My official Second Schedule date of birth is 13 November 1954 but with photographs, and myself being present at my stepmother and father’s wedding, I think I’m born in 1951 or 1950 (or possibly 1952, but I really doubt that). My Second Schedule birth certificate says I was born in Frankston, Victoria – just a suburb of Melbourne – but when I went to the hospital there, they told me that I wasn’t born there. And then under the Freedom of Information Act I found out that my name – Margaret Anne Childs, and my mother’s name- Elizabeth Anne Childs were never present there. Further, for years I have been told me that until the late 1980s the Victorian Births, Deaths and Marriages didn’t know how accurate their own birth certificates were. That said, as was law until 1958, having a Second Schedule birth certificate means that, in fact, I am illegitimate. At least I know that about my circumstances.
My godmother eventually gave me a name of someone (her best friend, actually), who (she says) is my natural mother. Evidently she had married a Chinese guy and my godmother attended that wedding. If my godmother is correct, my mother had fraternal twins, one of whom is me, and I look nothing like my other twin.
I don’t know what happened to me. As I understand things, I wasn’t subject to any abuse prior to going into what I call ‘The Marriage’, in 1953, and was probably taken care of in an orphanage. From then on I always thought ‘I don’t belong here’. From the photographs I have seen, I was about two and a half or three at the time I went into ‘The Marriage’. In photographs of me when I was younger I often look comparatively tall. But I’m actually very small; I think I was just older than I was thought to be, so bigger than those considered to be my peers.
As to how I moved in to my adopted home in or around 1953, as I understand things, my natural father had been engaged to a lady called Betty. In the 1950s, if you broke an engagement to be married then you could have been sued for breach of promise. So my assumption is that Betty would have threatened to ruin his reputation if he didn’t agree to go proceed with the wedding. I have no idea whether the man who was said to be my natural father is indeed so. I look nothing like him, except perhaps for my ears. But needless to say, the easiest thing for him would have been to give in and marry Betty, with Betty then becoming my stepmother.
Betty was rather odd. She was one of five children, all of whom are now dead. In 1932, when she was two, her father died (was perhaps killed, we don’t really know), and she went into Goodwood orphanage in South Australia, which is a pretty horrible place – very rough. She was quite damaged as a result. Betty would have been desperate to get married. She would have wanted money and security too.
In a stepparent adoption in those days, all you needed to do was to get married. There was no other paper work required. So by reason of their marriage I was adopted into their family; Betty had to take me on as her daughter. Whether she realised she would be taking me on, I don’t know, but there are pictures of me at the wedding in 1953.
Times were not really good with Betty. I was very bored. I never went to Kindergarten, but I was very much older than they treated me. I had no toys or stimulation at all, except a tricycle.
When I was 13 I realised I needed glasses; there were leaves on trees! I said to my stepmother ‘With glasses I can see, you know.’ She said ‘No, there’s nothing wrong with you, just sit closer’. A year later, when I was 14, we went to an outdoor movie. My father noticed I couldn’t read anything on the screen, so finally Betty was convinced to take me to the optician.
We didn’t go to the pictures much. In fact we didn’t really see my father much, he was commuting a long way to work. He wasn’t really interested in me actually. I don’t think he actually thought I was his child.
I was legally blind, with only 8% vision. I appeared to be pretty clumsy and stupid as a result. I just knew on sunny days I could see more than other times. I squinted a lot to try and see what was happening. My stepmother kept telling me ‘You did this to yourself, you did this to yourself’. I just kept thinking, like, ‘How did I do this? Should I do some exercises to get my eyesight back again?’ Ultimately I went to OPSM and asked them how long they thought I had had this level of vision. They told me I was probably born with it.
Until I had glasses I couldn’t even go out into town, it was scary. There were a lot of cars on the roads and I couldn’t see to cross the road or anything. So all I did was stay at home and eat grapes and fruit (once we moved to a new house when I was 10 or 11 and had lots of fruit trees and vines on our land).
When you first get a pair of glasses and you can actually see, it’s a real shock. The ground rises up beneath you. OPSM gave me three different pairs of glasses within 18 months and kept accusing me of changing my prescription. But I have since found out from OPSM that they had to gently adjust my eyes (and my mindset) to being able to see, to being able to do things, so they had been changing my prescription slowly on purpose.
As soon as I got glasses I realised I’d been cheated throughout my childhood. I mean, I had probably been bullied all through school but I could never see to know that. Betty’s face was angry so much of the time and I hadn’t known because it had previously been so blurry. I mean, I had never even really spoken to anyone before I got glasses. I was extremely quiet and just used to do as I was told. I had never made a fuss about anything, except once asking my stepmother for some more clothes because all I had was my school uniform, one pair of stretch cheque pants and my mother’s cast-off skirts.
Once things became visually clearer for me, my life became conceptually clearer too. I realised how hard my life had been and I started to refuse to be that perfect person, who did everything they were told. I became a braver, different kind of person, who spoke out on behalf of victims that have been cheated in life, like myself, and in fact have dedicated myself to this cause in various ways throughout my life.
If you can help me to find out more about my parents and my early childhood, get in touch with Know Your Nation!