near the person’s ear, if the leader thought that a particular task or fitness test was not done to perfection. Remember, conformity was embraced and rebellion and slovenly behaviour was chastised. This is how the German League of Girls and the Hitler Youth Movement prospered.
Your grandparents—my parents—Colleen, were staunch nationalists, feverishly believing in our glorious Chancellor’s Utopia, and my father, Boris, was a dedicated police officer, working for the secret police known as the Gestapo. He was faithful to the organization and to his leaders, Himmler and Heydriech. Himmler and Heydriech headed the SS, (Schutzstaffel), which was the paramilitary organization within the Nazi Party. The paramilitary consisted of Chancellor Hitler’s bodyguards, security forces including the Gestapo, ie secret police, of which your grandfather, my father was a member of, concentration camp guards, and combat troops. Your grandfather, believed in strict allegiance to the SS and the Gestapo. Your Grandfather, Colleen, believed totally in the Master Race, and he ensured that his family was of “Good German Stock”. We were very fortunate that the gene pool in our family was pristinely pure. Heil Hitler!
Your grandfather, was exceptional in his policing! He was single-minded with the tasks presented to him. He was responsible for hunting down criminals and anyone else opposed to the Nazi dictatorship. Your grandfather, along with his colleagues, would place the undesirables, in concentration camps, where through hard labor they learnt not to rebel, through the slogan: Arbeiten machen freu (Work makes you free). He was also responsible in placing people in mental asylums, where the patient would be euthanised or sterilised. Sterilisation and euthenasia Colleen, was imperative if Germany was to become racially pure.
It was necessary that brutal interrogation on the part of the Gestapo, was implemented, so that the anti-socials or criminals would be coerced in to confessing their dissatisfaction against our Chancellor and the Vaterland. These people sought disunity, and this was dangerous, and as such severe physical punishment was necessary to quell disunity. Bloodied bruised and sometimes killed through interrogation, it was a message to the outside world that Germany would in no way, tolerate dissidents in any form. Unity through conformity would prevail! It had to, according to Hitler, if Germany was to rule the world.
Your grandmother Maria, proudly displayed the Golden Cross that Chancellor Hitler presented to her on his birthday the 30th April, for her Services to Motherhood. Like your grandfather, she also had her part to play in the regime, under The German Women’s Order. This Order was anti-feminist, definitely anti-Semitic and anti-Communist in its political cultural thinking. She was responsible for working in the soup-kitchens, helping with the propaganda campaign of hiding weapons and equipment of Nazi paramilitaries, such as the Brown Shirts. Eventually though the German’s [sic] Women’s Order, ran by a woman named Zanders, collapsed through financial corruption. It was also rumoured that Zanders had an illicit affair with her chauffeur. It was then that the National Socialist Women’s Organization was born, and the women were ordered to remain at home, and solely cater for their children and men folk. We were no longer welcome in public life.
Conformity was practiced totally, and authority was to be obeyed, regardless if the people in authority were ill-formed [sic] or ill-advised. You don’t question authority Colleen, for authority is always right! In school, it was my sacred duty to inform on my fellow students, and their parents if I thought in any way that their allegiance to the Vaterland was displaced. Social Democratic parents were not to be tolerated, and they would be brought in for questioning at their local police station. Remember Colleen, there was only one political party in Germany and that was the Nazi Party. No other political party was to flourish. It couldn’t if total supremacy and total unity were to be achieved. It was then the discretion of the Gestapo as to what disciplinary measures were given. These so-called conscientious objectors were interrogated most harshly. It was after the interrogation that these political upstarts were either housed in Dachau, so that they could be rehabilitated, or placed in a mental asylum if they were seen as mentally sick. Of course they would be either sterilised or after 1939 euthanised, so that good German blood would not become contaminated.
Because of your grandfather’s career, my family was safe, and his military-style of discipline was seen on the home front. Absolute compliance was paramount in the Schwarz family. None of my sisters or my brother, went against our father. If any of us disobeyed your grandfather, they were taken aside and beaten for disobedience. Rebellion, which is the same as exercising individuality, was reprimanded most severely. It was for our own benefit, as well as yours Colleen, if total [sic] unity was to be accomplished. Obeying your grandfather, Colleen was the same as obeying our blessed Chancellor.
