by William Hammersley
I have, as long as I can remember, known I was adopted and had always been an extremely angry person. As a child, I would question my adopters on why my mother didn’t want me. The answers were always, that she was too young to bring me up, could not afford to keep me and that my father was a no hoper, who would not stand by her.
“That I was special and they chose me”.
I would overhear discussions about me when my adoptive mother had neighbours over for afternoon tea, about how they could ‘not give up a child’ and ‘what sort of woman she must be to do that?’
My adoptive father to discipline me, which was often, would take to me with a razor strap and lose control. He would grit his teeth and perspiration would run from his brow, as he lashed at my legs until I bled, he could not stop until he was exhausted.
At school and in the neighbourhood I was seen as the bad kid, the adopted kid, not that I gave them any other reason not to, in fact I reinforced their opinion.
I did not know why I was angry, I just was. As I grew older, this anger always kept me down.
I left the adoptive home when I was a young teenager, working and returning in-between jobs, leaving again and I survived in the bohemian world of Carlton, working in a display company, putting my natural artistic skills to work.
I felt empty inside, “a nobody”.
I was self-destructive, expelled from secondary school in form two (Year 8 in today’s language), always getting into fights, often being found bleeding lying in the gutter. I was in and out of jobs, drank a lot and numbed my feelings with drugs, marijuana mainly. For many years. I was stoned from morning to late at night. The self-destruction stage continued into my 20s to mid 30s.
I never identified my behaviour with adoption but hated my mother for deserting me.
It wasn’t all bad though. I had some great jobs and mixed with some very interesting people, some of whom are still my dear friends today but I did not stay in one place for long. It was not until my 40s that I decided to search for my mum and family. My adopted sister had found her family and pushed me to get my papers, but I did not search for a couple of years after I received them, wanting to but not wanting to, it’s hard to explain.
My anger was in the way
- I wanted to hurt her like I believed she had hurt me.
- She gave me away so she did not want me so why should I want her.
- She did not bother to look for me, so why should I bother to look for her.
It was not until much later, I found out that she was not allowed to.
That the truth was very different to what I believed.
I was in a relationship at this stage and the birth of our son came along. This was the first time I felt responsibility and love, it was fantastic, my own family. I now had an overwhelming urge to find my mother, to give our son and partner a family and a true heritage.
My adoptive sister came back on the scene. We joined forces, along with my partner and searched through phone books, the electoral roll, made phone calls. Weeks went by with no leads.
One day I was with my adopted sister. She had spotted a phone number that was near her house. We rang it, asked for Gloria (my mother’s name), the person that answered the phone turned out to be my half-sister and she passed the phone to my mother’s husband (her father). I told him who I was and asked if I could speak to Gloria, that I may be her son.
He paused for a moment and said,
“I know about you”
“YES, it was them”
I was overcome with a strange emotion, not knowing how I felt, and then he told me that my mother had died 12 months previously. He said they were going to a memorial service for her, but would stay home so we could come around.
I remember walking into my half-sister’s house, looking around thinking that they did not look too poor to me, but comfortable, conservative, middle class, inspirational, suburban people and me being bought up in a poor working class dysfunctional, adoptive family who survived a hand to mouth existence with two other adopted children, the three of us from different families .
Here we were.
My mother had married an Austrian gentleman and they had two children and a good life, not long after I was born. It was not without its tragedies and ups and downs of suburban family life, but things had worked out for her until she died of heart disease, at sixty years of age.
It was obvious that she was not the type of person that I was lead to believe. Another little white lie by my adopting couple and society. Or was it? A lie is a lie.
“Why did my mother desert me and who was my father became my questions”
Over the next few months I met the rest of the family, an older half-brother who was from her first marriage and there was once a sister who may have been adopted by mum or was hers, but not the first husband’s child. I found out later in an article in the Canberra Times on Trove that she had been the victim of a paedophile neighbour who strangled her and then hung himself in a barn on his farm. A half-sister and two half-brothers. Both brothers were very sceptical and standoffish. I asked questions, made cynical remarks and always felt they knew more than what they were letting on…
My anger got in the way again over the months.
