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English-born Australian writer, Katharine Summers (b. 1961), was in a children’s home as a child. 

Katharine Summers was born into an impoverished family in London. The household consisted of her mother Rosemarie, her father, an older sister, Katharine, her twin sister, and a younger sister. When Katharine was eight years old her family was living in the criminal East End and often went hungry. Her visiting grandmother was very loving but, in contrast, her father’s behaviour was unpredictable, violent and her mother was largely absent. 

When Katharine’s mother began earning money as a sex worker she provided the family with an abundance of food, new clothes, and treats. For a few months, they relocated to a nicer home and the children began attending school. 

All I know is that a few weeks ago we were looking in through the window without a penny to our name and now we are inside the toyshop with real money. I am too excited to speak. The narrow aisles are packed to the ceiling with every kind of toy in the whole wide world. I can smell the new-toy smell and see the bright cardboard packages. I look and look (Summers, 27). 

Katharine describes how her mother was unhappy as a sex worker. The work made her father paranoid but he still wanted Rosemarie to continue.  

On the outside things are definitely better – we have food, new clothes, toys, a school. On the inside they are worse. The atmosphere seems to be getting more tense by the day. There is an undercurrent. My father has begun watching my mother like a cat (Summers, 37). 

When Katharine’s mother disappeared for a while, her father became violent towards the children. They were given to Pilgrim House, a children’s home in Westerham, Kent. It was here Katharine was first raped by an older boy, which was investigated much later by the Kent police (and not written about). 

Was it a bad place? Not particularly. A good place? Not particularly. It was a place that served up the necessities and nothing extra. There were too many of us for extras. Besides, we were the poor, and the poor should be grateful for everything they are given (Summers, 95). 

One day, Katharine and her sisters were suddenly surprised when Rosemarie arrived at the Home in a Rolls Royce to collect her four children. They were taken back to London where they met Marie’s new partner, Dutch millionaire Francis Van Seumeran, who also had a family including nine children in the Netherlands. Rosemarie changed the girls’ surname to ‘Summers’ and sent them to a Catholic boarding school. Katharine’s sisters’ previous legal surname was Abbott. But Katharine’s birth certificate does not clearly identify a surname (Summers, 2022 private correspondence).

I look out the window on to manicured green lawns and neatly trimmed hedges. From a lifetime of poverty, of living in dark, poky rooms, it suddenly dawns on me that this is how the rich and privileged live, in high-ceiling rooms with gracious views. More astonishing is the fact that I, Kathy Abbott, now Summers, am here at all. My sisters and I look at each other in disbelief (Summers, 113). 

The privileged life of boarding schools ended in 1974 when Katharine witnessed her father murder Francis Van Seumeran. She never saw her father again. 

My father shot Francis six times. Once through the arm, twice to the shoulder, and three times in the head. The whole thing took about ten long minutes. As Francis lay dying he managed to take the rosary he always carried from his pocket. The police removed it from his fingers. I hoped his family got that rosary (Summers, 206). 

Katharine migrated to Australia at age eighteen. Statistically-likely to partner with abusive men, she fled her home with her children because of domestic violence.

I didn’t have anywhere to go but told my children we were going on a holiday. We drove up to Fremantle and I parked the car by the beach and had to pretend we were just camping.  I vividly recall that experience of being so tired because I would stay awake all night, making sure I could protect them (Willix).

After spending two weeks living in their car, Katharine secured a rental with the help of a real estate agent. She shares this experience to help break down misconceptions about homelessness and advocate for better support services. 

I didn’t know how to access a shelter or support services, and I probably didn’t have the state of mind to be able to ask for that help… I think I was lucky and it came down to good people doing the right thing at the right time, however we need more money to be put into accommodation and services. Homelessness, more than anything, is an economic issue (Willix).  

In order to provide for her children, Katharine studied education at university and then began a twenty-year career as an award-winning high school teacher helping kids self-actualise.

Katharine raised her children alone, and they have participated in elite athletic programmes as well as attending private schools. Both are now well-employed, happy, in stable relationships, and are contributing adults. Her daughter is also completing a second degree, in law.  

Katharine served as a Councillor in the City of Rockingham, Western Australia between 2015-2019 while studying towards a law degree specialising in human rights and environmentalism. She campaigned in the 2021 Western Australian State election with the Sustainable Australia Party.

Katharine is dedicated to serving her community and is involved in various education, health, and environmental organisations and campaigns.


City of Rockingham Annual Report 2016-2017. 

Summers, Katherine. Desperate Hearts. Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 2005. 

Shellduck, Katherine. Dance for Your Daddy. Random House/Penguin, 2007. 

Willix, Pierra. “Rockingham councillor Katherine Summers opens up on past homelessness experience.” Sound Telegraph, 30 April 2019. 

“2021 WA State Election – Mandurah.” Sustainable Australia Party. 

Image available here.