by Helen Harms (guest author) on 8 November, 2011
Helen Harms writes about her experiences and shares photographs from her childhood in Nazareth House, Wynumm, Queensland. Continue reading “Silence, Suffering, Strength”
by Helen Harms (guest author) on 8 November, 2011
Helen Harms writes about her experiences and shares photographs from her childhood in Nazareth House, Wynumm, Queensland. Continue reading “Silence, Suffering, Strength”
by Adele Chynoweth on 27 October, 2011
Listen to author Al ‘Crow’ Fletcher talk about his experiences at Westbrook Farm Home for Boys.
Al joined Adele Chynoweth at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra on 1 September 2011. He is the author of Brutal: Surviving Westbrook Boys Home by Al Fletcher as told to Cheryl Jorgensen.
Hear Al Fletcher’s perspective as a survivor or read the transcript on the National Museum website.
by Adele Chynoweth on 4 October, 2011
Listen to Alliance for Forgotten Australians’ Chair, Caroline Carroll, talk, on SBS Radio, about the ‘dark secret’ of Australia’s history that she argues should be included in Australia’s national curriculum.
[2020 note]: This interview was previously available on the SBS website.
Download the National Museum of Australia’s Forgotten Australians education kit (PDF 4.39MB)
Maureen Redding discussed the subject of Forgotten Australians with Michael Daley, MP, Member for Maroubra. As a result, last Thursday, in the NSW Legislative Assembly, Michael Daley argued in favour of Royal Commission and a national reparation fund for Forgotten Australians.
Download a transcript of Michael Daley’s speech (PDF 76.2kb) from NSW Parliament Hansard, 15 September 2011.
The National Museum of Australia has produced a resource about Forgotten Australians for teachers of History and Studies of Society. This unit has been sent to every seconday school in Australia.
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.
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.
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
by Patrick O’Flaherty (guest author) on 1 July, 2011
Patrick O’Flaherty arrived in Australia in 1947 thinking he was a war orphan and not knowing that his mother was alive in England. Read Patrick’s contribution to ‘Where’s the fair go? The decline of equity in Australia’, for more on his life in Australia, his shaky reunion with his mother and reconnecting with his family in Wales and Ireland.
Patrick was eight when he arrived on the SS Asturias.
Download Patrick’s ‘The orphan who unorphaned himself’ (PDF 262kb) from Where’s the Fair Go? The Decline of Equity in Australia, edited by Ian Rae and published by Delegate Productions Books in 2003.
by Adele Chynoweth on 20 June, 2011
ABC-TV’s 7.30 program reports on the court action of former students of Fairbridge Farm School, Molong, against the Fairbridge Foundation, state and Federal governments, for turning a blind eye on years of abuse.
You can access the recording of the report on the 7.30 website.
You can read more of the experiences of living at Fairbridge in David Hill’s book The Forgotten Children: Fairbridge Farm School and its Betrayal of Britain’s Child Migrants to Australia.
This is the sign of Fairbridge Farm School at its original site in Molong, NSW. This sign will be displayed at the National Museum’s exhibition Inside: Life in Children’s Homes, which opens in Canberra on 16 November 2011.
by Wayne Chamley and Tony Danis (guest author) on 23 May, 2011
Dr Wayne Chamley, an advocate from Broken Rites, shares the history of Tony Danis. Tony was held in the Mont Park Asylum after escaping from a home run by the brothers of St. John of God. Wayne did a lot of advocacy work for Tony and he now lives comfortably.
When I first found Tony, he was living in a horse stable, working 6 days a week, as a stable hand and being paid $300 for the week’s work! Tony has poor literacy skills because he has never received any education. He is actually quite smart and because of his life-journey, he is now very street wise.
This is the statement that he dictated to me and which he sent as a submission to the Forgotten Australians Senate inquiry. It is a very sad and disturbing recounting of his appalling treatment. You will see that he identifies a Br. F. as one of his abusers and then this same person has counter-signed his committal certificate, as was required under the Lunacy Act.
