Forgotten Australians, memories

The nuns thought we were criminals

Maureen Cuskelly shares some detailed recollections of her experiences at St Aidan’s, Bendigo, where she lived from the age of eight to 17.

Maureen, one of seven children, was sent to Abbotsford Convent, Melbourne at the age of two after her mother was admitted to hospital. Here she shares some of her later experiences at St Aidan’s.

Life at St Aidans, Good Shepherd Convent Bendigo
Some of my Story
 

Hell No, We Won’t Go. 1968.  According to Time magazine this is the year that shaped a generation1. The anti-war battle cry: Hell No, We Won’t Go spells out the attitude to the Vietnamese war, conscription and restriction of liberty. Western youth sing about love, freedom and peace. It’s the year of liberation but not for everyone.

I enter St Aidans Good Shepherd Convent (Bendigo, Vic) singing the words to the Beatles song Hey Jude: ‘Don’t make it bad, take a sad song and make it better….. Hey Jude don’t be afraid…… And any time you feel the pain, Hey Jude, refrain, Don’t carry the world upon your shoulders’.

Petite build, I weigh 40kg. Mousy brown hair with brown almost black deep set eyes I am not a pretty girl. Maybe I could be described as attractive. Small for my size and young for my age, I look more like an 11 year old.  I just had my birthday at home with my mother, and five brothers and sisters. It is three days after my 13th birthday. I didn’t celebrate my birthday. Somehow my mother did not celebrate these things. When I was young I thought she forgot but as I got older I knew she had a sharp mind and did not forget. Birthdays had traumatic memories for her and she just chose not to remember.

There were six of us living in Echuca with mum before I entered the home. As a child I used to fantasize that our family  were famous just because we were such a big family. In primary school I had a brother or sister in every class and our school went up to year 8. I imagined we would be famous like the Enid Blyton series  The Secret Seven.

Veronica used to live with us in Echuca too  but she went into the ‘home’ in January.  It is because of Veronica that I am standing here now facing institutional life.  Veronica came home for the May school holidays and shocked to find my mentally ill mother treating me so badly she declared

She’s not doing that to you. You’re coming back with me.

Hey Jude, don’t be afraid… I hum to myself.  It’s a song of affirmation. I cling to this as I learn the ropes of this institution and the nun’s rules, “be modest girl, don’t laugh.  What are you smiling about? Don’t run girl, walk like a lady. Don’t talk like that! Girls don’t sweat. Horses sweat, men perspire, women glow.  Don’t be proud, you’ve got nothing to be proud of dear”. 

I work at following the rules. I hum, Hey Jude.  It’s the top single of the year.

The beginning of the day is the sound of Mother Rita’s key in the lock. I don’t realize it yet but soon this will become one of the chilling sounds I fear.  We assemble in silence by our beds until the bell goes indicating morning Mass is finished. Breakfast is toast and urn tea. Mother Rita announces

Take the new girl to Mother Theresa for her morning duties.

Can she use a polisher? Mother Theresa asks Veronica.  Mother Theresa  seems to know who I am. I think this is a welcome.

No mother.

Well she can sweep the concert hall until she learns. Someone show this girl how to polish that floor, I want to see it reflect my face. The girls giggle. Who would want to look at a reflection of Mother Theresa’s big head?

The concert hall is big, I don’t know how big really. I guess it could seat hundreds of people. It is the biggest area to the cleaned. Chairs line the perimeter of the room and the stage is screened off with brick red velvet curtains. A bigger girl takes me to show me the ropes.

Use this broom and sweep it thoroughly, the older girl  tells me, the dust shows up.  And, move those chairs out and do under them thoroughly. Fluff and dust accumulate there and you will be in for it if Mother Rita sees any.

I walk up and down the room, pushing the heavy broom ahead of me.

You blockhead, don’t do it that way, work across the room or you won’t know where you’ve been, instructs my chaperone. She’s watching me, not helping.  Next, she wheels out the industrial polisher.

 Okay, make this floor shine.

The polisher is heavy. I grip the handles awkwardly and the beast flies across the room, dragging me with it.

Let go, let go, she yells.

I release the machine. It stops dead just as quickly as it took off.  I am white with shock. She laughs.

Here, I’ll show you, grip the handle lightly and the machine will be easier to control. Work it slowly, move the machine a little to the right and a little to the left.  Small circles does it.

Gingerly, I grasp the handle, which I now realize holds the controls. The machine hums, the vibrations work through my fingers. It’s like a jolting movement shaking my hands. With a mind of it’s own the machine lurches across the room in a frog-leap fashion into the chairs. They scatter like skittles.

Work it to the right like I told you, left and right. My instructor guides me again. Don’t let it go straight ahead. It’s not meant to thrust forward. Ha ha, it’s not a man you know. Ha ha.

I don’t know what she means but I get control of the beast and work the floor. After a long period of time she calls Come on, that’ll do. She  jumps down from the stage where she’s been sitting, legs swinging idly, watching.  It’s hours of work, you’ll get used to it, just sweep one day and polish the next. And don’t forget to dust the window sills and the piano. We better get to school.

A new girl. Mrs Raeburn announces to the class. They already know this. We got ready together this morning, said our prayers in chorus and ate breakfast together didn’t we. It’s hardly likely they did not notice me!

