AT LAST: Vicki Barrett's family were told she was dead but even after 55 years they continued to look for her.
AT LAST: Vicki Barrett's family were told she was dead but even after 55 years they continued to look for her. Meg Bolton

Vicki was united with her sons who were told she was dead

LAIDLEY resident Vicki Barrett thought she "was dying" when she was reunited with her family for the first time in 55 years.

Ms Barrett was 22 when she last saw her sons, and even younger when she lost touch with her siblings.

With time against her and fears the ocean separated her and her children, Ms Barrett couldn't believe her luck when after a lifetime of searching she received a call from her brother.

"I thought I was dying, I couldn't stop shaking, I couldn't stop crying," she said.

Ms Barrett has now been reunited with her surviving siblings and sons but the pathway for finding them hasn't been easy.

A child of war time, she was the eldest of seven children but spent most of her life in an orphanage.

Born as Violet Patricia Barrett in 1941, she was only taken out of the orphanage for special occasions, where she would meet her another brother or sister before being returned for the nuns to raise. "None of us remember seeing our mother pregnant," she said.

Abandoned with nothing but the clothes on her back, Ms Barrett had to earn her keep - from the age of eight she cooked for the nuns, standing on chairs to reach the bench.

"At 16 I was finally released from the children's home but was put out on the streets with nothing," Ms Barrett said.

She spent the next few weeks wandering the streets in search of her brothers and sisters but with no idea where they could be, she began to look for work in order to stay alive.

With limited education and skills, Ms Barrett cleaned houses and chopped wood, but sometimes relied on the kindness of strangers for food.

"I recall one day a lady gave me a sandwich ... I kept that sandwich for three days," she said.

Ms Barrett lived a transient life, sleeping under bridges and in fields until she was employed as a cleaner by a Maltese family.

But before she knew it Ms Barrett fell pregnant to the son of the strict religious family and the news was not welcomed.

"I was flogged with a razor strap and put in a bath with hot water and mustard," Ms Barrett said.

Ms Barrett said the Maltese family did "their best" to terminate the pregnancy but after multiple attempts they gave up and decided the young couple would marry instead.

After they married it only got worse, "covered in bruises and suffering malnutrition", Ms Barrett was severely beaten by her husband.

"This one day he gave me a belt and told me to get outside, he kicked me, he hit me across the mouth with a broom handle and broke my teeth, I had a cracked rib and malnutrition," she said. Ms Barrett said the abuse was so bad a neighbour called the doctor who admitted Ms Barrett to hospital for two months.

"When I came out I walked for three days to try and find the kids and I couldn't find them anywhere, so I walked to his aunty's house and she looked at me and said 'No, you're dead. You died in hospital'," Ms Barrett said

Ms Barrett was told her children were taken to Malta and would never return to Australia.

That was the last time Ms Barrett saw anyone from her Maltese family and in a twisted fate of events Vicki was homeless and alone for the second time in her life.

When Ms Barrett received the call from her brother earlier this year she learned her children did not go to Malta.

Instead they were put into an orphanage in Ballarat.

Both her children and siblings were told she died in hospital but didn't give up hope, they searched for her their whole lives.

"You can't feel angry because I've got three kids up here now, I've got 9 grandkids and 12 great grandchildren," she said.