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Forgotten Australian and dedicated mother, Pennie Tapp (b. 1967), was in foster and residential care as a child.

Pennie Tapp was born in Paddington, NSW. Pennie was two years old when her mother rejected her, along with her one-year-old brother and infant sister. The children were “chucked into homes” and Pennie was sent to Glebe Home (also known as Bidura, a NSW home for children awaiting court hearings or foster care and other placements). She and her siblings were charged with being neglected, a practice that began in the late 19th century and which persisted in some states until the last decades of the 20th century. Pennie became a Ward of the NSW State.

At the age of four, Pennie was sent for by her mother, Dianne, who had been living in Victoria and married to a paedophile since she abandoned her children.

…she ripped me out of the foster home I had, and that I identified as my parents… they were my mum and dad… she took me away from them, and I’d been there for two years, put me on a plane on my own and dragged me to Victoria, because I was…at an age where I was useful (Tapp).

Pennie was distressed when she landed in Victoria—she wanted to go home to her mum—and Dianne’s response was to slap the child across the face, remind her she was Pennie’s mother, and tell Pennie she “had better get used to it.”

The abuse escalated when Pennie “turned out to be not as useful as she demanded.”

…I used to get pretty badly beaten by bits of wood, jug cords… wooden spoons, belts, anything she could lay her hands on she used to beat the hell out of me with. And then she’d lock me up because I’d be crying. So I’d get locked up in a dark room or a dark cupboard… and be left there for a couple of days (Tapp).

When Pennie told Dianne she was being raped by her step-father, Dianne blamed Pennie and sent the child back into the Victorian state care system, the system Pennie had been in and out of since she was five.

I had a lot of foster parents, none of them nice. The nicest set of foster parents I had didn’t sexually assault me, didn’t physically assault me, but they demanded that I care for their daughter, and get a job, and take their daughter everywhere I went (Tapp).

Pennie’s brother, Michael, was also in and out of foster care, but the children were always separated. However, the two found a way to keep in touch by leaving coded messages in suburban phone boxes.

Pennie was in the notorious Winlaton, a Victorian state-run institution for teenage girls, for two months around the age of fourteen or fifteen. It felt like twelve months.

When she was on remand:

If you cried, you were beaten. If you weren’t in the right place at the right time you were beaten. If you messed up, answered back, looked the wrong way, you were beaten…(Tapp).

 And when she was in the mandatory therapy sessions:

You were always a liar, you were always to blame for anything that went wrong in your life, you were always the bad guy whenever you attended [Triad therapy meetings] (Tapp).

The only social worker Pennie recalls seeing during her time in the welfare system was when she was removed from Winlaton and placed in a hostel. Instead, it was usually police officers who moved Pennie from place to place and Pennie experienced them as physically violent and verbally cruel.

Pennie survived the ongoing sexual and physical assaults during her childhood by dissociating, by going “somewhere different in [her] head” no matter what was being done to her physically and despite the physical pain.

Pennie’s commitment to her own children changed her life. When Pennie was sixteen and pregnant with her son, she gave up (the readily available) drugs, and alcohol too when Adam was born, apart from a six-month relapse when she was twenty-three and learned nineteen-year Michael had died.

Attributing her desire and determination that her own children not have a childhood like hers to those two years of being nurtured and loved by Beryl, her first foster mother—all these years later a visit to Beryl is for Pennie “like going home”—Pennie set out to educate herself on how to parent effectively by reading and observing other families.

Recently, Pennie has realised that in her resolve to ensure that her three daughters have a safe life, she had become over-protective and controlling of them, a “helicopter parent”. She has therefore been learning how to step back, in a way that is appropriate to each stage of her daughters’ development.

Successfully applying to the National Redress Scheme, a response to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse 2013-2017, and connecting with other Forgotten Australians—particularly through Open Place in Melbourne—have been important for Pennie.

The relief and the sadness at the same time, finding out that there was so many of us and that we were actually given a name as a group of people. It was nice to be able to identify as that but also sad to be able to identify as that. It was very mixed feelings…Finally I belonged somewhere (Tapp).

The legacy of her childhood for Pennie is profound: intense feelings of rage and hatred toward Dianne—feelings she would like to release—and difficulties trusting others, never feeling “normal”, not having a loving, close family, and physical disabilities—arthritis in her back, osteoarthritis in a leg—resulting from beatings and being run over when she was a child.

Significantly, however, Pennie has been able to break the cycle of intergenerational out-of-home care; she has raised four children who have never experienced the care system and who know that their mother loves and will protect them.

Pennie is also a qualified counselor and is considering taking that up as a profession, particularly to support other Forgotten Australians.

Her advice to others is “to never give up on yourselves because you’re worth it” (Tapp).


“Bidura (1920-1977).” Find and Connect, 2021.

“Pennie Tapp Oral History Interview.” Care Leaver Activism & Advocacy Research Project, 2022.

“Winlaton (1956-1991).” Find & Connect, 2021.

Photo supplied by Pennie Tapp