All of our social life in Germany was put into place by the Nazi party. Reading material was powerfully ruled by the Bavarian People’s Party. Newspapers and books, which had Chancellor Hitler’s approval were to be seen in our family home while we were growing up. Alternative literature was seen as blasphemous and as such not tolerated, hence book burning rituals of non-Nazi material was common. As a family, we frequented pubs, clubs, theaters festivals, plays, music and dance that were People Party “owned” and therefore approved by Chancellor Hitler.
What a great and glorious day it was Colleen, when the paramilitaries marched into town! Thousands upon thousands of youth lined the streets waving our swastika flags whilst cheering the paramilitaries, and we all screamed in sheer excitement when we glimpsed our Saviour! It was a sight to behold! Sieg Heil! Heil Hitler! And then the National anthem was played Deutschland Deutschland uber alless… and the Battle Hymn of the Republic by our saint Horst Wessel! It was absolutely wunderbar! We all made a beeline for the roped barricades that lined the closed off streets. The police had to gently but firmly urge us to step back from the areas where Chancellor Hitler, his men and the paramilitaries would be marching. If you can imagine the mass hysteria that your favourite pop group Abba was privy to, then you can imagine how insanely delighted we were when Chancellor Hitler and his SS men were marching through Kempten or other nearby towns. He was holy, he was beautiful and he was our Redeemer! We would be set free! No more would we be slaves to Jews, or would impure blood contaminate our race. Chancellor Hitler had seen to that, and every day we were thriving under his regime. We loved him, and each racially pure German citizen went about their duties with a smile on their face, as there was now absolute hope that Germany, like Phoenix would rise from the ashes, and that the Lives unworthy of Life and the Useless Eaters would be eradicated. The good of the Aryan Race was paramount and must flourish, so that Germany could prosper financially socially, and physically. No longer would we fear starvation, or genetic defilement or impurities of contaminated blood coursing through our veins, by geneticaly impure couplings. We were saved! Blessed be Adolph Hitler! Sieg Heil! No longer was Germany supporting the mentally defective, the drug addicts, alcoholics or the Jews! We were free! Through hard work, complete unity and oneness of the Nazi philosophy, our beloved Deutschland would lead the world. We were truly blessed! We remembered our beloved slogans: “we are born to die for Germany,” “might is right” and “Arbeiten machen freu,” (“work makes you free)!”
When I was 14 I went to work in Kasses in 1940 on my Aunt’s farm as part of learning Home Management, that is very loosely, the Australian equivalent of Home Economics through the League of German Girls. I learnt how to run a farm, polish floors, wash windows, preserve fruit, and make jams and all the other necessary tasks that are required to run a house efficiently with meticulous perfection. The beds were made without creases, with precise envelope corners, and the bathrooms and kitchens were scrubbed vigorously, so that no bacteria could germinate. I started at 5 am and finished at 8 pm. I was fit, I was healthy and I was not afraid of hard work. I was aggressive in my work. I was overjoyed that I was assisting the Vaterland by contributing my talents to my home management tasks. As the slogan of the day for women was Kinder, Kuche, Kirche, Children, Kitchen and Church, I ensured that I learnt my career carefully and effectively, being a valued member of the household and learning to work as a member of the team which consisted of my aunt, her husband and my cousins. I thoroughly enjoyed working for the Utopia that was to be ours after the war was won, as surely it would be. Our highly favoured Chancellor promised nothing less!
In 1941, when the war was three years old, I worked for the local telephone exchange in Kempten, linking callers up with friends and relatives. Part of my job description was randomly listening to callers so that those who were against the regime could be reported. This was vital and important work. After all, Germany was at war, and antagonists had to be dealt with. Naturally I reported these people to my supervisor, after noting who they were, where they were calling from, and who they were speaking to. The Gestapo was informed. Like every other German person of the day, I was just following orders, and I will not be condemned for that!