Tony Danis’ experience at a Home, in Victoria, run by the brothers of St. John of God:
I was born in 1946. I live alone. Since about the age of 16 years I have been able to work sometimes, in either full time or part-time work to support myself. I have worked in a range of manual jobs. At other times I have had to live on social security while experiencing serious depression. For most of my life I have suffered seriously from asthma and this has been getting progressively worse in recent over the last six years or so. At the beginning of this year I had to finish working because of this illness and ongoing depression.
Records that I have obtained about my childhood indicate that I was first placed into care in St Anthony’s and St Joseph Boys Home at the same time. We were later moved to a Home for Boys … that was operated by the St John of God Brothers. At times I was taken for holidays to the St John of God farm … and also to a house that the Brothers had …
Placement in [VIC] Institutions
- St. Anthony’s Home: 1950 to 1951
- St Joseph’s Home: 1951 & 1952
- St John of God Home: 1952 to 1960
As I recall, the domestic routine … as fairly constant. I was in an upstairs dormitory and as I recall all of the boys who slept upstairs were the ones who either never, or rarely, had adults visit on weekends. The boys who got visitors were on the ground floor.
Every day boys were woken early, they then dressed and went to the dining room for breakfast. After meals some boys were rostered to clear the tables, sweep the floors and help with dishwashing. Boys not rostered were allowed to go outside and play. Later a bell went and boys went into classes.
While many of the boys went to classes for most of the day, I only went to short classes in the morning. After this I was put onto other duties. These varied and included gardening, maintenance jobs, working in the kitchen after lunch and helping to prepare vegetables for the evening meal, cleaning the dormitories and making beds.
After school classes had finished we were allowed to play outside and then we would come in for tea. All boys had showers either before or immediately after tea and showers were supervised by the brothers.
After dinner, boys were allowed to watch TV until about 8.30 pm at which time they had to go to bed. Before going to bed, many boys upstairs were given a red medicine every night. This made me feel very groggy.
On weekends, boys were allowed to play various games and sometimes we were taken by brothers to a football match. Sometimes the brothers would get very drunk while we were at the football.
Experience of Abuse
I experienced severe and sustained abuse which was carried out by several of the brothers when I was in the Home … and at the … Farm and in the house …
I experienced the following abuses
- Sexual abuse
- Physical abuse
- False imprisonment
- Incarceration in a psychiatric institution sat the instigation of the brothers
- Deprived of an education and subjected to unpaid child labour
During my nine years (approximately) in the Home … I was sexually abused many times and by several of the brothers. I also experienced instances of harsh physical abuse. The sexual abuse varied from fondling by one and sometimes more brothers and it took place when I was in the toilets and during the night when I was in the dormitory. Over a period of 3-4 years I was abused frequently by five brothers.
On another occasion I was raped … by Brother F. in a toilet. All the time I was crying and in a lot of pain.
On another occasion when I was about 10 years old, I was held down by three brothers in the corridor of the dormitory and, while one continued to hold me on the floor, the others manually pulled out some emerging pubic hair and chest hair. As they did this, they joked and referred to my having “bum fluff” which had to be removed.
The sexual activities of the religious brothers were not confined to within the precincts of…[the Home]. On occasions boys were taken from Cheltenham for holidays. In my own case I was taken for holidays to the farm and to a holiday house.
The two brothers at the holiday house were Bro. H and Bro M. Both these brothers abused me and I was also abused by a Bro. B while I was at the farm.
From the time I was placed into ‘care’ … I experienced physical abuse at the hands of various brothers and I lived in fear. I was not the only boy who was treated like this although I did seem to be singled out, on several occasions, for particular punishments. The abuse took the form being punched in the body and/or hit on the side or the back of the head. On other occasions I was beaten by an individual brother using a piece of cane and at times I was whipped by a brother using a leather strap.
Many times I received a beating when I arrived late at the breakfast room along with another boy, L. who had red hair. The circumstance that led to my often being late for breakfast is linked to the fact the L. and shared the same dormitory. Each morning L. had to put calipers on his legs on order to be able to walk and if L. was slow in getting ready, I would stay in the dormitory and help him to put on his calipers. Thus I was often punished for helping my friend L. while L. himself was punished for being late because of his having a physical disability. Another boy who was often punished for being late was L. W.
Hunger was a constant companion while I was in the ‘care’ of the brothers. This reflected the fact that the amount of food made available to boys was insufficient and often the meals lacked any variety. Consequently, sometimes boys did not eat a meal then our hunger got worse.