Yes, she continues. Mother Rita has told me all about you. I won’t tolerate trouble in my class. Pointing towards an empty desk, sit there while I get you your sets.

Mrs. Raeburn is the one supervising teacher on our side. A retired elderly teacher, she is from the outside. Mrs. Raeburn is the only outside person that visits the convent. Small, old she wears clunky black wedged heeled shoes and black stockings with every outfit. Her clothing is a knitted skirt and cardigan buttoned to the neck. Her grey fine hair held tautly in a bun matches the no nonsense look. I quickly learn, on every issue she takes Mother Rita’s side.

What year are you in?

Year 8

I come to understand that the schooling is an internal arrangement. Like everything else. We don’t leave the facility and no-one comes in. Our schooling is through the Correspondence School, Melbourne. The school’s purpose, originally, was to provide teacher training by correspondence course for trainee teachers unable to attend the Melbourne Teacher’s College. According to historical records it expanded to secondary level accommodating bush kids, circus kids who were not in one place long enough to go to school. And children in youth training centres. I guess we fit into the last group. Certainly the nuns thought we were criminals. They described us as vulgar, uncontrollable and unable to be trusted. Mother Rita’s view was that if we made good in the world we would get a ‘good office job’’.

By 1911, 600 student-teachers were studying by correspondence.

Students first began using the services of the school in 1914, after an urgent letter from a mother in a remote area concerned about the prospects of educating her two sons.  A small group of six trainee teachers volunteered to draw up sets of lessons for the boys who received work every fortnight’ 2.

I’m getting the hang of the routine of the home. Breakfast in silence, do chores – sweep, polish and dust. It’s the regularity that I find comforting during the day. I think about my family in Echuca. Colin is the oldest it’s true. I am the middle child I know this as well. Seven of us. Colin, Terry and Veronica are older than me and Michael, Mary and Robert are younger. I don’t feel like a middle child.   I am the older sister to Michael, Mary and Robert which makes me an older child too. The oldest of the youngest. At night I lie awake fretting about Mick, Mary and Robbie. Wracked with guilt for deserting them I toss and turn. My mother is too ill to care for them. How will they get on?

The responsibility for their welfare means I feel neither like a child or an adult. Feverish with worry I ruminate incessantly like this all night. There is no end to it. I do not hear from my family and I cannot settle. Veronica tells me she feels abandoned too. I am reminded of Mother Rita’s words when I arrived at the Parlour door.

Come in dear, you are not to be telling anybody what you have done. Its nothing to be proud of you know. Her pencil thin lips signal how silent we are expected to be. The message is clear, you have a shocking past, sinful child, don’t be telling the other girls about your filthy history.

What have I done? There is no sympathy and no-one to talk to. If a girl complains to the nuns ‘I don’t want to be here’, she is promptly told, ‘we didn’t ask for you to come here either, you know’.

In spite of the agonizing at night I am relieved to feel safe, physically safe from attack. The mundane routine of institutional life is preferable to the unpredictable chaos of life with my disturbed mother. I settle comfortably into the routine.

During the day I work in the laundry. It’s an inferno in summer but emits comforting warmth in winter. I stand on a box to reach the mangle.  The linen is scalding hot; the intense steam scorches my face if I get too close.  If I am too slow to react the garment goes round the mangle a second time coming back hotter than before. It’s altar linen from the local churches. Hard starched cotton. The effect is like trying to grip a pumice stone. Hard to grip and harder to hold.  The knack is to pick the corners of the revolving linen quickly with your fingers tips as it comes round the mangle. The quicker the better, the girls tell me, it will save your fingers getting burnt.

I’ve mastered the polisher and my job in the laundry is sheet folding. It is  my forte. The sheets are dried and ironed simultaneously as they rotate through the sheet mangle. This mangle is more sophisticated than the one used for the church linen. It requires speed and accuracy to feed the sheets through so the ‘old ladies’ do it. Sheet-folding, on the other hand, requires skill and speed.  Working in pairs we hold an end each, fold the length in half, pull it taut, quarter it, shake out again, smooth the linen down proficiently; do a pirouette meeting in the middle to hand the folded sheet to the girl working with us as the other end. It’s a routine of precision.  The last three folds are completed by one girl on the folding table. This routine is for every sheet and there are hundreds of them. The sheets are stacked eight high on the table then loaded into trolleys.

The old ladies let the sheets mount up during the day for us to do after school. With lightning speed we get the stack of unfolded sheets down. My friend Theresa Forster and I are expert at sheet folding. We do this for an hour and a half after school most days. It’s a physical workout all right; we skip in the middle, making of game of it challenging ourselves to beat our best times.

The physical work did not come easy to me though. I recall my first day in the laundry. Arriving at St Aidans in the school holidays I am immediately put to work. Mother Mercy finds me sitting on the folding tables.

Get down child. Tables are not for sitting on. Her face is like a blustering wind when she speaks.

Can I go to the toilet please Mother?

We don’t speak like that, It’s unladylike.

I need to go, what do I say?

Could I be excused please?

There is no need to be explicit. A tilt of the head as you ask indicates it is of a private nature.