Your paternal grandfather on the other hand, was a staunch Social Democrat, who didn’t like Hitler one bit. In fact most parents of the 1920’s onwards were Social Democrats, and he was thrown into Dachau for being a conscientious objector against the Hitler regime. This is a classic example Colleen, where renegade behaviour will not be tolerated. These stupid Social Democrates [sic] were blight on the New World Order proposed by our Chancellor. They had to be stopped in order to prevent political disunity. As I mentioned [sic] before Colleen, total unity must be maintained for our Chancellor’s political regime to blossom.
Dachau, Colleen, was originally a concentration camp for political prisoners which opened on 22 March 1933. Built on an abandoned munitions factory near the medieval town of Dachau, it was situated approximately 16 km northwest of Munich, in southern Germany. Both the National Socaialist Party (Nazi) and the Catholic Zentrum Party were responsible for the opening of this particular camp, however the Zentrum Party dissolved on 6 July, 1933. According to Heinrich Himmler, police president of Munich, he described the camp as “the first concentration camp for political prisoners”. In total 200,000 prisoners from over 30 countries were accommodated in Dachau with one third of the Dachau populous [sic] Jewish.
Dachau was responsible for the deaths of a further 25,613 so-called political prisoners, who died from malnutrition, suicide and disease. But that is war, and the deaths were not in vein [sic]. Total unity to the end had to be established so our German population would not become discouraged. It was most unfortunate that in 1945 a typhus epidemic followed by an evacuation was responsible for large numbers of prisoners’ deaths.
In 1945 we were shocked and dismayed when the American forces invaded our beautiful homeland to liberate us. Soon I learnt that Chancellor Hitler had committed suicide. Our New World Order and purity of the Master Race had died a slow and bitter death. We were made to look like fanatical mindless fools, and that is exactly what we were. How true the saying: All we like sheep had gone astray… Yet, for my whole life I followed the philosophy of the regime for the simple reason that it was in my blood and that I and your father, knew of no other way to live.
Your father, I’m sorry to admit became a professional thug in the Hitler Youth movement, not to mention psychopathic in his behaviour. He believed totally as we all did, that blind allegiance to authority, even if authority was misguided was of the utmost importance if complete unity was to prevail. That is why he treated you so harshly and with a certain amount of contempt. However, you saw through it all, and that is why you fought it at every turn. We should have believed you and believed in you but we didn’t. We have been slaves to the political regime all our lives. You can move from your country of origin, but it is totally another thing to move away from the beliefs that were instilled in us like a second layer of skin. I tried therefore to instil it in all my children. However with you I failed miserably. You could see right through it. I should never have underestimated your perceptiveness or your intelligence.
Your father, Hans, was born in Dingolfing, famous for the BMW motor car plant. Several rivers run through the town of Dingolfing meeting the Danube, the most important rivers being the Isar and the Vils. As each town or region has its own Coat of Arms, Dingolfing is no exception, with the blue and white checkered pattern depicting Bavaria, the lion from the arms of the county of Leonberg which used to rule Landau and the red and white bars from that arms of the county of Frontenhausen which was responsible for ruling Dingolfing. In recent modern day history Dingolfing has now merged with Landau; this merge came about in 1972. The whole region of Dingolfing–Landau relies on the motor car industry, in regard to its economy.
Your father stayed with his father and stepmother in Dingolfing. However, couldn’t wait to join the Hitler Youth Movement because of its family like atmosphere that the Nazi propaganda machine advertised. When his tenth birthday came about in 1931, he joined up almost immediately. He hated his village, his parents for divorcing, and the local parish priest who threatened him and his parents with the fiery furnace of Hell. The Hitler Youth Movement was the answer. That was his religion and that is what he also dreamt of—a unified Germany possibly because from a child’s perspective his home life was so fragmented. He enjoyed the hikes, the camp fires and the patriarchal singing which stood him in good stead when he decided to join the Kriegsmarine, at 18 years old. But, as I just stated, all the Hitler Youth Movement really did was turn him into a professional psychopathic thug, with no real thought for his fellow man, and blind allegiance to the Nazi flag and swastika.