When boys are staying at Lilydale we were allowed to help with some of the farm work including milking cows and feeding chicken and pigs. The pig’s feed included leftovers from the kitchens and this was transported to the piggery on a truck or a trailer. I can recall occasions when I and other boys would ride on the same vehicle going to the piggery and we would eat the best of the scraps before they were fed to the pigs.
On one occasion when I was about 11 years old, I was whipped very heavily by a brother using a leather strap. Because the assault upon me and the pain that I was experiencing, I could not stop crying and so I was then locked in a dark room and left there for three days. Every now and again I was checked by a brother and during those days I received only bread and water.
When I was let out of the dark room I was crying and very upset. I learned that while I had been locked up, all of the boys had been given new leather scout belts. Later that evening, Bro. T. came to see me in the dormitory. He had brought me a new scout belt and the buckle had my own name on it. Bro. T. was a very kind person. Although he knew about the abuse that was going on, because boys told him, he did nothing about it.
This experience of being locked in a small dark room has had a profound effect upon me and to this day I experience uncomfortable anxiety if I am in a dark room and the door is closed.
Incarceration in the psychiatric institution at Mont Park
At the instigation of the Brothers of St. John of God, I was incarcerated in the Mont Park Asylum for more than two years.
The circumstances that led to my being incarcerated need to be explained. When I was 12 years of age I ran away from the Home on three separate occasions. My motivation each time was to try to escape from the abuse, the terrifying experiences, the persecution and regular beatings that I was getting at the Home. The sequel to each escape was for me to be returned to [the Home] and then I was punished for my action. Usually this took the form of further beatings by various brothers.
In one escape I managed to get to the Royal Botanical gardens and I entered the back of Government House. One of the gardeners met me and I was taken to a kitchen at the back of the large house. After a short time the wife of the Governor came and talked to me. She arranged for me to be washed and given food and I told her about being whipped and abused by the brothers. Her response was that I was making the story up. Soon after, a police car arrived and I was taken to a police station close by and I was questioned about my escape. After this I was driven back to [the Home] in a police car in the company of female police.
After my third escape I was sent away from [the Home] by the brothers and I was placed into a receiving house at Mount Park Asylum. This was a terrifying experience. I was first placed in unit M10 which was like a prison. During the day I was allowed to move around within large communal rooms and I could watch TV. As I was fairly small and only a young teenager (13 years old), I was sometimes physically attacked by some of the older patients with mental illnesses. I was not allowed out of the unit unless I was accompanied by a member of staff.
During the night I was locked up in a small cell that had bars on a window and a solid door with a small, barred, glass window in it.
I spent about two years at Mont Park until one day a Dr R. had a long talk to me. I recall this doctor made an assessment of me and then told me that I should not be in such a place. I was 14 years of age.
After my meeting with this doctor, arrangements were made for me to live in a private house in Preston where one of the nurses lived. After a short time I got a job in a local clothing factory and I continued to board at the house for a few years.
Deprived of getting a basic education and subjection to unpaid child labour
As I have outlined in the section that describes the domestic routine at [the Home], I was given little opportunity to get a formal education. This was not the case for other boys who spent several hours each day in school classes. The chance to learn to read and write was denied me by the brothers and instead I was kept in a situation of unpaid child labour. For most of the time at [the Home], I was required to do domestic work for the brothers.
In his Submission to the Senate Inquiry from Broken Rites, Wayne wrote:
We are aware of at least two statements made by different, former inmates who allege that two different boys sustained injuries, as a consequence of beatings, that probably resulted in death. One of these boys was thrown down a staircase (according to the witness) soon after he arrived at the [farm]. We are also aware of at least two boys who both experienced serial, sexual abuse and who were (as juveniles) certified under the Victorian Lunacy Act (1915) and then incarcerated within the Royal Park Asylum. This was the Order’s final response to each boy’s continuing efforts to abscond from the Home; his chosen strategy for escaping from his paedophile attackers. In one of these cases the brother who filled out and signed the committal report was the ‘alpha’ paedophile!
by Oliver Cosgrove (guest author) on 17 May, 2011
Oliver Cosgrove writes in response to personal histories about child slave labour in children’s homes. He refers to a photograph on this website (below) of children building the swimming pool at Clontarf Boys’ Town. Oliver notes that such work contravened the International Labour Organisation Convention.