I run to ‘Cosy Corner’, even the toilet is incognito. I stay on the toilet as long as I can. For the first week I go to the toilet every hour. I need to sit down and it’s the only resting place there is. I am not up to an eight hour working day. Mother Mercy sends someone to get me, quick hurry you’re in for it for skiving off.

Mondays are the worst days in the laundry. The personal laundry from the boarders at Girton College arrive. Each student’s clothing is bagged separately.

Come on, Mother Mercy says, empty them out and count them

I turn the bag upside down and shake it. Out tumble smelly socks, sports gear, uniforms and dirty underwear. Girls’ underwear stiff with dried blood. Seven days of dirty underwear and clothes.  Urrgghh. I hate this job. Yuk. Now I know why so many girls rushed to the mangle when we came in.

I pick up each pair of panties by the corners trying to avoid the stains. The smell cannot be avoided.  It’s our job to audit the personal items. Each piece of clothing is counted, ticked off the sheet and put back in the bags for laundering. I would rather fold sheets for hours than do this!

I spend 4.5 years at St Aidan’s doing schooling by correspondence. I type up my school assignments on the big clunky Olivetti typewriters. One assignment for every subject every week. Lots of typing and ribbon changing. Mother Mercy teaches us how to type with cloth tied over the keyboard so we cannot see the keys. I become a touch typist in spite of the clunky machines. The assignments are sent to the Correspondence School each week. I clean in the mornings before school. Most of Saturday is spending cleaning the dormitories and bathrooms. After school and school holidays I work in the laundry.

When I leave I do not know how to manage money, shop for food, cook, catch public transport and I do not know my way around the town I have lived in for the last 5 years.  There is little support for ‘homies’ when we leave.  For a short while I wander the streets looking for love. This nearly ends in disaster. I talk the welfare into letting me go back to school to finish year 12. They fund me and I live in a boarding house with strange people. Other misfits like me. A pale lady who never leaves her room, a grey bearded man who talks to himself all day; a man who drinks too much who asks me if I am on the contraceptive pill. The elderly owners of the boarding house go north for winter and leave their divorced son-in-law in charge. This nearly ends in disaster as well. I fry peas and uncooked rice in a pan but it is un-chewable. Life is daunting.

Eventually I learn how to boil rice, catch a bus to school and shop. Over the next two years I attend three schools and it takes me three attempts to complete year 12.

Today I am well educated. I have four qualifications and have worked in the mental health field for 37 years. I love this work but I have terrible arthritis in my hands. It is a limiting condition that restricts my life considerably. Too much work as a child, living in cold harsh conditions, folding sheets, polishing and scrubbing floors has meant my hands have aged years ahead of their time. Altogether I have spent over 10 years of my childhood in homes; six years in the Good Shepherd Convent in Abbotsford and four and a half years with the Good Shepherds in Bendigo. As time wears on my hands wear out. The years of repetitive work and agitations of an industrial polisher mean now that the vibrations of a car steering wheel are like small violent stabs. Today, it is difficult to grip the steering wheel for long periods of time. For years now I have been adjusting my life to accommodate my hands.  The biggest thing I miss is being able to drive to Bendigo to see my brothers and sisters. Using public transport that take most of the day to get there when a car trip is a comfortable three hours drive away is frustrating.  Being unable to hold a pen to write Christmas cards, hold cutlery, fumble and struggle to grip money to pay for groceries,  difficulty dressing and being unable to change my grandson’s nappy. These are the daily things I struggle with.  If I do too much in a day I can hardly hold my cutlery.  Hand surgery, some home changes and life style restrictions all help a bit.

The lyrics from the Bee Gees songs still swim around in my head:

Where are the girls / I left all behind /The spicks and the specks/ Of the girls on my mind/ Where is the girl I loved all along/ The girl that I loved / She’s gone she’s gone/ All of my life I call yesterday/ The spicks and the specks …
 
Luuv they don’t even know how to say it.
Disgusting singers. That Tom Jones and Elvis Presley they’re corrupting innocent  girls with their pulsating and gesticulating hips.
 
We’d walk around the grounds laughing and singing  You’ve lost that loooving feelin, oh that loving feelin, you’ve lost that loving feelin, now its gone, gone, gone, oh, oh, oh.
(The Righteous Brothers, ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’).
On occasion fights used to break out over whether Tom Jones was better than Elvis. The new girls would bring new songs and stories of the ‘latest’. I remember when Johnny Farnham was a new comer to the pop scene.  He would be, alternately, drooled over and fought over. Having been in the home a while I did not know much of the outside scene so I faked my knowledge of the singers and songs. No-one noticed and no-one cared. Mother Rita’s disapproval of them guaranteed we idolized them even more. To sing of love and freedom was our rebellion. Today, I imagine the girls are still singing the songs:- unrestricted, loud, bold and free.
 

 Those were the days my friend / We’d thought they’d never end / We’d sing and dance / Forever and a day. We’d live the life we’d choose / We’d fight and never lose / For we were young / And sure to have our way … La La La La La La La La La La La La … Those were the days, my friend those were the days.

(Mary Hopkin. ‘Those were the Days my Friend’).