Discipline was rife, and in order to be successful in the Hitler Youth, you didn’t complain, for if you did you were seen as weak. Allegiance to authority regardless of whether authority was misguided was seen as strength, and being punished for things you didn’t do was to build stoicism and stamina with an iron clad spirit, or as Hitler termed it: “Triumph of the will!” in all sorts of adversity. Your father’s adherence to Nazism was staunch, and he was brainwashed in his belief that authority was always right. That is why he punished you and unmercifully belted you. He never thought to question authority for to question it was like committing a major crime against the unity and conformity of the family and society in general. As I said before, we were both staunch Nazi Party believers, and our regime was to follow us for the rest of our days.
In 1947 I met your father on a hiking journey with some of my sisters. The war was over, but Germany was having a hard time getting the nation back on its feet. Food clothing and other basic necessities were hard to come by but somehow everyone in my circle seemed to manage, though we knew that Germany would be in for a long hard struggle, before she could politically and economically stand her ground, and become self-sufficient once again. Your father and I went rock climbing, skiing, or just frolicking in the meadows in the spring, when the wild flowers were blooming.
Your father, Colleen, cycled the 10 kilometre journey to my parents’ house where we would meet up and after four months of doing this your father proposed to me in a nearby forest where the scent of pine assaulted my senses, making me a little heady, and pine cones littered the forest floor. We even had the good fortune of seeing a deer or two. It was a whirlwind marriage. I had only known your father for a brief time. I guess I would have preferred Tony, your father’s mate. But there you have it. One does not always get what one wants in life. He had a beguiling personality, your father, and I found it rather hard to resist. In September 1947 the beginning of autumn, we were married.
I was a picture of virginal innocence, wearing your grandmother’s bridal gown and veil that went past my shoulders. My long dark brown hair was combed back with tortoise shell hair clips. White high-heeled shoes embellished my feet, and a mother-of-pearl necklace bejewelled my neck. My arms were adorned with a bouquet of white roses with sprigs of fern. Your father wore a black suit with a white shirt and a black tie, with a gold tie pin. In his button hole he had a sprig of fern with a white rose. We secured our marriage in one of the many catholic churches, Kempten is famous for. It was so long ago that I have forgotten which church! After the wedding we were greeted with well-wishes from our families and friends with a wedding banquet to feed over 40 guests. We feasted on roast pork, potatoes, sauerkraut and steins of ale with tumblers of wine, which after the war was considered to be slightly extravagant. Part of the reason for this was that Germany was still recovering from the war.
From my perspective, Colleen, it was not a happy marriage. I had wanted to leave your father on numerous occasions, but somehow didn’t have the gumption to explain to your grandfather that I had made a mistake. So for five years I went to work before your eldest brother was born, having to endure your father’s severe mood swings. It was as if a bleak dark cloud hung over him, alternating between a jovial man and a man that was bitterly angry, when his dark moods assailed him. But because of my training in the German League of Girls, I bore it stoically. As marriages were rather expensive affairs, especially so soon after the war in 1947, I didn’t want to burden my parents with a divorce that would have been out of the question and having to move back home full of shame.
After the war, your father hated Germany, and wanted to get out of the country. As a nation we were all humiliated once more because of Germany’s stupidity, first in the First World War and now in the Second World War. Emigration, according to your father, seemed to be the only way to leave behind my beloved homeland that was now flanked by a demoralised society, responsible for the deaths of millions through mass killings and the corridors of war. I guess today we would call it crimes against humanity, though of course no true patriotic German saw it that way. We believed that we were doing humanity a favour and that our acts during the war were not criminal. Even the medical experiments were necessary, otherwise how could the advancement of medical science blossom? Don’t forget Colleen, there are plenty of drugs on the market that are still being manufactured today, since Nazi Germany when they were discovered. I must confess that even today in May 1999, I still believe that we were doing humanity a favor. So do I apologise for what went on? No! I do not.
It was the spring of 1951 Colleen, and I was preparing your father’s dinner of pork chops, potatoes and sauerkraut, when your father came home from work. My eyes were sparkling in anticipation as I turned around and gave him a lingering kiss on his lips. ‘Mein liebchen, we’re going to have a baby! Around February 1952 if all goes well.’ I smiled at your father, who joyfully took two wine tumblers from the mantelpiece above the hearth and poured a celebratory wine.