I found I had nothing in common with them apart from looking a bit like me. They were middle class, conservative, well off in my eyes with all the normal suburban family traits and I was angry, cynical, left wing and street wise, with a very untrustworthy mind and jealous of what they had and have and what I did not have. I spent time working with my mother’s husband building a house in the country and living in the caravan with him on site but I walked out on him. We went to meet my mother’s best friend, and attended a family wedding. My half-sister tried to form a relationship with me, but I was just a strange and difficult person for her to cope with. After her coming to a party at our house and her walking into a room where we were passing the bong around, it just got too much for her and we drifted apart.
“So that was the end of that”
I continued hating my mother for abandoning me and in some ways for leaving me a second time, by passing away before I found her, my attitude was
‘the bitch she got out of facing me”
I felt I was the sacrificial offering, to save her two children. She was not a young teenager when she gave birth to me. She was 27 years old (another so called little white lie by my adoptive couple and society). She was going through a divorce and custody of her children.
She would have lost them to her first husband who had taken them from her, at one stage and refused to return them and they stayed with his mother. If he had found out that I existed because of the divorce laws at the time of fault divorce, and community attitudes she would have been branded an adulteress and found it near on impossible to find work and be ostracised by the general community.
I convinced myself that they did not matter and got on with my life, with my new family, but always in the back of my mind,
I wanted to know the truth – I needed the truth.
Twenty years pass,
Life is going good, we have our own business, we own our house, our son is in university and my partner is my best friend and our relationship is solid but I am still an angry person under the surface.
Except for questions that constantly pop up in my mind.
- Why did my mother abandon me?
- Why didn’t she come for me?
- Who is my father?
- What is the truth about my adoption?
I got no satisfactory answers to these questions from my mother’s family twenty years ago.
One day I am at work and I hear on the wireless that there is going to be an apology to the mothers and people affected by adoption, at Parliament House in Melbourne. I had no idea what this was about, but that night before, I said to my partner, I am going to that.
If anyone can tell me what the circumstances of my adoption were, it would be other mothers.
On the day of the apology, my son and I jumped a tram and went to Victoria’s Parliament House. As we approached, I noticed on the steps, all the children’s shoes.
“It seemed like hundreds of them”
As I looked at the shoes, tears just started to stream out, uncontrollable tears.
“I cried all day that day”
“Talk about emotion, I could not stop”
I met some wonderful people there, one of whom was Elizabeth Edwards, coordinator of Origins Victoria, who gave me her card and told me to ring her; along with Brian and Helen, seen in the picture on the Parliament House steps, who have become good colleagues and friends. If I had not have followed my gut instinct or by chance missed it and not gone to this event, I would not have found out the truth to my story. I would not have meat Elizabeth Edwards. I was so proud to have my son by my side that day.
What a day it was!
A couple of days later.
My partner and I went to see Elizabeth Edwards at the Origins Victoria’s office. When she was going through my papers she said that I sound like a ‘fifty pound baby’. She showed me a speech by John Cremean, who was a member of Federal parliament in 1950, that said that babies were being sold from private hospitals in major capital cities in Australia.
“I was born in Avonhurst a private hospital in South Melbourne.”
Well that was it. I had to know.
I wanted the answers.
Was I a trafficked child?
How could my adopters do this?
What part did my mother play?
Did that bitch sell me?
Is that what my mother’s family was keeping from me?
All of these questions going over and over in my head.
My anger with my mother at this stage was boiling over.
First I phoned FIND and ordered another set of my adoption papers as my original set was over twenty years old. The new set proved to be of extra interest this time as these papers included some extra information.
My partner and I started to research.
She went to the computer, searched TROVE and traced the doctors. My good friend, Rosemary, got in on the search and found out information on my family and is still helping me look for my father through DNA today.
On Facebook I started to call for other adoptees that may have been born at Avonhurst and found one who worked with us through emails.
Her experience was so similar to mine and she contributed so much vital information.
Then I headed off to the State archives, the National archives and State library.
.For two years I searched.
People around me were very supportive, but were concerned that I had become obsessed and that my mental health could become affected.