 


[1] Time 1968. A Pictorial History. Special Collectors Edition.[2] https//www.distance.vic.edu.au/about/abthist.htmVeronica and I chat for hours about the wonderful girls we grew up with. We wonder what they are doing?  We imagine they still sing the songs of our youth.  We know well how adolescent pleasures were restricted in the home. Mother Rita scorned all pop music.  

art, articles/lectures, documents, drawing, Forgotten Australians, memories

Museum accepts poignant memento of tough times

‘We were just whipped away; we didn’t know where we were going,’ says Carmel Durant, who grew up in Bidura Home, Glebe, NSW and with various foster parents. Read Glenn Ellard’s report in the South Coast Register about the chalk drawing Carmel made when she was ten years old.

Carmel’s drawing will be part of the exhibition Inside: Life in Children’s Homes and Institutions which opens on 16 November 2011 at the National Museum of Australia, Canberra.

You can read the 10 August 2011 report on the  South Coast Register website.

art, Forgotten Australians, memories, painting

What Mrs Letherby did for us

Artist Rachael Romero, who was in the The Pines, the Convent of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in Plympton, South Australia shares her painting of an inspirational teacher.

Rachael explains:

Briefly, a kind old woman was brought in to supervise our studies. Her name was Mrs Mary Letherby, she was only there a week or two.

We expected her to think of us as defiled like the nuns did. But she did something nobody else had done–she treated us as human.

She listened to us and accepted us untarnished by the atrocities we’d experienced. We were amazed.

This gave us hope when we had none.

After we got out several of us went to see her. Her compassion changed our lives.

Although she died not long after she has inspired me all my life.

22×30″ copyright Racheal Romero
documents, Forgotten Australians

Schwarten Inquiry into Westbrook

‘The Superintendent said, “Don’t look at me in that tone of voice”  and banged boy 90’s head several times against the tin wall’. Read the full 1961 report of the Inquiry into Westbrook Farm Home for Boys by Stipendiary Magistrate, Mr AE Schwarten.

The report was conducted after an ‘incident which occurred on Sunday, 14th May, 1961, at the Farm Home for Boys, Westbrook, in which approximately 36 inmates of the said Home were involved and number of whom escaped’.

The report was provided to the National Museum of Australia by Al Fletcher, author of Brutal: Surviving Westbrook Boys Home by Al Fletcher as told to Cheryl Jorgensen. The report has since been published online by the Queensland Government.

Download a copy of the 79-page Westbrook Farm Home for Boys Inquiry Report (PDF 6.92MB)

Two boys seen through bars across a window at Westboork Boys Home
Child Migrants, Forgotten Australians, music, Stolen Generations

‘A Call for Justice’

Michelle Greaves shares  ‘A Call for Justice’, a song recorded by her twin brother, Mark  Torr. It’s dedicated to all those who spent time in Children’s Homes and Institutions. Michelle and Mark were sent to Darling Babies Home, Victoria, at the age of two and then, three years later, to Nunawading Cottage, St John’s Home for Boys and Girls.

Mark talks about ‘A Call for Justice’:

This song is a dedication to all that have endured loneliness and hardship throughout their journey from the innocence of childhood to becoming an adult.

It is a call for justice for those that suffered abuse at the hands of the very people that were charged to protect them.

This song represents a collective call for justice for one and all.

It is a recognition that many came from all walks of life, Orphanages, Foster Care, Child Migrants, and from within Church and Government institutions.

It is also dedicated to all those that have fallen along the way and no longer walk amongst us.

Stand Proud Stand Tall
Your brother your friend Mark …

Forgotten Australians, poetry

‘Warrior’s Journey’

Author and counsellor Margaret Spivey lived in Children’s Homes from the age of 18 months to 17 years. ‘Warrior’s Journey’ is Margaret’s powerful poem tracing life in welfare and beyond.

‘Warrior’s Journey’ was published in Beyond the Tobacco Bush, Beyond the Cocoa Bean (2003), and Warrior’s Journey (2003).

Warrior’s Journey

Father dies
mother leaves
sisters taken away.
Helpless, defenceless.
No hand to cling to,
Welfare Property
Ward number 77318
another number, another mouth,
another body, another untouched soul,
another heart to be healed,
another shadow in the dark of night.
She is two years old.
From one dwelling to another she is sent.
Disconnected, her child’s heart broken, the need for love
Unquenched.
A vacuum for her confidence and sense of self;
anxiety and anger her constant companions
she struggles to belong, she doesn’t belong.
Hands shake, body trembles,
cries unheard, muffled under bed covers.
She is ten years old.

She thinks of death to escape the anguish.
She believes she has no right to take up space,
to breathe air.
She believes there will be rejoicing at her passing,
a problem solved.
She releases the genie in the bottle,
life goes on about her,
she closes her eyes and waits.
She is marked. She is spared.
Like the first born of the Israelites, the Angel of Death passes her by.
She is twelve years old.