‘Wunderbar!’ he said laughing and crying at the same time. “We’re leaving Germany, Hilda. This is not the country for our children any more. We go to Canada or Australia, where we’ll be free of the stain on our country that Hitler has left behind. We will get our papers in order and then put our names down.’
I turned my back on him after that, and busied myself at the stove. I did not want to leave my homeland. In spite of the scourge that Hitler had left, I still had my family here, my mother especially. I wanted my children to grow up surrounded by aunts, grandparents and my brother. But I knew that I had to obey Hans. After all, he was my husband, and I had to follow him wherever he went.
The following day, your father put the papers in and we waited. Hans Junior was born in the winter of 1952 and in August of 1953, through a lottery based system, our numbers came up for Australia.
I was shocked and frightened. A sudden tidal wave of loneliness swept over me, but I held my feelings stoically inside, not wanting your father to notice how afraid I really was. Like a good German housewife, I obeyed Hans, for to disobey him was very similar to disobeying Hitler. However, I was disappointed that Canada bypassed us. Two of my sisters had already gone over there, and now I knew what isolation was all about. Australia didn’t bear [sic] thinking about, however the lottery system chose Australia, and I felt the pangs of loneliness keenly.
Finally the day came when all my relatives stood on the port side dock of Bremerhaven, in front of the Fair-Sea, tears pouring down our faces, as no-one knew if we would ever meet each other again. Hans Junior was 18 months old, and dressed in leder hosen and a checkered shirt. Oma (my mother) clutched him to her one last time. Then holding on to me she said, ‘If it doesn’t work out, come home to me. There is always room for you Hilda.’
Finally your father ushered his small family up the gang plank, depositing our small belongings into our two cabins. Even though it was 1953, it was still social policy to separate the men from the women, even if they were married. This didn’t bother me, as I was sea-sick for most of the voyage, and was extremely thankful when the ship finally docked in Port Melbourne some four months later. Finaly, after boarding the ship your father found me with our small son, and joining us on the upper deck waved once more to our families. I clutched the rails of the ship trying to catch one last glance of my family, waving franticly [sic] into the crowd. People were pushing and shoving to get to the front of the rails of the deck, so they too, could see their families for one last time. Colourful streamers lit up the rails and the port of Bremerhaven, as people shouted their farewells. Who knows if they would ever meet again? The ship’s horn sounded and the tug boats assisted the Fair- Sea out of Bremerhaven, as she made the long voyage to Australia.
Your father explained to me that the Fair- Sea was considered to be a Class C3 in shipping terms, built by Sun Shipbuilding & Drydock Co., in Chester USA, in 1941. Originally she was to be a passenger cargo ship, built to carry 70 people. However, the US Navy commissioned her for military duties, where she served faithfully, with pride and honor during convoy duties in the North Atlantic, and Pacific Oceans.
After her release from tour of duty with the American Navy, she was purchased by a shipping tycoon Alexander Valsov, founder of Sitmar Cruises. He refurbished her and she became a passenger ship ferrying 1,800 passengers between Europe and Sydney, Australia. Originaly she was built to ferry only 1,460 passengers. Her first maiden voyage began in 1949 from Genoa---- Italy, to Sydney, before permanently docking in Bremerhaven, Germany, to ferry migrants to Australia.
The journey was tumultuous, with huge waves crashing against the hull of the ship which lacked stabilizers. I vomited unceasingly. The voyage to Australia in August 1953 took four months, and for most of that time, I was lying on my back, spewing into a bucket that your loving father left for me. If I had the strength I would have thrown it at him. I had never felt so crook in my young life. Finally, in December of 1953, when Robert Menzies was in power until 1966, we docked in Manjaree which is aboriginal for Gathering Place in Port Fremantle, the Western gateway to Australia. Hundreds of migrants disembarked from the Fair -Sea to call the West their home. I wanted to settle in the West but your father was stubborn, so I had to endure another day on the Fair-Sea before it docked in Port Melbourne. We were shuttled to Spencer Street Station to be ferried by train to Bonegilla a migrant camp in Albury/Wodonga. I was grateful for the meals I could now digest, and for the beds we could sleep in without the fear of being rocked about senseless, as we had been while on the Fair- Sea. However, even Bonegilla had its drawbacks as all of us migrants were housed in iron roof barracks that were freezers in winter and a potter’s kiln in summer.