In relation to slave child labour in children’s homes, Oliver Cosgrove writes:
It is salient to note the International Labour Organisation Convention C5 of 1919. In essence it requires that children under the age of 14 not be used on industrial undertakings.
ILO Convention 33 refers to the minimum age of working children in non-industrial employment, and notes that children under the age of 14 who are still required to be at school shall not be employed unless otherwise provided for in the convention. The main such provision was that of Article 3 which allowed the use of children over the age of 12 for work outside of fixed school hours provided that the work was light.
This means that the time available for children to do so-called ‘light work’ in the institutions was one hour and 35 minutes on a school day and two hours on a non-school day.
In respect of the photograph of the children doing excavation of the swimming pool it is patent that:
- some children are under the age of 12
- they are bare-footed
- they are doing excavation work, and the fact that some groups of boys are carrying bags of sand indicates that the workload is heavy.
An article in the West Australian newspaper, 19 March, 1958, indicates that the swimming pool was built within three months. Work ‘… began soon after Christmas Day, and the first swimmers plunged into the water on Monday [17 May 1958]. The capacity of the pool was said by Brother Doyle to have been 150,000 gallons.’ An internet website converted 150,000 UK gallons to 681.913 m3.
The average maximum temperature in Perth for January is 30.6°C; for February 31.3°C and for March 29.2°C.
The State Records Office holds the Clontarf Swimming Pool file and contains a letter dated September 3, 1957 from Brother Maloney of Clontarf who stated that:
‘under the supervision of our Manager, Rev Brother Doyle, we hope to build with the aid of twenty senior boys a swimming pool… We would greatly appreciate the guidance of your Dept. and any little help you would permit.’
The Director of Works wrote back and in paragraph 7 he stated:
‘I was informed that some £3000 to £4000 is available for this project and also that all the materials for the concrete, except the cement, will be a free gift. This amount of money should be ample to construct the pool as all the labour will be free.’
Below is the relevant excerpt from the International Labour Convention 33:
C5 Minimum Age (Industry) Convention, 1919
1. For the purpose of this Convention, the term industrial undertaking includes particularly–
(a) mines, quarries and other works for the extraction of minerals from the earth;
(b) industries in which articles are manufactured, altered, cleaned, repaired, ornamented, finished, adapted for sale, broken up or demolished, or in which materials are transformed; including shipbuilding, and the generation, transformation, and transmission of electricity and motive power of any kind;
(c) construction, reconstruction, maintenance, repair, alteration, or demolition of any building, railway, tramway, harbour, dock, pier, canal, inland waterway, road, tunnel, bridge, viaduct, sewer, drain, well, telegraphic or telephonic installation, electrical undertaking, gas work, water work, or other work of construction, as well as the preparation for or laying the foundations of any such work or structure;
(d) transport of passengers or goods by road or rail or inland waterway, including the handling of goods at docks, quays, wharves, and warehouses, but excluding transport by hand.
2. The competent authority in each country shall define the line of division which separates industry from commerce and agriculture.
Children under the age of fourteen years shall not be employed or work in any public or private industrial undertaking, or in any branch thereof, other than an undertaking in which only members of the same family are employed.
The provisions of Article 2 shall not apply to work done by children in technical schools, provided that such work is approved and supervised by public authority.
by The Benevolent Society (guest author) on 21 April, 2011
Carolin Wenzel from The Benevolent Society lets us know about two current ways to support children’s safety. Members of the public are invited to suubmit their view to the Senate Inquiry into Family Law Legislation Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Bill 2011 [Provisions]. There is also a Rally for Children’s Safety at Parliament House, Canberra, on Wednesday 25 May 2011.
Carolin Wenzel from The Benevolent Society writes:
I’m writing to let you know about two opportunities to support improving the Family Law Act to make it safer for children and parents who are victims of domestic violence.
You have probably heard about the Senate Inquiry into the Government’s Family Law Legislation Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Bill, which was introduced into the House of Representatives by Attorney-General Robert McClelland on March 24th. Whilst this amendment is a positive step in the right direction, The Senate Inquiry is an opportunity to present a case for further changes to protect children and their carers under threat of ongoing violence from an ex-partner.