Tormented by anger, a prisoner of rage.
Her cries for justice, she fights to be heard.
They say, ‘she’s a psychiatric case’
and needs to be medicated.
Silence her voice, dull her mind, and inhibit her strong emotions.
She must endure the rash, the itch, the weight gain, the hand tremors, and the sluggish thoughts.
Now they say ‘she’s boring with no powers of conversation’.
In school she sits, eyes heavy; she drops her head – just for a moment.
She sleeps her days away.
She is fourteen years old

She hears the call of the warrior soul.
She resists sedation; the murder of her spirit.
Pills hurtle across the fence, a cry goes out
‘I won’t do what you want any more!’
Strong male hands force her down, inject her into submission.
They say ‘it’s for her own good and for the good of others’.
She is ‘disturbed’, ‘mad’, emotionally retarded’.
She is fifteen years old.

She is released, pushed out into a world of strangers.
They don’t understand or care about her sorrow.
She must find work, forge relationships, and build a life. There is no help, there is no social net to catch her, and there is no family to
give her connection.
She must find her own way.
She is lost, jobs are transient, and relationships unravel.
Booze is her solace, drugs her respite, madness her rescuer.
The streets her home.
She is seventeen years old.

She is a mother;
frightened, solitary,
how can she care for the infant in her arms?
She needs help, she reaches out,
her children are removed.
She can’t be trusted, she can’t trust herself.
It’s for her own good ‘in the best interest of the children’.
She seeks the comfort of death,
but death rejects her plea.
The ‘Warrior Soul’ calls her to life.
She yearns to be a mother, she craves to do it right,
Her children are ‘restored’,
She is twenty-four years old.

A single mother, living in poverty.
She hears the call of her warrior soul
She needs to dream, she needs to believe,
She needs to hope.
However, she is mad.
Her mind has betrayed her,
what can she anticipate?
The pills, the booze, the violence.
How can she break the will to self-annihilate?
She is determined.
She must find a way.
She is twenty-seven years old.
She treads the road of trials,
She cries out ‘there is no God!’
Lost within her madness,
admitted to the Clinic.
‘What is wrong with me?’ she pleads.
She is thirty-three years old.

The warrior soul is stronger
than the darkness, that binds her.
She heeds its call.
Is there a God? She prays to believe.
She dares for more than mere survival,
she crawls out from within the sewage of her life.
She is thirty-six years old.

Her untaught soul greets the morning.
She discovers she is far more than all her experiences.
More than her illness.
She knows now, in each one of us
there is a gold of great worth.
There is a warrior soul of strength and courage.
Compelled to transform her suffering.
she studies, she learns, she grows,
finds enduring love, personal value.
She connects.
Passes on her hope,
helps others finds their way.
Sometimes death still whispers her name,
however, she grips the hand of the warrior within,
she has learnt to trust.
She has found power and strength within,
She is forty-five years old.

copyright Margaret Spivey 2003

Beyond the Tobacco Bush
Beyond the Cocoa Bean
Warrior’s Journey
Forgotten Australians, poetry

‘Those Long Lost Years’

Graham Evans, who was sent to st Vincent’s Boys Home, Westmead in 1962, has been contributing to this website since it began. Read Graham’s latest song lyrics.

Those Long Lost Years

If I could take you back to times when we were young
All these stories of abuse you hear, have not just begun
It’s been our life time, and no one can really see
Except the abused and my friends, what’s left to be

We’ll we fight for justice, and our equal rights
Because we’re fully pledged ‘Forgotten Australians’ both day and night
And we’re so tired of lying down with these silent tears
But! what do you expect, after all ‘Those Long Lost Years’

It’s been our life time, and no one want’s to see
Not the Churches, the Government’s themselves, nor Society
Well we’re so tired of lying down with these silent tears
But what do you expect after all ‘Those Long Lost Years’

Yah! It’s been our life time, and no one want’s to see
Not the Churches, the Governments themselves, nor Society
Well! we’re not going to lye down no more, we’re going to stand and fight for our cause
But what! do you expect, after all ‘Those Long Lost Years’
And what do you expect, after all ‘Those Long Lost Years’.

Child Migrants, documents, memories

Welcome walls

by Oliver Cosgrove (guest author) on 8 August, 2011

The names of Child Migrants from Britain and Malta are included on commemorative panels erected in Fremantle by the Western Australian Museum.

More than one third of Western Australia’s population was born overseas. The Welcome Walls project pays tribute to those migrants who arrived by sea, landing at Fremantle or Albany, and to the many benefits they gave to their new home, enriching the lives of all Western Australians.

In Fremantle, over 400 panels commemorating the names of migrants who arrived through this area have been erected at the Western Australian Museum at Victoria Quay. These panels include information about Australia’s Child Migrants from Britain and Malta.

You can read details for each of the Child Migrants on the Western Australian Welcome Walls website.

articles/lectures, Forgotten Australians

Sudden death of psychiatric patients

by Pat Brodnik (guest author) on 8 August, 2011

‘People are dying and even the press is starting to report these deaths, amazing …’ writes Pat Brodnik, who shares an article from The Age about the ‘unexpected, unnatural or violent’ deaths of 200 Victorian psychiatric patients.

You can read the 1 July 2011 article,  ‘200 psych patients died suddenly’, on The Age website.

articles/lectures, Child Migrants, Forgotten Australians

‘Religious life is dying’

by Oliver Cosgrove (guest author) on 8 August, 2011

‘We noticed that the abuses happened when the Christian Brothers were at our strongest. We were thriving in terms of vocation, power and money. The government would not dare to question us.’  Read  an interview with Brother Philip Pinto, head of the Congregation of Christian Brothers, who says religious life in its traditional sense is ‘dying’.

