I remember a handful of things from that humid summer’s night in 1983. I remember walking through the streets in a track suit, rugged up because it was the middle of the night, despite it being summer. We walked for a long time (or maybe my four-year old feet just imagined that bit).
Then we came to a police station. It was quiet, so there were no other people around. We were ushered into a small meeting room with flourescent lights, a big square table and four chairs. One police officer was talking to Mum, who was crying, and the other took me to make a cup of tea. I sat beside Mum, sipping at the tea while they talked but I don’t recall what it was about.
The policemen then took us to a house which looked like any other ordinary house. The lady who opened the front door had red hair. And I don’t mean Auburn or Copper, but it was PRIMARY RED. She smiled sweetly and ushered us into a kitchen where lots of people were packing away from what looked like a very big dinner party.
That night we slept in bunk beds on the second floor of the old wooden house with wooden floor boards. The next morning the red-haired lady went in search of some clothes for us to wear. I got a pair of boys’ pyjamas. They were blue cotton shorts and a button-up shirt with little cars printed all over them.
Mum told me we were in a refuge. I remember for many years to come, I would always think of the nice red-haired lady when we crossed a road and there was a “refuge island” sign. I used to wonder if there was another house nearby like the one with the red-haired lady.
A few days later, Santa visited the refuge. He brought toys, and I got a small cushion with a picture printed on it and three washable textas. I coloured it in but Mum didn’t want me to wash it because the washing machine was only for clothing, and she didn’t want to ask them to throw a silly cushion into the wash.
After our stay in the refuge, I think we went back to the unit with the crunchy stuff on the ceiling. It wasn’t for long, but I think the next time we ran away, we did it with at least a few changes of clothes. I think there was a difficulty with us staying in Australia if the marriage was no longer valid, so all charges were dropped and we moved into the spare room of a friend’s place until Mum got a job and got back on her feet. I recall Mum saying to someone that she was very lucky that his arm was in a sling as it was broken in a body-building accident. If that really was the case, I think we’re both very lucky.
I’ve often wondered what happened to those two boys. His sons… I managed to find one on Facebook a while ago, but wouldn’t dream of making contact. I do wish I had the chance to thank the red-haired lady though. Looking back, I can see that she helped us out when we had nothing at all… and we were only there a short time. I can’t imagine all the good she would have done to the hundreds of other women and children who passed through her house. If you know of anyone like this, please thank them. From me, and from the many other people they have helped, many of which may not even know it.