I still feel forgotten – 12 years on from Rudd’s apology to Forgotten Australians

An apology to Forgotten Australians was clearly needed

It’s been 12 years since 11 am on Monday, the 16th of November 2009, when Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologised to the “Forgotten Australians” and to former child migrants.

As a Forgotten Australian, Samilya only has this one bedraggled photo of herself from her eight horrendous years at St Joseph’s Orphanage, Neerkol. Samilya had yearned for this apology and hoped that her life would be better once it was made. Surely the little girl in the photo deserved an apology, for all the abuse and neglect she had suffered.

The 2004 Forgotten Australians report by the Senate Committee validated the horrors Samilya, and many other Forgotten Australians had described and noted their lifelong consequences:      

The long term impact of a childhood spent in institutional care is complex and varied. However, a fundamental, ongoing issue is the lack of trust and security and lack of interpersonal and life skills that are acquired through a normal family upbringing, especially social and parenting skills. A lifelong inability to initiate and maintain stable, loving relationships was described by many care leavers who have undergone multiple relationships and failed marriages. Many cannot form trust in relationships and remain loners, never marrying or living an isolated existence.

The Senate Committee’s first recommendation was that a national apology be made to the children in institutional care who were its victims.    

It took a long time to apologise

No one wanted to rush to an apology, and five long years after the Forgotten Australians report was tabled, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologised to the “Forgotten Australians” and to former child migrants. On behalf of the Australian people the Prime Minister stated that we, the Australian people, were sorry:

 Sorry – that as children you were taken from your families and placed in institutions where so often you were abused.

Sorry – for the physical suffering, the emotional starvation and the cold absence of love, of tenderness, of care.

 Sorry – for the tragedy, the absolute tragedy, of childhoods lost – childhoods spent instead in austere and authoritarian places, where names were replaced by numbers, spontaneous play by regimented routine, the joy of learning by the repetitive drudgery of menial work.

 Sorry – for all these injustices to you, as children, who were placed in our care.

I hoped this apology would make a difference

Samilya hoped that this apology, unlike the two other formal apologies she had already received, would make a significant difference to her wellbeing. Samilya was clearly moved but the apology when she blogged the following in the lead up to the national apology:

Today is 4 November 2009. I have forgotten a day but today went well. I finally got out of bed after talking to myself and doing a workout before going to work. That is a choice. But 57 years ago the choices were taken away, and from many others, who were abandoned and put into orphanages. November 16 is sorry day for all of us. It was not about sorry or the money. It was and still is about the truth behind the disadvantaged kids, who are now adults and still misplaced.

A few days after the national apology Samilya wrote again:

Pain is cruel to live by. I lived with pain as a little girl from my abandoned past. Now I would like to die as it is lonely and I am in pain. No wonder the elderly don’t want to live, I have finally come to this point, body pain is horrible how does anyone want to live in a world without love and not knowing love from parents, or family. That was the hardest pain of all.

16th November 2009 was a great day it was the sorry day. It meant a lot as it all finally came out that we were telling the truth. Can anyone describe love and how to be loved by one self? How can you love yourself when you weren’t loved as a child?

I am still forgotten and misplaced

Not long after Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made the apology, Samilya’s view of it changed.

I am now living in the past since going to the third apology night at the state library and I couldn’t go to Kevin Rudd’s one yesterday, I watched it on youtube. It was very painful as I still can’t seem to understand, I have written and emailed before and have gotten no reply and this to me is very confusing, I have gone backward not forward, I missed my psychiatrist appointment due to this, not good. I have to wait now till I see my doctor. Having some kind of faith in any system is very hard for me and for my family to trust. It has affected my daughters in many ways and my sons, I also emailed the Sisters of Mercy about the Royal Commission and all they can say is that they hope this makes families understand, but what about making us understand and why wasn’t this done years ago? Unless you lived in the shoes of us you will never understand or be able to. I would like to add my name to the list for the Royal Commission as I wasn’t heard the last time. So much more needs to be said. I am the one who is still left in limbo and believes in hell and heaven and I will be struck by the devil if I am bad. I have emailed others in the government and no reply so I am still forgotten and misplaced.

Did “sorry” make 2021 better?