You can access the 5 January 2011 article on the Conference of Religious India Bulletin.

art, Forgotten Australians, memories, painting

‘The stain is indelible’

by Rachael Romero (guest author) on 5 August, 2011

Artist Rachael Romero, who was in the The Pines, the Convent of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in Plympton, South Australia shares her painting Pines Quadrangle dark with station of cross detail.

Rachael describes its significance:

It was dark the first time I crossed that cement quadrangle–at first I thought I was on the deck of an old ship. I had entered a new confinement.

It was clear that I had been condemned–that my prior life was over. That I was despised by my new jailers.
That the life that loomed before me was now even more dreadful . The idea that I would have to endure an unbearable seven years until
I reached twenty-one and had the power of my own volition was agonizing.

They knew not what they did.
Now they wash their hands, but the stain is indelible.

Painting of two girls with cross and nun in dark quadrangle
Pines Quadrangle dark with station of cross detail by Rachael Romero
Child Migrants, photos

Ann’s story

by Ann McVeigh (guest author) on 2 August, 2011

‘My identity was stolen from me’. Child Migrant Ann McVeigh shares her personal history and photographs of St Joseph’s Orphanage, Subiaco (now Wembley), WA.

As a child migrant my identity was stolen from me the moment I left my home land, without my mother’s consent. The name that I was born with was changed when I was put into Nazareth House in Belfast. I came to Australia on the [SS] Asturias when I was 5 years old in 1950.

On arrival in Western Australia I was sent to St Vincent’s Foundling Home in Wembley till I turned ‘a big girl’ 6 years of age. When one turns 6 one is sent to St. Joseph’s Orphanage which was next to St Vincent’s. Once placed there I still had my name changed and the date of my birth was changed also. Right away we were given numbers to answer to, put onto our clothes and lockers, my number being number one. Straight away you were expected to work always rising at 6 am every day for prayers and Mass. Duties being – sweeping yards, cleaning toilets, washing and polishing floors in the dormitories, classrooms and long corridors on hands and knees. Children were put in charge of children to be cared for in nurseries, kindergarten and foundling home. Laundry had to be done for private boarding schools and hospitals as well. Huge big washing machines, dryers and mangles which were like oversized irons for sheets and the like. The work was relentless and very tiring.

A lot of the child migrants were, I feel, abused both physically and mentally simply because we didn’t get visitors and had no-one to report the abuses to. Girls were constantly being told that ‘from the gutters of Belfast you came and to the gutters of Belfast you’d return’. Schooling was always under duress, beltings if exam results weren’t good enough or if you couldn’t understand what was being taught. To my mind it was likened to a modern day Oliver Twist, with all the cruelty that went on.

When I was in grade 2 I was informed that I was a very lucky girl because I received a letter from my mother. I was called up to the front of the class whilst the letter was read out to me. I never ever forgot that letter and always wondered when I would get a visit from my mother who said she’d try and come to get me to take me back to Ireland. Every time the door bell would go you’d stop and wait with hope, expecting your name to be called. In the end it would be a joke – yeah she’s walking across water to get me – not ever realising my letters that you wrote were never passed on. My education ended in second year high when I was 15 ½ years. I was sent 300 miles up north to look after 5 children and help around the house. One day I was with 200 kids, the next day 5 children and 2 adults. The quietness was frightening as I missed my school pals terribly. That job lasted six months and the second job for only one month, another country job doing housework for a very nasty and cold family. I was never ever greeted the time of day – just given orders on what had to be done for the day. No payment ever received. The third country job was as a shop assistant which I really enjoyed, but after 11 months I was very upset when told I would have to go back to St. Joseph’s. When her son came to pick me up I locked myself in the bathroom until I was given an assurance that I wasn’t going back. I was sent to a juvenile detention centre which scared me somewhat when I woke up the first morning as there were bars on all the windows and I thought that I had been sent to jail.

Because I rebelled I was given a welfare officer to help me out with jobs and accommodation. It was she who got my mother’s address and encouraged me to put pen to paper. Because I was eighteen I had to correspond by mail till I was allowed to go overseas and visit the family when I turned 21. When I first started to write, my mother told my siblings (2 brothers and 4 sisters) that I was their cousin from Australia. As they were still very young and still at school, not much explanation was needed. In 1967 I met my family for the first time. Being shy, I was very nervous, wondering if I was going to be accepted, but I needn’t have worried as everything turned out well.

When my mother passed away, I took my one year old son with me to the funeral. Sadly, she was buried on my birthday. When my son was eleven, I took him over again so he could meet all his cousins. It was wonderful to see them all together, it was like he belonged and was wonderful to see.