It’s very important, once again to get as many strong submissions to this Inquiry as possible. They won’t have any access to the submissions that were sent to the Attorney General in January. Submissions close on Friday April 29th – so please act now.
The other exciting development is that several groups are working together to hold a
Rally for Children’s Safety at Parliament House Canberra on Wednesday May 25
Speakers lined up so far are:
- Helen Cummings, author of “Blood Vows”
- Dr Lesley Laing, author of the No Way to Live Report
- Women’s Refuge Movement Executive Officer, Cat Gander
- Benevolent Society CEO Richard Spencer
- Bikers United Against Child Abuse
and we are working on several more, including parents who have harrowing experiences of poor parenting arrangement outcomes under the current Family Law Act.
We also feel it’s very important that the experiences and voices of children are a focus of this Rally.
We invite anyone who’s children have experienced trauma or feel unsafe about court imposed parenting arrangements to create a drawing or artwork respresenting how they feel, and to write a few words on another sheet of paper expressing their thoughts and feelings. They can just write their age (not their name so they are not identifiable)
If possible it would be great to laminate these and either bring them with you to the Rally or send them to me (address in signature below)
We would love you to come to the Rally, and The Benevolent Society is booking a bus to take up to 50 people from Sydney to leave early and be back in Sydney by 6pm that day.
We are working on an e-flyer and a place to link to info about the Rally online – so stay tuned for further updates.
Please pass on this message to anyone you think would be interested, and invite them to send me their email address so that I can include them in further updates.
I will ensure that individual emails are not revealed in any mail out.
by Wendy Sutton (guest author) on 19 April, 2011
Dr Wendy Sutton, who was an inmate in The Pines (Convent of the Good Shepherd, Plympton) shares her experiences, including how she met her life-long friend.
I have not seen the Magdalene Sisters movie, but I have seen the trailer. And for me, the chilling scene where the young girl is simply left at the Convent and the door is closed behind her made me shiver, as this was a feeling that I remember all too well.
I was taken to the Pines after being “appropriately expelled” from my high school. That was one long day. That morning I awoke to find my (social) Father home from work. This never happened on a week day as he was always off to the army barracks. My Mother told me not to dress in my uniform, too late, I had, and I flew out the door with a desperate gripping feeling. I think I walked to school that day, usually I rode my pushbike. My gut was in turmoil, I was stupefied and fearful, but through out my childhood this feeling was my constant companion. However, I knew something was up. I was unsettled that morning at school.
I was at my school desk when my name was blasted over the loud speaker, “Wendy Sutton come to the office.” There was Mum and Dad – a first – sitting in the Headmistresses’ hallway. Mrs. R. was her name. Into the office we all marched like good little soldiers single file. R. sat matronly behind her magnificent desk with my parents sitting on the opposite side discussing this ‘uncontrollable’ person in the room – me.
I was numb. I sat and looked on as they all decided my fate. It was signed, sealed and delivered. I was officially expelled from Strathmont Girls Technical High School at age 13. The red-headed deputy headmistress was loitering out side R.’s office, and as my parents and Miss R. shook hands and passed solemn pleasantry’s amongst themselves, Red gestured me over to her.
She looked at me like a sad-eyed spaniel, with her head cocked to one side and biting her lip, she took my hand and said, “For what it is worth Wendy, I am so sorry.” She was kind, and so was R., although they did not agree with my parents’ judgement concerning me, they still allowed the process to continue. “It’s for the best” they said.
That day was filled with erratic emotions, I collected all my books and belongings. I remember my entire class rallied around giving me suggestions on how to “run away” or “escape”. A friend, Glen H., offered me $2.00 to catch a train and get as far away as possible so my parents would never find me. My physical education teacher hugged me and cried as she asked what she could do to help me. She then gathered the class in the sports shed to wish me well and everyone was howling. My dearest friends clung to me like bees to honey. It was awful but at the same time wonderful to know how these people loved me.