My mental health was already affected and it was this search that I hoped would resolve it for me.
I could not let go.
Day after day I persisted, two or three days per week sometimes, getting a little bit closer to the truth. I came to a dead end, as the file I thought would have the answer, was full of 1950s pornography underwear ads, not much by today’s standard but shocking back then.
What to do next?
Elizabeth Edwards, Origins Victoria coordinator suggested I should place a Freedom of Information request and see what happens.
Well, from that I attracted the attention of “the man”. The man in the State archives who knew everything.
What took me two years of searching and not finding what I was looking for, he found in ten minutes.
It was the mother lode, six boxes of the government adoption files, and four bound bundles of the State Law Revision files (not our personal ones) from 1916 to 1964.
Every document from memos, policy papers, judge’s opinions, memorandums, confidential letters, conference papers, police reports, and recommendations to the development and changing of the policies and the Adoption Act.
It takes days running into weeks, reading and photographing the files.
One day, I find a confidential letter from John Cremean to the Chief Secretary of Victoria, naming the doctor that my adoptive couple had told me about in their fairy tale stories about ‘how special I was’ and who they went to see in order to get a child to adopt. It was a Doctor Hart. My partner had also found many newspaper articles about him, linking him to the illegal abortion trade. It also named the co-proprietor of Avonhurst Private Hospital, Mr. Allen, as being Harts co-conspirator, that he had reliable information about them being involved in baby trafficking and requested the secretary make some discreet inquiries. It was not Dr Hart, that was my final evidence as he had been named In news clippings, It was Mr Allen. Only John Cremean knew his name.
This was the final piece of proof I needed.
“I was stunned”
I had feelings of joy, sadness, anger and relief. As I was driving home that night, tears flowed again.
My joy was that I was not mad, Elizabeth Edwards from Origins Vic was not wrong, My partner and our friend did not waste their time and yes, I had finally found out the truth of the circumstances of my birth and subsequent adoption.
The nurse that assisted my delivery, Sister Allen, was Mr. Allen’s wife who were the proprietors of Avonhurst Private Hospital and Doctor Bretherton, the doctor that delivered me, was in cahoots with Doctor Hart, in the illegal abortion trade. Mr. Allen and Doctor Hart were using Avonhurst for the trafficking of babies for further personal financial gain.
The selling of babies was a byproduct, an adjunct to the abortion business.
The doctors were involved in selling babies for adoption to que jumping adoptive couples.
They were also paying protection money to some members of the Victorian police. The paying of grafts to police by these doctors was alleged in the Kay Inquiry, into the involvement of police corruption and the abortion rackets in the 1970s where some police did jail time for their part in it, but the majority walked free and furthered their careers and the illegal baby trade was never officially uncovered.
The federal government received reports from the state governments, all denying it ever happened, but newspapers were reporting it and John Cremean was saying it in federal parliament. Adoption agencies would not deny it was happening and they made references to it happening along, with the Secretary of the Children’s Welfare Department, agreeing that it was happening and the chief secretary agreeing with him.
but the police, claimed they could not find indictable proof.
“It may have been years ago but the newspaper headlines have a familiar ring. They tell of high-ranking police masterminding an abortion protection racket, demanding and receiving massive bribes from prominent Collins Street specialists and engaging in an extensive conspiracy to pervert justice”
“An Age editorial at the time concluded: “It would have been naive to suppose that responsible ministers and officials, and successive police chiefs, had no inkling of what was going on.”
Doctor Hart did not attend the Kay inquiry of 1970s as he had died earlier but the doctor who delivered me at Avonhurst Private Hospital was among those named.
However, Doctor Hart was mentioned in evidence given by Mrs Margret Berman who was the person that paid the protection money from the doctors to the police, “that cash was held in Doctor Hart’s Mansion in the basement at Albert Park.
Dr Hart one of the first GP’s to systematically arrange referrals for abortions.
For me,I believe I have proof beyond reasonable doubt.
