I want to pay tribute today to an amazing woman who lives in my electorate. Her name is Wendy Dyckhoff and she was recently awarded the silver medal by the Kangan Batman TAFE college for her achievements in adult literacy and learning.
I have known Wendy for several years. She first introduced herself to me as an advocate for forgotten Australians. As you would be aware, the forgotten Australians are those who, for a variety of reasons, were separated as children from their original families and raised in institutions where many suffered, at best, loneliness and loss of identity, and, at worst, neglect and abuse of horrific proportions. Their stories were highlighted by the 2004 inquiry of the Senate's Community Affairs References Committee, and the subsequent apology on behalf of the nation by the then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was made on 16 November 2009.
Wendy was placed in an orphanage from the age of six when it was determined that her parents were unable to care for her. Through years of institutional life, Wendy, in her own words: 'endured physical, psychological and sexual abuse.' She says: 'Taken from me was my family, my identity and my right to learn as a child what a safe and loving relationship might feel like.'
As Wendy has explained to me, as a child she did not learn to speak correctly or eloquently because the main requirement of institutional life was silence. Wendy says: 'The only time my voice was encouraged was during prayer. I did not have conversations with adults where I could gain a better understanding of the world or expand my vocabulary or have someone help me with grammar and diction.'
Wendy grew up with a belief that she was not capable or worthy. She discovered, many years later, that she had been awarded a scholarship at the end of primary school, but this information was withheld from her at the time and she was never able to access a good education. As an adult, she faced the choice of sitting back and dwelling on the wrongs she had suffered or trying to make a difference by helping others. Wendy chose the latter option. She decided she wanted to help other forgotten Australians to speak for themselves, document their stories, trace lost family histories and rebuild shattered personal identities. To become an effective activist and spokesperson for the forgotten Australians, Wendy had to overcome her lack of self-confidence and bouts of ill health both physical and mental, and she had to go back to learning, which she did as an adult. And Wendy rose to the challenge.
With the new skills she has acquired through community learning, Wendy has organised forums and meetings, and she has made representations to various levels of government. She has come to Canberra. She has been active. She has been able to write her life story in a number of different formats, and she has made submissions to parliamentary inquiries and the royal commission. She passionately believes that being able to document and communicate her own life experiences and those of other forgotten Australians is vital in order to educate the broader community about this shameful chapter in our social history.