In 1988 I bumped into a school pal and she was telling me that when she received her personal papers from the welfare department, she had a breakdown. You see, because of her Afghan heritage she was dark skinned and in her papers said, although she was a very pretty little girl, she was unsuitable for adoption. We got talking and wondered how the other girls had faired when they got files. She told the doctors that …. the treatment the girls got at the home would come out – so he went to the Wish Foundation and formed an organisation called ICAS (Institutional Child Abuse Society). We went to print and on air and received a lot of support, especially after the radio interview. We got a lot of calls from the boys who were in Clontarf, Bindoon, Tardun and Castledare, telling us about the abuse that took place. We only heard from one or two other girls that they weren’t interested and just wanted to forget. After all this happened the boys formed their own organisations and the world got to hear of the terrible treatment the migrants and Aussie kids received in the institutions of the day.

I was on the committee that erected the child migrant statue in Fremantle, outside the Maritime Museum. My partner is a child migrant also and both our names are on the Welcome Wall, very close to the migrant statue. While on the committee, submissions were invited for the Child Migrant Memorial Statue, although my poem wasn’t accepted, these are my thoughts on the very sad history of child migration.

They did not know what lay in store

holidays abroad to far distant shores.

Yet in their memories as often recalled,

brothers – sisters

and friends what’s more.

Where are the families

that they once had

Back in their homelands,

How very very sad

Thousands of children crossing the line

Holidays and memories lasting a lifetime

Ann McVeigh 29 January 2011

documents, events, Forgotten Australians, memories

Apology for forced adoptions?

by Wilma Robb (guest author) on 26 July, 2011

Catholic Health Australia chief executive officer Martin Laverty says that he is prepared to apologise to the victims of forced adoptions, according to a recent report.

You can read the 25 July 2011 article on The Daily Telegraph website.

Another report on the ABC News website discusses responses to Archbishop Barry Hickey’s comments regarding adoption.

articles/lectures, Child Migrants, Forgotten Australians

Forgotten Australians demand more than apologies

by Adele Chynoweth on 20 July, 2011

Journalist Neena Bhandari discusses the needs of Forgotten Australians and former Child Migrants in her article ‘Forgotten Australians demand more than apologies’.

Published on 20 July 2011 the article covers the compensation needs of Forgotten Australians and former Child Migrants, as well as their need to find family members.

[2020 note] You could previously access this article on the Rogers Digital International website.

articles/lectures, documents, film, Forgotten Australians, memories, photos

‘Sins of a Child’

by Rosie Klohs (guest author) on 18 July, 2011

‘No longer a number – my name is Rosie’. Rosie grew up as number 20280. Her experience as a state ward left her with post-traumatic stress disorder. She’s now in recovery and a Remembered Australian and made a short film about her experiences.

Rosie Klohs’ film, Sins of a Child, was published on the Moving Minds page on the Mental Illness Education ACT website.

art, Child Migrants, events, Forgotten Australians, memories, objects, Responding to the National Apology, Stolen Generations

No more silent tears #2

by Leigh Westin (guest author) on 14 July, 2011

Leigh Westin, who grew up in Scarba House and Parramatta Girls Home, is creating a memorial entitled No More Silent Tears for Forgotten Australians. The memorial is comprised of a large panel of handkerchiefs sewn together, each decorated by those who spent time in a Children’s Home or institution.

If you experienced institutional or out-of-home ‘care’ and would like to contribute to this memorial, then on a lady’s-sized handkerchief embroider and/or write in ink, your name, the name of the institutions(s) and the year(s) that you lived there. Please feel free to decorate it however you wish, so that it will be suitable for people of all ages to view. The important thing is that you only use a lady’s handkerchief so that Leigh can easily sew them together. You may, of course, make a handkerchief in order to remember a Forgotten Australian or former Child Migrant who has passed away.

You can then post it to:
Adele Chynoweth
National Museum of Australia
GPO Box 1901
Canberra ACT 2601

Adele will then pass the handkerchiefs onto Leigh. Please make sure that your contribution reaches Adele by close of business Friday 12 August, 2011.

Below are some of the handkerchiefs that have already been made.

articles/lectures, documents, events, Forgotten Australians, memories

‘Journey of Hope’

by Adele Chynoweth on 14 July, 2011

Listen to an interview with Dr Michael Davey, former ward of the state and author of ‘Journey of Hope’, on ABC Radio National.

Dr Davey recalled his experiences in foster care and at Royleston Boys Home in Sydney during an interview on the ‘Life Matters’ program on 14 July 2011.

Download the ‘Journey of Hope’ interview on the ABC website.

Journey of Hope is published by Arkhouse Books.

 

Journey of Hope
articles/lectures, documents, Forgotten Australians, memories

Medical testing on children

by Tom Thompson (guest author) on 12 July, 2011

The University of Melbourne, in 2009, acknowledged its prior use of children in orphanages as human guinea-pigs in medical research. Read Tom Thompson’s recollections of men in white coats giving him injections at a Children’s Home in Parkville, VIC.

Tom, who never owned a picture of himself when he was a child, received the image below just four years ago.

I’ve two scars on my left arm from medical testing of the antigen vaccination for the seed Salk Polio vaccine, done in the late 1950’s.

I don’t know the actual dates in which the different injections were given, as I’d never been to school or known what it meant for days of the week, months or years. I do however remember the events due to the pain and distress we endured.

I vividly remember being lined up before the men in white coats who came and gave the injections which blistered and caused so much pain.

Our life in the homes was strictly regimented and having strange men in white coats was something not to be forgotten.