“I am only going for three weeks” … I blubbered through my snot and tears. I was weak, lost but I soon clicked into disassociate mode which I knew how to do so well by age 13. I think I walked home, talk about the prey walking into the den! I was 13 for God’s sake, a very psychologically, spiritually and physically wounded young girl. My teachers knew this as they constantly had me in the office asking questions about my obviously battered body. Of course, I always fell off a swing, fell over, had a fight with my sister …
All I remember next was that silent drive in the little green Ford to the Pines and up the long driveway. I have a reoccurring dream of that long driveway… but it is a positive dream now-a-days taking me along a long and winding driveway filled with grand exotic trees and powerful waterfalls which lead to my home. A home that has not materialised to this day, mind you!
Then with the same poof and pageantry as with R., I was handed over to the nuns in total silence. This is where I felt the impact of the Magdalene Sisters movie trailer, when that door was slammed behind me and I was alone not knowing what the hell was going on. I was never informed! I was silently aching. I had literally been thrown away … yet again. I just kept thinking it is only for three weeks, yeh right! Three weeks led to 12 months!
It was as though I was in that cold empty room for hours when Mother Superior came in and handed me a tidy bundle of drab looking clothes and instructed me to undress. She took my “outside” clothes and she then ushered me into a damn hot disinfectant bath, I will never forget it. Mother – silent but with a stern look on her face- scrubbed me down from head to toe with a bristled scrubbing brush. I was filthy from sin apparently. But, I was a virgin. I was molested by a close family friend – but my Mother did not believe me – and violently raped at 13, but still a virgin to consensual sex. I did not smoke nor do drugs.
According to my Mum I was uncontrollable, and you know, I am sure I was in her eyes, I was always seeking her attention, apparently. Although I believe this to be true as my Mother did not want me, she herself came out from a sordid marriage with my 7 month old sister in tow and, me on the way! I do not blame my Mother or my Father. They did what they thought was right at the time.
The bath was done, I was told to stand, I did. Mother inspected my body. I was red raw and crying, well snivelling really as I was too scarred to really let go. Mother passed me a towel that was almost as hard as the bristles on that damn brush! She instructed me to dress. Out she went and closed the door, gently, behind her. I was alone and empty once again wondering what on earth was going on. I consoled myself by thinking I was only in this place for 3 weeks.
Now all dressed up in my “inside clothes” looking like some orphan Annie with wet unruly hair and stinking of disinfectant, eyes red and stinging like fire! I looked about the dark brick room which housed this huge ugly bath, no furniture that I remember anyway, no windows, just two doors. Some of us Magdelene laundresses remember that bath very well.
Mother Superior materialised. It was as though she glided into the room from out of nowhere, with her long black habit flowing all round her, she startled me. “Your name will be Jane” she instructed. Then she opened THAT door which led to a concrete court yard. Before I could ask a single question the door was slammed and bolted behind me.
I remember this as if it were yesterday; as the door slammed behind me I turned to see this concrete slab enclosed by TALL fencing with barbed wire on top. I shook, I peed myself, I just wanted to die! I could not cry out loud, but the tears streamed down my face. Other “inmates” came to inspect the new comer and some laughed at me, others looked on from a distance, but one girl stood out amongst the rest, Sharon. Sharon smiled and said “Don’t worry about them.” FORTY FOUR years later we are still the dearest of friends!
So, this was my introduction to the Pines …
by Godfrey Gilmour (guest author) on 13 April, 2011
“I may not have been an orphan in the real sense of the word, and my experience at Clontarf as a state ward, however, was full of orphaning experiences”. Godfrey Gilmour, a retired Anglican priest, noticed himself as a child in a photograph, published on this website, taken by Mick O’Donoghue at Clontarf Boys Town in the 1950s. Here, he shares his experiences as a child migrant from a loving family in Malta to the harsh conditions at Clontarf:
I was born in Malta in 1944 in wartime. My mother was Mary Tonna and my father Geoffrey was an English soldier recently transferred to Malta from the North Africa campaign. My parents met sometime in late 1942 or early 1944. It was a wartime love affair and did not come to light til my mother became pregnant and her parents became involved. It was then discovered that Geoffrey was married and that despite my grandfather’s attempt to sort something out, it came to no avail. The army then intervened and sent Geoffrey away to the Italian campaign. My mother never heard from him again and her registered letters to him containing photographs of me went unanswered.
