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Australian homemaker, administrator, and domestic violence survivor, Kerry Shayler (1952-2019), was in a children’s home and foster care during her childhood. 

Kerry Shayler was the youngest of three children born to Norma and Charley Shayler. When she was two years old, Kerry’s mother died and her father arranged for her to live at Ashfield Babies Home while her brother, Ken, and sister, Kate, were sent to the Burnside Presbyterian Homes for Children. 

Rows of cots spring to mind and in one a lonely child crying for her mother. Where had the mother’s love for her two-year-old gone?…I would carry the feeling of loneliness and feeling different to others through most of my life. I had become a ‘homes kid’ and that is a feeling only other ‘homes kids’ could understand (Shayler). 

Two years later, Kerry also went to live in Burnside, but the earlier separation from her siblings meant they were “just like all the other kids in Burnside” (Shayler). 

Kerry started her time in Burnside living in Reid Home before later being transferred to Ivanhoe. Life in both buildings was regimented, but stricter and more difficult in Ivanhoe. 

Lines had to be straighter, children had to be quieter and rules about lines harsher. Miss Yates was my first matron at Ivanhoe. She was a cruel woman…She pulled me from the line by my ear. Oh how it hurt, especially when she twisted the ear, too (Shayler). 

At least one member of staff on the onsite primary school was cruel too. 

One day, when I was daydreaming, I was frightened from my dream by fierce cracking on the blackboard, then the bellow of a voice…I tried to pay more attention from then on but it was hard…Mr Bates hit me so hard one day that my ear bled. I was taken to Burnside hospital and kept there for a day. Nothing happened to Mr Bates. I would have to put up with him for the rest of the year. 

Along with the harshness of staff and the regimented routine life—bed making, breakfast, chores, school, homework, bed—there were some pleasures for Kerry. She enjoyed climbing the trees at Ivanhoe, playtime after chores on Saturdays, walks to Parramatta Lake, seeing movies at the local cinema, playing sport—which she excelled at—and visits with her father. 

Visiting days were once a month on Saturdays. Our father would visit with a bag full of goodies for Kenny, Kate and me…Every second month we were allowed out of Burnside’s grounds and we would either go to our father’s house, to Nana’s or, on rare occasions, to see one of our ‘aunts’ in Lane Cove or Cronulla (Shayler). 

During her time at Burnside, the rules were relaxed somewhat, and visits became more frequent. Sadly, though, the visits with her father were marred by his sexual abuse of her from the age of eight until he died in 1967. When Kerry spoke up about this abuse at Burnside, she was beaten. By then, Kerry already had a ‘reputation’ as a ‘difficult’ child as she was rebellious and often ran away. 

The final building at Burnside that Kerry lived in as a fifteen year old was Cumbrae, run by a woman she called Aunty Janette. Aunty Janette was kind and fair, and under her tutelage Kerry became less rebellious and more ‘settled’. She completed her School Certificate and began working Saturdays at the local Woolworths. 

Kerry also began visits with the Gregsons, a family who wanted to do something for the children at Burnside and with whom Kerry lived in a foster care arrangement after she left Burnside. While staying with the Gregsons, Kerry decided to continue with her schooling but that became too difficult. 

Being a ‘homes kid’ previously was bad enough but you weren’t the only one there [at school]. Being a ‘foster kid’ was much harder. I felt I was looked down on and the harder I tried to fit in the worse things seemed to get (Shayler). 

Kerry left school and took up a job in the insurance industry. She discontinued living with the Gregsons and moved in with a friend. 

When she was seventeen, Kerry met her future husband, Phil, and became pregnant. Sam was born before Phil left with the army for Vietnam.  

Phil returned from active service in 1971 and Kerry discovered that he had become violent. The violence continued after their second son, Andy, was born in 1973 and for decades after. 

I walked on eggshells most of the time, wondering when the next lot of abuse would come. Phil did not hit me every day of the week, and he was quite smart only hitting me in places it did not show. On many occasions I thought about leaving but in that situation most women stayed because of money or the kids or both (Shayler). 

Finally, in 1994 and after twenty-four years of marriage, Kerry left Phil.  

Kerry was on her own for six years, supporting herself by working for a major political party, before she began dating Michael, with whom she moved to England in order to care for Michael’s father. In the meantime, her son Sam and his wife Fiona, had two daughters, Rebecca and Lee. 

After a life she described as “a very rough ride, peppered with wonderful times like the birth of my sons and special people” and made smoother” by fifteen years with Michael, Kerry died in England in 2019.  


“Burnside Presbyterian Homes for Children (1955 – 1978).” Find & Connect, 2011. 

“Ivanhoe (1919 – 1984).” Find & Connect, 2021. 

Parry, Naomi. “Cumbrae (1912 – 1987).” Find & Connect, 2014. 

“Reid Home (1922 – 1977).”  Find & Connect, 2021. 

Shayler, Kerry. Burnside Life Stories. Compiled by Kate Shayler. Hazelbrook, NSW: MoshPit Publishing, 2011.  

“The Infants’ Home, Ashfield (1877 – ).” Find & Connect, 2011.