by Donna (guest author) on 4 October, 2011
‘I never spoke of the abuse because it seemed normal. I had been abused in the orphanage’. In 1957, Donna, aged three, was sent into institutional care with her sister and four brothers. Donna shared her personal history with the National Museum:
We were brought up on the train from NSW with my four brothers and sister. My last memory is that something that happened. I ended up in hospital with a lot of pain and I was bloody and someone gave me a pink marshmallow bunny and so I must have been exposed to abuse.
I was sent to Nazareth House, Wynumm, in Queensland.The hardest part for me was being institutionalised and being separated from my family was traumatic but being separated from my sister was heart breaking. I still have memories of hanging on to the slatted wall searching for my sister hoping she would remember. I have nightmares of that memory that bring me to tears, searching for my sister.
We were stripped of all personal effects including my doll, Raggedy Ann, who was very precious to me.
The smell of the clothes in the orphanage was not too bad and I felt quite comforted by that smell.
The nuns used to deliver me to the house across the road to the paedophile priest. How can any person prepare a child, bathe and dress them, and then deliver them to someone who will abuse them? Had the nuns been abused themselves? Was this normal for them? I came back from the priest, broken. I wanted to die. I was just a little child. We were just babies.
My sister was released from the orphanage when she turned 14. My father came to take her home. I was only ten but I insisted on coming too. When my brothers saw me, they asked my father what I was doing home.
Dad replied, ‘I had to take her. The nuns made me’. That reinforced to me what one of the nuns told me; that I wasn’t wanted by the nuns, my parents or by God.
Because of the abuse that my siblings had experienced in the orphanage, my siblings were dysfunctional. My father was an alcoholic and was abusing me and so at the age of 11, I ran away. I had to fend for myself. It was a terrifying period. I had been institutionalised. I had no idea how to live on the outside. I was waiting for bells to ring. I had to fend for myself.
I walked the streets looking for kids to play with, somewhere to go. I never spoke of the abuse because it seemed normal. I had been abused in the orphanage. My father put me in Mitchelton at 12 and I tried to commit suicide. I was then put in the lock up ward in Lowson House. I felt safe there.
Then I returned home – nobody bothered to ask me what was happening. I got tired of being belted up by my older brother. I got sick of sleeping with my father. So I slept in toilet blocks. I’d eat at friends’ places. Many days I didn’t eat. I became a human toilet. I allowed men to sleep with me for a shower. It was a heck of lot gentler than at home.
Then my father put me in a hostel at Indooroopilly (Brisbane, Queensland) and I was hired out to be a domestic. I ran away from the hostel and the lady who ran it put out a report that I was missing. I was 14 and living with a man and engaged to him and he got charged with carnal knowledge – but this was a man who loved me.
I was sentenced to be a ward of the state until was 21. I thought that being sentenced paid for the lack of support from my parents. My case worker organised for me to be a domestic in people’s houses.
I got pregnant at 18 and I had to find a husband so that my daughter wouldn’t go into state care. I found a husband and we married with the approval of the state. I had been trained since I was six to clean homes and care for children. The state declared that I was in the care, control and custody of my husband until I was 21 and he knew it and he saw my role as being confined to the home, caring for children and him. He used to gamble, and go to massage parlours. I never stopped him because I thought, ‘Better them, than me’.
The marriage ended when my children were teenagers and because I felt trapped. From the age of 12 to 18 I had multiple attempts at suicide.
I’ve learnt a lot. I’ve done a lot of therapy. I work as a volunteer for Lifeline. I’ve raised a healthy family. I raised five healthy children. I have 15 grandchildren aged from two months to 18 years. I’ve played an important role in the lines of my grand children.
My brother committed suicide as a result of the pressure during the redress process in Queensland after the Forde Inquiry into institutional care. There was no healing in the redress process. It was vicious. It was cruel that we had to relive our childhood by filling in the forms and sitting and waiting to see if we were worthy to be paid a pittance. It’s still raw. It was as if we were abused all over. A lot of people didn’t have their files so they couldn’t prove their past.
Nothing has changed. It was still the government way. It was a cruel blow. It was reminder that we were still worth nothing.
I fought for years against the Catholic Church. We were informed that we had a case but because the Catholic Church had so much money – they could tie us up in litigation for years but even that was better than the redress scheme. Those who had made a life for themselves were disadvantaged because they weren’t seen as being desperate victims. I lost my son in a car accident ten years ago. That was traumatic for me. It was during the case against the Church.
I am now a foster parent. I am a specialised carer. I care for children with specialist needs.
Children are now aware of their rights but not of their responsibilities but as children in the Home we had no rights and we took all the responsibility even for our parents’ neglect.
I now live without a partner and that’s my choice. I am that marred by the experience that I am incapable of a relationship and intimacy. It’s difficult to allow anyone to love me.