After the war, I lived with my mother and grandparents. It was a comfortable and culturally enriching life. I was close to my grandparents and extended family and I still have very happy memories of that period of time.
At the age of seven I was placed in St Patrick’s School in Sliema which was a boarding school where I experienced abuse for the first time, my family was unaware of this, and I felt unable to tell them about the events at St Patrick’s for I was fearful of the repercussions that might ensue. I was eager to leave the place and always longed to see my father. Some time in 1952 Father Cyril Stinson came to the school in Malta from Western Australia to recruit boys to migrate to Australia. I always remember that he had a florid face and smelt of whiskey. Along with other boys I was told how wonderful Australia was, and the wonderful school we would be going to. My mother along with other parents was also told similar things and also thought this would be a good thing especially as she was also advised that she could also follow me to Australia. In my child’s mind, I thought that somehow, I would be closer to England and that I might see my father. I had no idea Australia was on the other side of the world.
In July 12th 1953 I migrated to Australia. When I arrived at Clontarf, I immediately felt that this was a dark place. And it proved to be so almost from day one. It felt as though I had landed like on the dark side of the moon. I didn’t fit in at Clontarf; I had come from a cultured family in Malta. My mother had a wonderful singing voice. I always had plenty of reading matter, at night, in Malta; she would sing me to sleep with operatic arias that she had learnt. But at Clontarf, I experienced a great deal of deprivation especially in the early years. I was to experience emotional, physical and sexual abuse almost the very first days. There was a predatory culture at work at Clontarf and at Castledare; young boys were preyed upon by particular staff and also older boys. My first nights in one of those large cold dormitories were miserable and I recall crying myself to sleep wondering when my mother was going to arrive and take me away.
From the first days I witnessed and then personally experienced the harsh discipline and the use of the infamous straps made of several layers of leather and reinforced with metal to make them weightier and more painful. The staff carried these up the sleeves of their cassocks and used them with terrible efficiency. In the absence of their straps staff resorted to sticks, canes and fists even on very young boys and those who were maimed through accidents. The attitude of some staff was sadistic.
There was also this process of depersonalisation at work at Clontarf and a loss of identity. I soon became a number. My Christian name was never used, only my number and surname. My personal belongings were soon taken away from me, my books were burnt, and my mail home was censored. We were forbidden to speak Maltese. Being bi-lingual I was at times told to translate letters from Malta to Maltese boys for the principal in case information about Clontarf was getting back to Malta. There was a lack of respect for the individual, the well-being of the institution mattered more.
The food was so awful after the Mediterranean diet I was used to; hunger was a constant reality, and boys resorted to raiding the pig bins for food. The enforced nudity, the lack of privacy [even the toilets lacked doors], the constant hard work that we had to engage in, often in dangerous conditions, made inroads into our health and well-being also affected of academic performance. Many boys failed academically and were put to work at an early age and were functionally illiterate on leaving Clontarf.
My mother came out to Australia in October 1954. Catholic welfare found her work at a Catholic presbytery in Fremantle. In early 1955 my mother found employment at Castledare, the junior orphanage that fed into Clontarf. She became uncomfortable with the violence that she saw. On raising this with one of the brothers, he said, “I didn’t want to be here. My parents forced me to become a Christian Brother”.
My mother was asked to leave Castledare and moved to Perth and worked there. In 1957 my mother married Jack Gilmour. He immediately wanted to adopt me legally and immediately ran into obfuscation both by the authorities and also the staff at Clontarf. People did not readily question authority in those days. Unbeknown to them, I was legally a state ward. My step father then took steps to change my name by deed poll. This was done much to the chagrin of Brother Doyle, the principal, who in an interview with my parents at which I was also present raised objections. My parents insisted that I should now be known as Godfrey Gilmour. Already out of favour with Brother Doyle this latest issue made life difficult, ever more difficult for me.
My final year at Clontarf was spent in Br Doyle’s class. It was a devastating year for me. I was brutalised and humiliated by this man all year. I was at times hit over the head by this man and had my spectacles broken after being hit across the face. He took a dislike to my accent and constantly drew attention to what he described as my ‘plummy accent’ and humiliated me in front of my peers. I became an anxious boy, I developed a speech impediment, had sleep problems and even experienced bouts of enuresis, [bed wetting] something I had never experienced in my life. At the end of the school year I was simply told to leave and not come back. I virtually left in the clothes I was standing in. I was still a ward of the state and yet my parents received no support whatever for my transition to life outside the orphanage. After several years my mother received a letter from the Child Welfare Department in Perth, advising my mother that she could now adopt me.