Many Forgotten Australians are still awaiting payments through the National Redress Scheme which was established after the Royal Commission into Institutional Sexual Abuse concluded in 2013.  The Redress Scheme offers payments of up to $150,000 but the average payment is only $80,000 and the process is slow, arduous and for many who apply, re-triggering of their trauma. There has been no similar scheme for F0rgotten Australians who were not sexually abused, but who were violently abused and neglected.

There has been no easy pathway for Forgotten Australians to access welfare and health care services, including Centrelink, without having to repeatedly tell their story. Although there is assistance and support through organisations such as Lotus Place, Open Place, Relationships Australia and Care Leavers Australasia Network (CLAN).

Forgotten Australians have petitioned for a Health Care Card for medical and dental care for all Forgotten Australians. The card would provide ease of access to health care and government services similar to the Gold Card for Veterans. The petition seems to have lost impetus despite having almost 7,000 signatures and can be found here:

Petition · A Health Card for Medical & Dental Care for all Forgotten Australians. · Change.org

Samilya states:

Forgotten Australians have lost out on so much, no learning, no choices and no justice. Not enough funding for health needs.

 

Book Launch!! Not Forgotten: They called me Number 10 at Neerkol Orphanage

Stop asking my husband “Did you push her?”

“Did you push her?” has been the awful question frequently addressed to my husband, in my presence, after I broke my ankle 5 weeks ago. I fell down our stairs, he wasn’t home.

When I first heard people ask him “Did you push her?” I was shocked but assumed it was a one-off tasteless comment. Now I’ve heard it multiple times, from both genders. Often from strangers who know nothing about us, but sometimes from friends who should know better.

Even a health worker asked him “Did you push her?”

Yesterday I went for a blood test about an unrelated matter. The phlebotomist, a health worker, asked him “Did you push her?”  She had just been alone in the room with me and certainly had not checked for domestic violence. That was the only time I’d been alone with a health worker, without my husband, who has been transporting and caring for me since my accident.

“Did you push her?” is not funny.

“Did you push her” is not a joke. I’m not laughing and neither is my husband. It minimises domestic violence and it’s silencing of victims. Imagine being a victim of domestic violence and someone jokingly asks the perpetrator (in your presence) if he pushed you. He’s certainly not going to admit it and she’s likely to be too fearful to say anything. The question itself may increase her danger by antagonising the perpetrator.

Don’t assume you can recognise a victim of domestic violence

Maybe you’re thinking they’re only asking my husband “Did you push her?” because its so obvious I am not a victim of domestic violence. That argument assumes a domestic violence victim can be identified at first glance by a stranger. None of my recent clients who had been attacked in their homes by their partners had a sign on their heads saying “victim of domestic violence”.  They do not have downcast eyes. Their clothes aren’t torn and bedraggled. They do not have obvious bruises. They were all women – a busy, thoughtful mum of 4 children, a successful businesswoman and an older semi-retired woman (who looked a lot like me).  All were in dangerous situations.

Don’t assume you can recognise a perpetrator of domestic violence

“Did you push her?” also assumes that a perpetrator can be identified easily.  I have lost count of the times clients have told me that violent perpetrators in the home, were upstanding community citizens. You cannot recognise a perpetrator through a casual interaction.

“Did you push her?” belittles the high rate of domestic violence in Australia.

These statistics are from Mission Australia:

16% of women (1.5 million) and 5.9% of men (528,800) have experienced physical violence from a partner since they were 15.

On average, one woman per week is killed by a current or former partner.

On average, one male per month is killed by a current or former partner.

Stop giving tacit approval for domestic violence

“Did you push her?” along with the nudge nudge, wink wink, that I’ve often seen accompanying the question, seems to carry with it tacit approval that it’s ok to push a woman down the stairs. Is this really 2021? Have we learnt nothing? The question disgusts and saddens me.

How you can help if you suspect an injury was caused by domestic violence?

First stop asking “Did you push her?”

  • Take the victim aside. Privately and quietly ask them what happened.
  • Ask them directly “did someone hurt you?”
  • Believe them if they tell you they were abused.
  • Respect them if they don’t want to talk about it.
  • Ask what you can do to help.
  • Direct them to 1800Respect the Domestic Violence Hotline
  • If they are in immediate danger call 000

How many tears did I miss while doing Telehealth?

Wow, what a year! As a psychologist, the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic barrelled through my work, rest, and play, leaving me besieged with questions.

Work

Telehealth equipment including laptop, phone, earphones, tissues.One week I was delivering face to face therapy, the next week I was huddled in my spare bedroom providing telehealth on the phone and through video for 8 weeks. Clients embraced the technology, and therapy continued much the same as it had before, or did it?

Did clients feel safe to talk?

I spoke with clients who were secluded in their cars, curled up in their bedrooms, or who had escaped to a park. We work so hard to make our therapy rooms a place of safety and comfort, and they laid abandoned.  Now I could hear other people in the house, or strangers wandered past as we talked. How were our conversations altered by the lack of confidentiality?

What happened to that space where clients travel to and from therapy?

The coming to and going from therapy is part of the reflective process. You make space and time for yourself, travel there, arrive, settle in, engage in therapy, and then travel away.  What is the impact on the therapeutic process when you just move from the lounge to your bedroom, or when you continue doing chores or parenting while you talk?

How many times did I interrupt the process of therapy?

I would barge in asking “Can you still hear me”? Or ask clients to repeat themselves as I strained hearing only every fourth word on a video call because of that annoying delay. Those spaces of time where no one speaks have a  multitude of meanings in therapy: “I don’t know what to say next”, “I’m overwhelmed”, “I’m angry or sad or tired”,” I’m reflecting and processing”, “It’s too much”, “Stop, “Go on”.  The silences were much harder to navigate on the phone or even by video.

How many tears did I miss?

I learned that the glistening of teary eyes is impossible to see over the phone and difficult over video. How many times did I not pause to honour the tears? How many other emotions did I misinterpret or not notice?

How do I hold space for clients when I am navigating the same storm?

As therapists, we become adept at tracking and managing our own emotions during sessions so that the focus remains on the client. I’ve been aware of an increased need to do this as clients express their fears, grief and anger of living through a pandemic. I could so often say “me too”. I’m continually checking in and asking myself (and clients) “What do I need to do to care for myself today?”

What will work look like in the future?

Clients, friends and family have shared how they loathe or love working from home. Some feel released from the cacophony of noise, people and demands. Others are grieving the loss of human connection.

I cringe when I hear organisations stating how wonderfully productive working-from-home has been and how they will be implementing it for their employees in the future. I’ve heard too many stories of people overworking due to boredom during lockdown or fear of job losses. We are only at the beginning of this forced work-from-home pandemic experiment. What may have been expedient in the initial sprint of the pandemic may not be sustainable in what is turning out to be a marathon. How will friendships develop with reduced work socialisation? How do you build trust in a team when you are rarely in close contact? How many more lonely people will we have in Australia? Will employers make workplaces leaner and meaner and perhaps insist employees work predominantly from home as a cost-cutting move? How can we design better lives for ourselves as we come out of this pandemic?

About 30% of my work continues to be telehealth which is fantastic for clients who, for whatever reason, cannot come in for face-to-face sessions. I am grateful the intensity of delivering telehealth has eased for me and commiserate with colleagues delivering telehealth full time, even though I know some like it. After a day of telehealth, my body was stiff and ached with the increased concentration, my eyes were sore as if I was trying to use them to listen and I was emotionally spent. Do I need to upgrade my computer and earphones or source an ergonomic chair designed for telehealth? Would it make that much of a difference if I did?

Rest

How can we maintain the sanctuary of home?

I’ve vigilantly kept home separate from work, and I like it that way. During my work-from-home period, my haven was temporarily invaded, not just by my work but also by my noisy husband. After 35 years of marriage, I learnt my husband talks a lot at work, much more than I ever imagined! His voice echoed through the house until I banished him to a bedroom. What did others learn about their partners during this enforced episode of closeness? How did others maintain the sanctuary of the home, or was it not important to them? Is delineating between work and rest important? Are people now sleeping and being intimate in their workspaces?

Why didn’t I buy shares in home renovation and craft businesses?

2020 Pandemic Christmas Wreath
2020 Pandemic Christmas Wreath

Before we went into lockdown I encouraged my family to buy what they needed for those small home reno projects and to stock up on art and craft goods. I celebrated rooms painted, pots decorated, furniture made and first-time attempts at embroidery. I received the most beautiful hand made mothers day card. I feasted on new menus. I heard songs broadcast by those who had been too scared to perform.  I learnt to crochet via youtube and created a Pandemic Christmas Wreath. Each year as I hang it I will remember 2020 as the year that was like no other.

