From the desk of Roland Rocchiccioli – 25 February

February 25, 2024 BY

Unhappy girls!: Beria, backrow, top left, said, “Why would we look happy? I don’t remember there was a lot to smile about.” Photo: SUPPLIED

The Premier of Victoria Jacinta Allan delivered to the State Parliament, and all those Victorian children who suffered institutional abuse, a superbly measured and palpably heartfelt apology.


SADLY, for my late mother, Beria, and my aunts Sylvia, Linda, and Annie, and my uncle Robert, it is too little, too late. They are dead.

In Kalgoorlie, 1916, my mother and her four siblings were declared to be in ‘moral danger’. Summarily, the court ordered their removal from the care of their mother, Sarah, and sent them to Salvation Army Girls’ Homes, and the Swan Boys’ Home, respectively; a callous action of such calamitous magnitude it has shattered three generations of the family. Still, today, we feel its ramifications. The Salvation Army’s indifference blighted our lives. They caused a seriously dysfunctional family, the genesis of which can be traced to the savagery of Beria’s childhood, inflicted with impunity.

Generically, it is counter-productive to review time-passed through the prism of modern day. Zeitgeists modify with each decade and generation; however, never was there a time in civilised society when child institutional, sexual, and physical abuse was acceptable. It is impossible to conjure the mindset of these vile perpetrators – many of whom professed to the follow the teachings of the Nazarene, who administered the floggings; created the scars.

So profoundly ashamed was my aunt Sylvia, so traumatised by her time in The Salvation Army Home, from the day she gained her freedom she never spoke of it.

My aunt Annie, aged 16, was placed in service. The family had two teenage sons. It is uncertain which one was the father of her child. To her credit, when they attempted to put the infant out for adoption, she said, “No, he’s my baby. I am going to keep him!” To their chagrin, she engaged a foster family to care for him until she married.

My mother and her brother, Robert, never met again.

Beria (a name deemed inappropriate and changed to Beryl) was five when she was incarcerated. On her 18th birthday she claimed her freedom. She telephoned Matron Pratt, “I’m leaving!”

She shared many recollections, “I was in the home for 13 years, and I cannot remember ever, being hugged.” “We didn’t go hungry, but they certainly didn’t overfeed us.” “I wanted to be a hairdresser. They weren’t interested. They only thing they taught us was washing-and-ironing, and housework.” “I left school at 14. For two years I had to work in the laundry, without pay. They used to bring-in the washing from hotels.”

Beria never forgave the merciless Matron Rubina Pratt. “She was a cold fish! She accused me of breaking another girl’s bottle of lavender water. She called me a thief and liar. I was so scared I wet

myself. They locked me in the bathroom for a week. I had my meals on a tray and a mattress on the floor.” To the end of her life Beria pleaded innocent. “I did put some on my handkerchief, but I didn’t break the bottle.”

The Premier’s apology was superb; however, words cannot assuage the searing emotional damage. Lives have been torn asunder by the odious men and women of these institutions. To the end, Beria had little regard for The Salvation Army. Their lack of willing to provide personal details is reprehensible. They deliberately destroyed records. Their capacity for obfuscation is challenging. Platitudinous conversations achieve nothing.

Beria wanted an apology. It never came. She lived every day with the emotional turmoil they created!

Roland can be contacted via [email protected].