I have the original receipt that shows my adoptive couple paid, for my mother’s hospital fees which was illegal at the time. I found out that they had borrowed the money from a close family friend and worked for him on weekends doing furniture removals, until he had paid the debt of. His wife who was a teacher was recommended by the adoptive couple and appointed by the court as my guardian, ad litem; who is meant to represent the adoptee and reported to the court that the adopting couple were fit and proper people to adopt.
Talk about a conflict of interest!
A few months later, I was given the opportunity to sit amongst a group of mothers who lost their children to adoption. They talked about how they felt when they left the hospital, empty handed, being told to forget what happened and start a new life. One at a time, they reflected on that moment, standing and telling their stories. I cried again that day as I realised so many mothers, all with the same feelings, that this was the truth, this is how my mother must have felt…Another little white lie.
My half-sister and half- brother find it a bit difficult to deal with the fact that I know more about my mother and our families heritage than they do, or did, and that I don’t hide the negative parts under the carpet or keep them safely locked away in the closet. I tread slowly, but surely in the hope that we can achieve a long and lasting relationship but they are making no moves for that to happen at the moment in fact my older half-brother has told me to stop digging but they do not understand the plight of an adopted person with the need to know the Truth.
Through all our research, I have finally gained a full understanding of why my mother had no other choice.
- I had come to understand the horror for women, who had to prove fault, to get a divorce and how she could have lost her two children, along with being stigmatised and facing hardship.
- I came also to understand the lengths a woman could go to keep her children.
- I now understand how some people, unfortunately suffering infertility,who seek to adopt other people’s children would go to great lengths to obtain a child and why they seek to fulfil their needs for a child as their last resort after all other efforts had failed to give birth to their own. Along with the damage PTSD caused to my adoptive father by war.
- I also came to an understanding of how privileged, greedy, unscrupulous people take advantage of other people’s misfortuneand vulnerability.
- Along with it, bringing me to an understanding that governments need to not only set polices, but should also accept the responsibility of the policy failures, as well as enforcing policies that are not adhered to in practice and not simply to sweep them under the carpet.
Governments should listen to the people who try to inform them of its failings.
I point the finger of blame clearly where it belongs, with the privileged greedy doctors, the bad inefficient government policy, their lack of enforcing some of their own policies, along with the greed of some police and my adopter’s underhanded way of obtaining a child.
I am now at peace with my mother and the adoptive couple, we have forgiven each other in spirit, for things that do not need forgiving. I no longer carry any hatred towards my mother, her family or my adoptive couple.
I tell you this, entire story, so people can understand the lengths, that I as an adopted person, had to go to get to the truth, but should not have had to spend nearly a life time getting there.
‘Yes, I hated my mother for 60 years, but now I don’t.
I know the truth now mum’.
Do I have regrets? Yes.
Do I wish she was alive? Yes.
Do I want to know my father or at least his
name and my heritage? Yes.
Would I like the choice of a No Fault, No Fuss Discharge from my adoption, to live and leave this world with the legal identity and heritage that I was Born to – with the name my mother named me, the family name of my father, not the Legal name and heritage that was given to me by the government and people who bought me and not have to die “AS IF BORN TO” – YES!
However this may not ever happen because my mother passed away before I was ready to find her and had taken the name of my father with her.
Unless DNA is successful in finding a recent relative on my father’s side with the ‘Y’ test and so far after 3 years and 2 different DNA tests this has not come to fruition.
And unless the people who seek to adopt abolish their stand on ownership for life and beyond along with state governments changing their discharge policy’s to a No Fault No Fuss Discharge.
“I can only dream, keep hoping and lobbying for the right of choice”
If I am still angry about anything, it is with mefor allowing my anger from stopping me contacting her earlier.
But would I have been ready then?
‘I don’t know, probably not’
“My MOTHER WAS FORCED it is TRUE she had NO CHOICE.
Victorian Adoption act 1928 that was currant in 1952
- The court before making an adoption order shall be Matters with respect to which court to be. satisfied- (@)
1928 5(a) that the applicant has not received or agreed to receive, and that no person has made or given or agreed to make or give to the applicant, any payment or other reward in consideration of the adoption except such as the court sanctions.
Receipt that shows the Adopters paid my mother’s Hospital fees
John Cremean’s Speech
I REST MY CASE