As people experience the rhthym, creativity, passion, problem-solving, absorption and satisfaction that art and crafts bring will they be re-valued and retained in our post-pandemic world?  Are art and craft the richest form of mindfulness?

Play

How do I socialise?

For me, play is dominated by spending time with others, particularly those I love. I hold increased gratitude for those who live geographically close to me and to those who have continued to include me in the rhythm of their lives. Friends who meet me regularly for walks help provide a missing structure. I find it unexpectedly difficult to organise meeting up with others. It’s as if spontaneity has seeped out of me. How will I rekindle it? And what about the planners who love to see a full diary, how are they managing?  What are people looking forward to?  It’s as if I’m looking at the world through dirty glasses, something is not quite right yet I can’t wipe it away. How would others describe their experience?

Have communities changed?

Group of neighbours socialising in cul de sac.My Tarragindi neighbours organised regular pandemic drinks in our cul de sac on Sunday afternoons. Initially, we social distanced, calling to each other from across the road. As the pandemic eased in Queensland we became closer.

On ANZAC Day my husband trumpeted The Last Post from our driveway, neighbours joining us from a distance, telling us it was the most moving ANZAC Day they’d attended.

I now know my neighbours far better than I did at the beginning of 2020. Will we continue with these new social traditions? Do communities feel closer now or more distant? Will the way we make and sustain relationships change?

When will I see my family and friends?

My arms ache to hug my daughter, brother, sister, parents-in-law, nephews, nieces and friends. No matter how many video calls we have my most pressing question remains “When will I see my daughter again?”.

Anne Moorhouse, Psychologist

 

Waiting outside the psychiatrist’s office

Getting there

My friend is terrified of lifts so we climbed up the dingy stairwell to the third floor, only to find our exit door locked. After pointlessly pulling at the securely locked door a few times, we turned and scurried back down the stairs, to find the door we’d entered through also locked. Anxiety slowly rose in my throat. What if we’re stuck in the stairwell for eternity?

Empty office corridoor

Frantically, we descended further flinging open the lower ground floor door to the street, bursting out into the bright sunshine. We re-entered the building, now no option remained but to brave the lift. My friend scooted into the back corner, her body firmly pressed against the walls, arms folded against her chest. Her eyes startled with fear and yet also relieved that we were the only ones locked in the confined, windowless space that she hates so much.

The long hallway to the inner city psychiatrist’s office was bland and soulless, terracotta tiled floor, cream walls and mission brown fixtures – a flashback to the ’70s.

Waiting outside the psychiatrist’s office

The psychiatrist, unknown to my friend or me, greeted her warmly, even though we were 10 minutes early.  The psychiatrist had received a myriad of documents and clearly knew that this appointment was going to be distressing for my friend. Despite the kindliness of the psychiatrist, my friend looked pleadingly at me as she slowly followed her to the psychiatrist’s office.  She Continue reading

Estranged mothers and adult children

woman sadIt’s Mother’s Day this Sunday in Australia. A day when many families come together to rejoice in the loving bond between mothers and children. A day to celebrate the blood, sweat and tears that ooze out of mothers while raising children. But for some families, it’s a day of heartbreak. There will be no bunches of flowers or boxes of chocolates. Adult children and parents can become estranged to each other. That’s tough.

Those that choose to break the relationship with their parent or child, often see it as a move of self-preservation. For some reason, the family dynamics have gone awry and the person, unable to stand the emotional turmoil, chooses to leave. A broken attachment can feel calmer and safer Continue reading

Uniting Psychologists: Visionaries, Activists, Noisemakers… and Bystanders

A feisty shake-up of psychology

The profession of psychology is undergoing a feisty and invigorating shake-up, triggered by the Medicare Benefits Schedule Taskforce Review into Mental Health. For too long psychologists have trustingly left the management of their profession to the Australian Psychological Society (APS) and the Psychology Board of Australia (PsyBA) which is supported by the Australian Health Practitioner Agency (APHRA). We now realise that these organisations have not advocated proactively for most psychologists, nor for mental health clients, and the result has been a fractured profession. A cohesive mental health service for the Australian community can only be provided through unification.

There are now many more psychologists clamouring to be heard, stimulating hardy debate, challenging untested myths and demanding a united and yet diverse profession to meet the needs of mental health clients in Australia. If you are a psychologist, look at the Australian Association of Psychologists (AAPI) and Reform APS (RAPS) websites and join the Australian Psychologists closed group Facebook page.  These forums have re-ignited my interest in the profession of psychology, dormant for many years, having long ago let my APS membership expire for lack of relevancy.

