As a young child, Sandie had always been labelled ‘uncontrollable’ and ‘wild’ by her family. She was sent to Reiby Training School in Campbelltown but when her behaviour did not improve; she was then transferred to Kamballa Special Unit at Parramatta at age 15. What nobody knew, and what Sandie wouldn’t find out herself until years later, was that she had complex PTSD and borderline personality disorder, and would frequently dissociate and
split between several personality states.
While in Kamballa, Sandie met and became friendly with an infamous teenage murderer. Six weeks later, Sandie and four other Kamballa inmates – including the teen murderer – managed to scale a three-metre high brick wall and swim across Parramatta River to escape.
The escape made front page news. The girls hid in Kings Cross before splitting up, and Sandie and another girl were captured by the police. They were bashed violently by the police while in custody, which further triggered Sandie’s mental health decline. Upon her return to Kamballa, Sandie was isolated and attacked by some Kamballa girls, who believed she had ‘lagged to the cops’ about the whereabouts of the other escapees. In desperation, she escaped again and lived on the streets of Redfern where she encountered muggings, violence, and drugs.
Things came to a head when Sandie was violently raped. Wondering dazed in the street, she was picked up by the police and returned to Kamballa. She made a pact with herself to survive and never get locked up again. She decided it was time to bury the different parts of her that kept getting her into trouble.
All of this would be remarkable enough by itself. However, Sandie’s portrayal of her undiagnosed complex PTSD and borderline personality disorder, and the different personalities that emerge in times of stress, makes her story even more unique, insightful, and downright fascinating. Sandie beautifully captures the different voices that live within her, as well as revealing what life was really like for ‘troublesome’ and ‘forgotten’ girls in the early 70s.
At times gritty and raw, it is also powerful and uplifting. When Sandie eventually returns to Kamballa, in her 50s, she begins the difficult but ultimately rewarding journey, to reconcile all the different parts of her personality she had previously buried deep within her. Sandie’s eventual reconciliation with her numerous personalities and growing self-acceptance of her differences is moving and inspiring.
It is estimated that 1–4% of the Australian population have borderline personality disorder. People diagnosed with this condition where once considered untreatable. Despite Sandie’s adolescent mental health records (extracts included in the book Borderline) reflecting this, she was not diagnosed with BPD until she was 55. Those diagnosed with BPD still encounter widespread misunderstanding and blatant stigma, which Sandie has encountered.