Your father and I found jobs in Peter’s Ice Cream, and Arnotts/Brockoff biscuit factories, and your father disgraced himself by spewing up on the train while travelling back to the camp, after gorging on so many ice creams! Eventually your father moved our family to Traralgon where he secured a job with Australian Paper Mills as a qualified fitter and turner. He was a skilled marine engineer back in Germany, however his qualifications were not recognized in Australia. Because of this he started from the bottom, and worked his way up the employment ladder with that particular company. He finished his Matriculation at Ye Lorne Technical College in the La Trobe Valley, South Eastern Victoria, and pursued his engineering studies while simultaneously working at APM. We secured a mill house in Traralgon, where in 1956 I gave birth to Wolfgang and Berta. In the summer of 1963 I found myself pregnant with you, Colleen. Four years later, while your father still worked for APM we moved to Melbourne’s eastern suburbs. Our life in Australia had well and truly begun!
All ended there
yet all began
all sank in dissolution
and rose renewed
Two years later, I sold my house, after an unsuccessful marriage to a Vietnam Veteran, who suffered from alcoholism. While living with my husband in Ballarat, Wolfgang’s murderous rage towards me continued, as I discovered a home-made time bomb ticking in my laundry, waiting to explode. I dismantled the bomb myself, purely on instinct, my heart in my throat, while muttering a prayer to the heavens Wolfgang, obviously displeased that the bomb didn’t go off, decided to poison my six-month-old Rottweiler instead. To me this was his calling-card, and once again I felt that my life was physically in danger. Two days later, my glass table on the front balcony was smashed, and I found Wolfgang skulking away. I noticed a rock near the table that he had obviously used.
I thought about my marriage to Walter, his alcoholic rages, and Wolfgang’s poisonous hatred towards me. The time for me being abused was over. I put my house on the market, and bought another house in Ballarat, while simultaneously purchasing a car. Unfortunately, my husband—who had a restraining order out against him—found my new address. He decided to move back in without my permission. One afternoon, I sent him to the supermarket while I packed my car, and literally drove off into the sunset. The time had arrived where I would create a new life for myself. With no real direction, I found myself in South Australia— at the seaside town of Goolwa, on the Fleurieu Peninsula, and stayed in a caravan park for four weeks. I decided to rent a unit for about a year. Around Christmas 2001, I was able to successfully divorce my husband. I decided to do some soul-searching about what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Joining a meditation circle, I found peace and serenity, and I realised that I had a talent for writing. Maybe this time my third dream wouldn’t be shattered.
I also found solace in baking and bringing my cakes to the Goolwa, Victor Harbor and Middleton country markets, and was pleased and surprised at the number of orders for cakes that I took from customers. However, after a while, I changed from cakes to New Age books. I learned the tarot, and numerology, and that, along with the stalls, became my bread and butter. I simply loved the colourful stalls and the market atmosphere, and the people who came from Adelaide to talk and rummage through the stalls. After twelve months, I gave up my unit and took up a van site in Wellington, on the cusp of the Fleurieu Peninsula. I became engrossed in writing, mainly poetry, and leading a sedentary life, allowing my emotional and spiritual wounds time to heal.
In between writing and living the life of a solitary, I travelled the Limestone Coast, saw my first cave, which reminded me of an underground castle with moats of water, and saw, with awe and astonishment, the Blue Lake at Mount Gambier. I will never forget the magic of that lake and how, like a magnet, it compelled me to be drawn to its pristine turquoise blue, remnants of a now extinct volcano. I was reminded of Tennyson’s poem, The Lady of Shallot, with the Lady rowing in her boat, filled with roses and water lilies. I could have stood there forever and just looked, so hypnotised was I by its magical, shimmering surface and blue-coloured grandeur.