Uniting psychologists

All psychologists are registered practitioners with APHRA under the general registration standard. A false dichotomy has arisen between psychologists with a clinical endorsement and those without. Those with clinical endorsement have been privileged financially (without any evidence of better outcomes) and are falsely assumed to have greater expertise, knowledge, and education.  In 2018 there were 29,982 registered Psychologists, with only 29% of them having a clinical endorsement. Eighty percent of psychologists are female.

We must celebrate the richness of diversity that different pathways to registration as a psychologist bring to the Continue reading

Dear Mental Health Client, please don’t be too unwell

Dear Mental Health Client,

Mental Health ClientYou came quietly into my counselling room,  looking a bit unsure, eyes cast downwards.  Hesitant to speak.

It had been tough to pluck up the courage and ask your GP for a referral to a psychologist. You hardly ever see your GP and felt uncomfortable when they asked about your mental health and living situation. You gave the GP brief answers, just wanting the appointment over and done with. This stuff so hard to talk about.

Starting your treatment

Mental health clientYou left the GP with a Mental Health Care Plan for 6 sessions, a bit surprised to learn that they’re not free because most psychologists can’t afford to bulk bill. Ouch, this is more expensive than you anticipated. You also learned that you can only have 10 Medicare subsidised sessions each year.  Still, you think, 10 sessions must be enough for the psychologist to “fix” you. Why else would they only give you this many? It seemed like quite a lot of sessions at the time.

It was so hard for you to come to the first appointment. Initially you tell me you are “just a little bit depressed and anxious”. By our fourth session, you’ve trusted me enough to share the Continue reading

Enraged psychologists fighting for an improved mental health system

Enraged psychologistI’ve never met so many enraged psychologists as I have in the last six months. We’re channelling our pent up fury by pounding keyboards, our battle cry is echoing loudly through social media and Members of Parliament (MP’s) are being accosted at every opportunity.

And that goes against everything I know about my usually sedate and contemplative colleagues.

Life of an enraged Psychologist 

Let me tell you a bit about the life of a psychologist. We work with vulnerable people in our Continue reading

Celebrate Stepfathers on Fathers Day

Stefather and child at beach
Photo by Derek Thomson on Unsplash

Let’s take time out to acknowledge and celebrate stepfathers on Fathers Day.  Over 20% of  Australian children live in step or blended families, therefore, thousands of men are stepping into an ambiguous and difficult role.

Those passionate and delightful “in love” feelings couples experience in a new relationship don’t necessarily encompass your new partner’s children. And kids don’t Continue reading

The Psychologist sounds out the Music Therapist

Music Therapist, Claire Stephensen from Press Play Therapy
Music Therapist, Claire Stephensen from Press Play Therapy

At times the rumble of drums or the soft tinkle of ivories floats into my counselling room at Little Window – Counselling, Psychology and Wellness. Then I know that our Music Therapist, Claire Stephensen, is working with a client, and I’m intrigued.  Poking my head into the hallway, I try to see Claire using music in therapy, but her door is firmly closed and the mystery remains.

would not describe myself as a musical person. I sing like a cat on heat, I’m an awkward dancer and my husband used to tell me off for singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star out of tune to our children. Yet I also know music brings great joy. I hear the first beats of an old love song and memories flood back. My mood can be lifted or lowered through a few well-chosen songs. I know that there is magic in how we respond to music. To satisfy my curiosity about music therapy I had a chat with Claire and asked her a barrage of questions.

Thanks for having me Anne, I know your curiosity is shared with so many people.  I look forward to sharing a glimpse into the ‘music therapy space’.

How do you start a music therapy session?

In music therapy training we learn a lot about the importance of overall structure of a session – the opening, middle and close are each considered to be very important for their own reasons (just like the open, middle and close of a song or piece of music!) – and it will look different for each person I work with. I always intend to meet the person where they’re at – and finish the session closer to where they want to be. For some, this might mean we start with talking before introducing music, and for others, we start with music before we do any talking. Some clients like to start their sessions by bringing a song or piece of music that resonated for them – to help bring language to their current challenges. At other times we talk through the key challenges or wins so we can decide together what the best modality will be for the ‘middle’ part of the session.

So you do talk during music therapy?

Continue reading