I spent nearly 6 years in the Victorian Children’s Aid Society home at Parkville Victoria. Just across the road from Melbourne University and the Eliza institute in the same street of Parkville. Both institutions were involved in advanced medical research at that time utilising institutionalised children as guinea pigs. 

Both institutions have acknowledged their culpability in this research and publically apologised, however like Dr Joseph Mengele who experimented on children in the concentration camps and was on the wanted list for (for over 40 years) and the Nuremberg trials over his barbaric experimentation on children, he escaped capture and prosecution and lived out his life in South America.

I believe these institutions and CSL [Commonwealth Serum Laboratories] should be tried for what they’ve done. Under law there is no statue of limitations on culpable homicide. The vaccine used in the early tests was contaminated and known to cause cancer and other health problems.

Some of the original ‘seed’ polio viruses that had been originally obtained from Salk laboratories in the United States of America in 1955 and used to manufacture Australian polio vaccines tested positive to being contaminated with SV40, and yet was still manufactured and utilised by these organisations on children.

Tests in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s confirmed that SV40 was potentially carcinogenic.

I live each day not knowing when or if I will fall victim to some unknown disease.

Governments, medical institutions and health authorities all shout loudly how we should trust them, as they know best, but like Joseph Mengele, the people time and places change, but things really stay the same.

The photo is me at an age I don’t know, it was given to me by Professor John Swan 4 years ago, and was taken at the home in Parkville. The Swan family took me out of the home for weekend visits over a number of years. The photo was taken by Dr Ailsa Swan (who has since died).

Black and white photograph of a young boy standing on a swing.
The photo is me at an age I don’t know, it was given to me by Professor John Swan 4 years ago, and was taken at the home in Parkville. The Swan family took me out of the home for weekend visits over a number of years. The photo was taken by Dr Ailsa Swan (who has since died).

More

‘Melbourne Uni says sorry for trial on orphans’ 2009 report on The Age website

‘Polio vaccine tested at orphanages’ 2004 report  on the Age website

‘Institutions, the convenient laboratories’ 1997 report on the Age website. This article won the Melbourne Press Club Quill Award.

‘Vaccines tested on Australian orphans’ as reported in The Independent, UK, in 1997.

articles/lectures, Child Migrants, photos

Recruited from Nazareth House, UK

by Oliver Cosgrove (guest author) on 12 July, 2011

Read the Catholic ‘Record’ newspaper’s report of the arrival of young Oliver Cosgrove, one of 65 children on board the SS ‘New Australia’ in 1953.

Oliver, aged four, and pictured on the right in the image below, was recruited from Nazareth House, London for the voyage. The ‘New Australia’ arrived on 22nd February 1953.

The report below is from the Perth Catholic newspaper, The Record, Thursday 26 February, 1953.

The photographs below were taken of the 1952 Christmas party at Nazareth House Hammersmith, London. One month later, some of these children boarded the ‘New Australia’.

A child migrant saw the photos on the noticeboard, removed them and brought them with her to Australia.

documents, Forgotten Australians, memories

A child’s letters to the welfare department

by Priscilla Taylor (guest author) on 11 July, 2011

A child’s letters to the South Australian Children’s Welfare chairman help to tell the story of a young woman who spent 16 years in care, and later discovered her mother had written many returned letters to her daughter.

Priscilla Taylor (then Phyllis McMorran) wrote the letters to Mr Cook, Chairman of the Children’s Welfare and Public Relief Department of South Australia in 1961 while she was living in a Foster Home.

Priscilla explains:

While growing up I would cry for my Mother, I would then be told, don’t worry about her, she doesn’t want you. Nobody wrote to me, so during letter writing night I would write to Mr Cook. While it was good of him to reply, I would have preferred letters from my Mother. Yes Mum did visit when I was in Seaforth, a Government-run Home, but during my 16 years under the Welfare, I only spent months, numerous times living there.

During the Mullighan Enquiry, Ted Mullighan asked for a support service to be set up for us. This was the beginning of Post Care Services SA, for Forgotten Australians. While attending Post Care, I spent time coming to know a Brother and Sister. One day the Brother mentioned this lovely lady who had looked after them and given him the happiest of his growing up years, until she died at 50 years of age. Under this ladies bed she kept a box of returned letters, she had written to her two daughters. Yes these letters belonged to me, this beautiful lady was my Mother, Phyllis Dawn Pring. After receiving my files, I also learnt that Mum had also be lied to, and had applied to the Courts of SA, to gain custody back on several occassions.

So as you see, some things are not as they appear.

Read Priscilla’s letters (PDF 180kb) and a response from Mr Cook.

Child Migrants, events

Child passenger ship torpedoed by U-boat

by Oliver Cosgrove (guest author) on 7 July, 2011

The passenger ship the City of Benares, carrying 90 children evacuated to Canada from Liverpool, was torpedoed by U-boat, U-48 on 13 September 1940. Only 13 children survived.

The children were temporary evacuees and not Child Migrants. Nevetheless, the incident demonstrates the danger of sea voyages during World War Two. The Wartime Memories Project would like to hear from anyone who has any connections with the City of Benares.

Read more on the Wartime Memories Project – City of Benares website.