And now, it was all over. I was the woman who was unchaste, immoral, a burden on the family, a slut and an alley cat and a mental defect. After Blanche was born, it was my mother who ensured, through sterilisation, that never again would I bear another child. And I, coerced as always, into doing things that I knew were against my better judgment. Courageously, I tried to fight for my civil rights as a human being, so desperate to find my niche in the world, and so disheartened that my civil liberties were squashed, like an orange on the pavement. Overwhelmed, with cyclonic winds sweeping over me, leaving my limbs torn and scattered, it would take ten years for my psychological scars to heal.
Upon reflection, while mesmerised by the Blue Lake, I thought of glossy magazine covers, displaying the perfect family. Adolph Hitler had bred into the German populous the importance of purity within the German race. The fear of being different was not to be tolerated, and, through the perfection of eugenics, racial purity was the Holy Grail of Nazism. For Nazism severely punished those who were different and seen as a threat to conformity, and to social cohesion in general. The theory of eugenics is the theory of fear. Through eugenics and Social Darwinism, difference is abolished, and if that is unsuccessful, ongoing, persecutory means will flourish in order to try to breed conformity into that individual. Unfortunately, my parents were steeped deeply in Nazi rhetoric, thinking that I was bringing shame upon the family by not conforming. Fearing for my welfare, they behaved in the only way they knew how, and that was taught to them in their youth through the Hitler Youth and the German League of Girls. Everyone is unique, no two snowflakes are the same, and, instead of condemning uniqueness and difference, as a society we should be celebrating and treasuring it.
Blanche is now sixteen years old, and has been formally adopted by the people she has been living with for most of her young life. I, naturally, had no say in the matter. Apparently, it is law in New South Wales that, at the age of twelve, children can divorce their natural parents and live with the adults of their choice. While I am hurt, saddened and, yes, to a degree, angry, there is nothing I can do about it. I have to live with the fact that she made this decision based on the departmental advice and so-called life-history of her biological mother, as the Department saw it through the eyes of Jan Richtor and Clayton Savage. Deep down, I know—and from conversations with protective workers over the years—that Blanche believes that I did try to drown her, and that I was physically abusive to her. It didn’t matter how hard I tried to clear my name, the departmental workers were not going to rectify the files, or the lies they told her. It seems that they did not want to admit that they were in the wrong when it came to laying the blame at my footstool. Whenever the need arose, they made sure that they could denigrate me whenever and wherever they thought it necessary. After all, the jobs of the child protective workers would have been in jeopardy had they chosen to correct my files, and admit to the deliberate error of their ways, regarding their falsifying of reports about me, Blanche’s mother.
I remember that, when I went to court to try to regain custody of her after my mother died, a protective worker rang me up after my brother pulled out of the case financially. That was after I had assisted him with his twin daughters, Marina and Marna. She accused me of abandonment, and that I was to blame for the potential drowning of my six-month-old child. ‘Furthermore,’ she stated to me on the phone, ‘Blanche knows that you are an unfit mother, and not to be trusted. She does not want anything more to do with you, Colleen.’ I cried bucketfuls for weeks after that. Now I’m resigned to the fact that Blanche has allowed herself, through no fault of her own, to be adopted by the Jenkins under misleading information that the Department has passed on. The Department, as recently as 2008, did what they called a ‘Life Story’ of me and my family, without once consulting me, or allowing me to read it and check over the facts. I think that it is ironic that they base all their information on misleading allegations and information, just so they can save their own precious faces, and justify their positions while working for the Department.
Time isn’t a healing balm, and the damage that the Department and my family have created will always haunt me and my child for the rest of our days, such as the lies that have been architecturally designed and meted out as punishment from the family and protective officers by orchestrating under duress the relinquishment of my child. Berta and Wolfgang continue to despise me, and their abandonment of me will follow them and me to the grave. Neither of them showed remorse or any sort of responsibility of their actions towards me and my daughter. Discarding her and myself to the mountainous piles of human flesh that Adolph Hitler termed “useless eaters” showed me how cold and calculatingly callous they were towards me, their sister. Even though my family emphatically stated how they hated the Hitler regime, they turned out to be Nazi sympathisers agreeing with his philosophies regarding those who were non-conformists.
