Reading Readit: Illegitimate, fatherless, raped at 16 18

Community Reviews


View Profile

Rape, teen pregnancy, illegitimacy, domestic abuse – in 1970s Australia all were shameful secrets that trapped women in poverty, loss and ongoing emotional trauma.

I Belong to No One is Gwen Wilson’s story of all she lost and how hard she fought to survive. She suffered all these horrors but went on to become a successful happy woman.

Gwen was illegitimate in a time when illegitimacy carried a stigma. She grew up in Sydney’s western suburbs without a father and virtually without a mother. Her mother suffered from mental illness and was in and out of psychiatric hospitals her whole life. Gwen and her brother mostly raised themselves, living in abject poverty. It was enough to make most people give up – but despite her inauspicious beginning in life, Gwen was a promising student who looked as if she could fight her way into a better life via a scholarship and education. She appeared to have a bright future – so what happened?

Gwen met Colin who promised her love, the love she desperately craved. Gwen was raped by Colin’s older brother, possibly with Colin’s knowledge and compliance, although this fact was never clearly established. Not unusually for the 1970s, the police did not believe Gwen’s story and Colin was no help, claiming he had been hit on the head by his brother, left unconscious and didn’t know what was happening. Colin was scared of his brother and consequently the rape went unpunished.

At only 16 Gwen found herself pregnant, and although she had her doubts, she decided to marry, mainly to give her son a family and save him from the slur of illegitimacy. Marriage, however, was not a sanctuary, it was the beginning of a life of even more hardship and poverty. Colin continued to be one of the lads, to gamble and start a new job with monotonous regularity. He also didn’t hesitate to use his fists when displeased.

We must remember that in the 1970s, Australian society was not as tolerant of illegitimacy and teenage mothers as it is now. From our position in 2015, we may ask why she didn’t have an abortion or why she didn’t raise her son on her own. What we forget is that the unmarried mother’s benefit was almost non-existent and that for someone like Gwen, who knew personally the stigma of illegitimacy, a husband and father for her son seemed if not the only solution, then certainly the best solution.

In 1974, in the dying days of the forced adoption era in Australia, this isolated teenager was compelled to make a decision about her child that would tear her life apart, one she would never truly come to terms with. My heart broke for Gwen, but in the long run, she is not a victim she is a survivor.

I Belong to No One is an honestly written story of one woman’s life, of all she lost and of how hard she fought to become the woman she is today. I feel nothing but the highest admiration for this remarkable woman.

Coincidentally just as I finished reading this book I stumbled across the following quote from the Dalai Lama – We can let the circumstances of our lives harden us so that we become increasingly resentful and afraid, or we can let them soften us, and make us kinder. You always have the choice. Those words could be written about Gwen Wilson.

Sincere thanks to Hachette Australia for my ARC of this truly inspiring book.

I Belong to No One, by Gwen Wilson is published by Hachette Australia and is available to purchase at Dymocks.


About the Author

Wilson, GwenGwen Wilson started writing her memoir in her fifties. Essentially self-educated, Gwen worked as a motel receptionist, dental nurse and switchboard operator until at nineteen, in the exciting days of the pre-container era, a chance opportunity saw her land a role in customs clearance on the male-dominated Port Adelaide waterfront.

A stable marriage and successful career in shipping and logistics followed until she retired, after which Gwen entered university for the first time and now holds a Master’s degree in Electronic Commerce. Gwen and husband Bill live in Wollongong, New South Wales.


Karen O'Brien-Hall

I've had many careers in my life and loved each one! My new career blossomed when I retired and become an OAP. I am passionate about childhood literacy, books in general and my garden. I love Ballet, Opera, Concerts, Theatre, (both professional and community) and Movies. I tend to have opinions on most things and enjoy a good debate about the topic, not the person. In my thirties, I married my GOM (Gorgeous or Grumpy Old Man) the love of my life.

  1. This is one strong agree with the Dala’s quote also!! Kindness comes from knowing hardship during childhood we try harder!!

    1 REPLY
  2. Sounds good. It’s on my ‘to read’ list 🙂

  3. Does this same sort of thing every happen to Boys.
    Or Don’t they count, are not really people.

    Boys / Males are not on the “Politically Correct” agenda.

    BUT … are we looking at the PROBLEM, or the RESULTS of a problem.

    Why was the father Aggressive, Angry and Frustrated.
    Maybe because of his “Nana State” upbringing.
    (this sort of thing happened a lot less in the 60’s )
    Because he does not have a Purpose and Place in this “Modern Society”, now tipped in the balance of Women.

    And Male Agression & Frustration will get a LOT Worse as this female /gay ground swell takes over.

    “Analyse This”

    1 REPLY
    • I hear the points you make Wayne and yes, many boys have also had less than ideal starts in life. Many of these boys have become successful, loving, non-violent husbands and fathers. In the story told in I Belong to No One, sadly that is not the case.

  4. It sounds a compelling read, Karen. Social mores today have changed pretty much for the better, but unfortunately there remain too many exceptions. Thank you for your review.

  5. Sounds good. I have just downloaded this book.

    1 REPLY
    • I trust you will find Gwen’s story inspiring Kerrie; please share your thoughts.

  6. This women is amazing have met her and read the book you won’t want to put it down

    1 REPLY
    • Hello Sue, Lucky you gettin to meet Gwen. In her photo she looks such a calm together person.

  7. The Children of one parent carers are Exposed, Vulnerable, Exploited and Abused. Bill Shorten, Tanya Plibersek, Sarah Hanson-young, Juliar Gillard, Penny Wong and the Labor party want to legalise Homosexual Partners Registration. In what column do you put Kids with unknown father’s? (Bastards Column). There are more than 1,000,000 children with single parent carers who are exposed to Homosexuals, Paedophiles, and Homosexual partners, Pornography, Anal Sex, Sodomy, Amphetamines, Drugs and Alcohol. Now we have more threats, Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, transgender, intersex and questioning. Where will Shorten and the Labor government get the money for the education in schools for the children affected?

    1 REPLY
    • Thank you for your comments, Neil. However, I feel the need to defend single carers, (by the way I am not a single parent). There are many reasons for single mothers and fathers raising children, such as the death of a spouse. This doesn’t mean that these children are any more at risk of paedophiles than those of two parent families. I also object to your use of the word Bastard in relation to these children. Have you heard that children are not responsible for the sins of their parents (if sin is what you choose to call having a child out of wedlock)? We are all entitled to our point of view, but I do feel a little charity and respect for the feelings of others would not go astray.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *