My childhood home — the scene of my nightmares 

This article is part of a body of work by journalist SHERELE MOODY that won her a 2017 Clarion Award for journalism excellence.

NUMBER Four Minorca Way, Minto. Everyone has their dark place - this is mine.

The last time I walked through the mission brown front door of this nondescript boxy brick home I was barely 12 years old.

It's been 33 years, but I can still see myself in that house - a slight-bodied, shy waif, with scraggly, dirty dark brown hair and sunburnt freckles, wearing dishevelled and filthy hand-me-down clothes and ill-fitting shoes.

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Here, in this unattractive three-bedroom suburban shack, with its cigarette smoke stained ceilings, cracked linoleum and fist-smashed walls, myself, my three big brothers and four little sisters did our best to survive on a diet of bread, potatoes and porridge and slept two per single bed in three tiny bedrooms.

There was always a stream of men passing through. They came, sat a while with our mother as she watched Days of Our Lives and other American escapisms, made small talk with "us kids", dallied in her bedroom for an evening or two then disappeared into the Sydney populous, never to be seen again.

I can still see her there - sitting on a worn lounge, the lounge room's curtains drawn, the TV blasting and a cigarette smouldering against her nicotine stained fingers.

A pack of Alpines, an overflowing ashtray and a glass of Coke battling for supremacy on a small coffee table next to her chair.

From this throne she ruled her castle. We were her serfs and her volatile temper, swift fists and leather belt or jug chord were her weapons of control.

Sherele Moody speaks out about the unspeakable.  Photo: John McCutcheon / Sunshine Coast Daily
Sherele Moody speaks out about the unspeakable. Photo: John McCutcheon / Sunshine Coast Daily John McCutcheon

The funny thing is, although I was beaten, flogged, starved and name-called by my mother in the myriad places we called home when I was kid, nothing quite sticks in my memory like Minorca Way.

It's not that the beatings were any more brutal here. My mother's violence was always cruel and heartless. She had no empathy for the pain she inflicted on my tiny body - often she would only stop when the exertion of beating me had simply tired her out.

Minorca Way, Minto, remains the scene of my nightmares. It's the one place that haunts my mind in the moments between sleep and wakefulness. Simply thinking of it brings a certain tightness to my throat and pushes tears from eyes.

When I do allow my head to renavigate Minorca Way's rooms - I always land on one day.

I can almost feel the sweaty humid heat of that particular summer afternoon pushing against my skin and hear again the joyous screams of kids riding bikes and skateboards in the street outside.

I'm sitting on the tiled bathroom floor as the afternoon sun light pushes through the thick bubbly glass of the small window.

The toilet is a few feet away and the bathroom shines - it's porcelain scrubbed clean by myself just a few hours ago.

The window has been nailed shut and I know trying to open the door will be futile because minutes earlier my eldest brother tied a piece of rope around the handle and secured the other end of the binding to a door handle down the hall.

I am trapped in here, naked but for a pair of knickers.

No clothes. Locked door. It's all about keeping me from trying to run away from home. She knows, given the smallest of chances I'll be out that front door and down those cement steps like a rat up a drainpipe.

You see, I'm an expert at escaping. I've run away from home more times than I care to remember but the authorities keep bringing me back. Every now and then I'm put into a foster or group home, but she always convinces the welfare office to return me.

After a while the house falls quiet and I slip into a dozy trance, imagining myself playing with my siblings and the other neighbourhood kids on the overgrown front lawn.

I wake abruptly as the bathroom door opens. My eyes fixate on her knees, the dark leg hairs brushing against the cotton of her favourite nightie.

She beckons me to come into her bedroom.

She urges me to hop onto her bed and gives me a bottle of beer to drink. The warm liquid froths in my mouth and I swallow the urge to vomit. She lights a cigarette and passes me a small black and white magazine. I flip through curiously. It's pages and pages of men f...ing women.

She finishes the smoke and undresses.

Moments later she is showing me everything I'll need to know when I "meet a man".

After what seems like hours, but was probably minutes, she says she loves me and if I ever need to feel her love, all I need to do is tell her.

She tells me to bathe, dress and go and play with the other kids.

Photo illustration

Moments later I walk out the front door of 4 Minorca Way, Minto, and never look back.

It wasn't until my late teens that I learned the things my mother did to me were not a normal part of growing up.

I'd like to say that after all these years I no longer feel embarrassment or shame when I think, or talk, about the abuse.

Sadly, that's not the case. Even now, just writing these words takes every bit of my willpower. A part of me wants to hit the delete key. But I won't. Why? Because if we're going to end family and domestic violence in this country, more people like me need to stand up and own what happened to them.

This is why I started The RED HEART Campaign.

RED HEART is a social media-based platform where survivors share their stories and also access support and information as they embrace lives free of violence and trauma.

The campaign started simply enough: it encouraged survivors to mark their skin with a red heart, photograph it and send it to the Facebook site with their story, which was then posted anonymously on the site's main page.

However, I soon realised there were a lot of women who wanted to step out of the shadows and claim their survival with pride.

Over the past few months, I've been travelling around Queensland taking survivors' photographs and collecting their stories for The RED HEART Campaign's Why I Stayed project, which can be viewed at the campaign's Tumblr site.

While every survivor's experience is unique, they are bound together by deep personal loss, incredible strength, steely determination and extreme bravery in the face of the worst kind of cruelty any human can inflict on another.

And every one of their stories deserve to be told.

Sherele Moody is a journalist working for News Regional in Brisbane. To find out more about The RED HEART Campaign and the Why I Stayed project visit The RED HEART Campaign on Facebook.

News Corp Australia

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