Aside from the family and Department is the myriad number of psychiatrists who were also at fault through misdiagnoses, malpractice and medical negligence, regarding my wrongful diagnosis of schizophrenia. Not to mention their over zealous use of the drug largactil and modecate which caused me to vomit constantly for over a year before my body accepted it, plus the side-effects of blurred vision, overweight, and body movements so stiff that it was like being housed in a chemical straight-jacket. The doctors I believe, deliberately misled me by informing me that the drugs were non-addictive – they were - and that the medication they coerced me to take, would fail to leave me pregnant and that contraception was not necessary, despite frequent acts of love-making. These psychiatrists were wrong and should have been brought to justice, via the courts. However it is virtually impossible for psychiatrists to be held accountable for their actions, as they justify themselves and their treatment towards their clients as perfectly normal, medical treatment, claiming that they alone know what’s best for their patients. I was labelled incorrectly as schizophrenic, and who listens to the voices of the insane? After all we are supposed to have no opinions of our own. Unfortunately most if not all psychotropic medication is about as helpful today, as cold and hot water therapy given to lunatics in insane asylums in the 1800’s. Most psychiatric drugs on the market today are no better then the average placebo that is used in controlled experimental research before new medication is released on to the market. In short I believe that the psychiatric industry is one of the most fraudulent industries in health science today and that it is no wiser since the first asylum, Bedlam Hospital in England over 300 years previously. Through false claims and advertising in medical journals most medication has found its way into the pharmaceutical market, with doctors prescribing the medication to their clients, without making patients aware of the side-effects and blatantly claiming that the drugs cure the various illnesses. There is no such thing as a cure in psychiatry, yet psychiatry is responsible for the high volume of people that have become addicted to psychotropic medication. Psychiatry is largely responsible for the high volume of people joining support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous every year. Psychiatrists from a legal perspective are the biggest drug pushers in the medical profession aside from their illegal counterparts on the streets. It is because of my own misdiagnosis that I suffered the loss of my child, because my family and the Department decided to listen to the voice of so-called experts rather then listen to those people, including myself, who did not work in the field, that the doctors may have got it wrong.
Sadly, my mother was a “wolf in disguise,” shedding her animosity onto me like thick, black, sticky tar, almost from the time I was born. She could have given me up—in fact, she should have—but she kept me to keep up appearances, and not be tagged as an unfeeling, uncaring mother by relinquishing her fourth child. After all, she didn’t want the neighbours whispering that she had decided to rid herself of the fourth child because she did not want it. She bore her lot in life stoically, as all Germanic women were taught to do, especially in Hitler’s ‘utopian’ Germany. But, by bearing her lot stoically, I had become the scapegoat of the family, treated no differently from the so-called misfits of Nazi Germany, psychologically and physically beating me until my family abandoned me, and allowed me to grieve alone in silence. Bertha once said to me, ‘Why don’t you just get on with your life, Colleen, and forget that you ever had a child?’ However, I can never forget, nor do I want to. For me, the spiritual umbilical cord of motherhood will never be severed. Try as they might, the Jenkins are not Blanche’s parents.
As I said before, my life has taken on a more sedate role of writing, reading and reflection, all with a spiritual slant. I have been fortunate to acquire two certificates regarding state-run poetry competitions, with publications in literature magazines, and the publication of my first poetry book, The Mystique’s Cry. In my spare time, I give tarot readings to people, chart their numerology numbers, while also doing flower readings. Spiritualism has become a way of life for me.
Endless walks upon sandy, sun-filled beaches with azure skies have managed to quash any feelings of despondency that I have about losing my daughter. Maybe one day I will see her again, maybe not. I just live in the moment, not worrying about the past or the future, although this philosophy isn’t always successful! I have tried to reconcile with my family, but they have declined to accept the olive branch of peace. That is their choice.
Until the Universe decides to reunite us, she is in the wind that caresses my cheeks, the wave’s that lap against my body and the occasional dolphin that I chance to meet. Goodbye, child of my soul, I will love you forever!