Such was my experience in care in Western Australia, I may not have been an orphan in the real sense of the word, and my experience at Clontarf as a state ward however was full of orphaning experiences. Putting the past behind me I forged a career in education, family welfare and ministry.
PS: I was to meet my father in the UK, shortly before he died we were reconciled. I also met 9 siblings and large family. My mother did not live to see that day. She died in Malta.
by Raymond Brand (guest author) on 13 April, 2011
Former Child Migrant Raymond Brand writes about his experience as a child migrant from Britain, growing up in Castledare and Bindoon, WA. Ray describes the abuse he suffered and how education and medical care were low priorities at Bindoon.
by Adele Chynoweth on 10 March, 2011
In 2003, the BBC broadcasted a series of programmes based on interviews with over 150 former Child Migrants sent to Australia, Rhodesia, Canada and New Zealand. Original legislators and child care specialists involved in the policy were also interviewed.
These interviews are a testimony to the consequences of a policy of forced child migration, sanctioned by successive governments. You can listen to these radio programmes at the BBC Radio 4 website.
by Rhonda Trivett (guest author) on 18 October, 2010
Rhonda describes how it’s been hard for her to get a job and who is helping her.
My name is Rhonda Trivett I was locked up from the age on 7 to 21 years old. I am 50 years of age. I was never taught any trades or anything. Just how to be bashed raped and see my friends being killed that was my life. Its sucks, hey? I never had a real job working for someone else in a normal environment. Cause I’ve never class my self as being normal. I’m a expert on the work rejection. People have always said I was a nothing all my life but they didn’t know the real me. Years ago all the doctors said I would never be able to even hold a job down. Really everything I’ve done I’ve taught myself. And man that was hard especially when you can’t read or write. But in my adult years I have learnt. And I am proud of myself. I’ve come along way. I’m still learning. I’m always a stuff up until now. It’s time for me to change. You only live once so I reckon live life to your fullest potential.
At Max Employment I done two courses and they really made me think of what I wanted to do in my life as well as a job and how to do it. It really hit me for once that I have got brains and lots of skills that need to come out and it’s time to use them. Also learning about different techniques and how to put them into practice and getting and keeping the job that made so much sense the way it was taught to us and how to be a person for the job. I suppose I’m a hell of a challenge for them.
Max Employment agencies at Belconnen is more than just a work place. In the last couple of weeks they have shown me how nice good hearted real people that do care are all about. They have as well shown me that they believe in me and in getting me a job. That makes me feel good because no one really has believe in me, let a lone told me they will get me a job, really spun me out. Being in Canberra I’ve met all kind of good people that really wants to help me no matter how who or what I am or do or think. I kind of really like them all a lot. I’m so screwed up inside they still want to help me. And they are just a job employment agencies. I still hate myself and want to get it right. But it’s good to know that there’s real down to earth caring people. I wish I was one.
Out in the world you hear about all the bad people but you never hear about the good ones. Because of my circumstances I think its good that these guys are around. I’m glad I’ve got some real good friends.
All the staff like me even as a person that really makes me feel good, and because I want to work and get off my DSS Pension. I don’t have to. But I want to. And especially where I come from. They are really trying to help me get a job. And get my own place as well. Even the boss is a nice young likeable caring person which has a great team. Well I like them all. Thank you Max at Belconnen.
by Adele on 28 July, 2010
The first episode of the ABC-TV series The Making of Modern Australia dealt with Australian children.
The programme includes the accounts of a former Child Migrant and a member of the Stolen Generation but doesn’t represent the experiences of a large number of children who were wards of the state and also placed in Children’s Homes.
It is interesting to note, too, that former Child Migrant, Rose Kruger’s account of being “ruled by the strap” in a Sisters of Mercy Home, is followed by a comment on the historical use of corporal punishment in all schools. Was the treatment of all children in schools at that time equivalent to the abuse reported by Forgotten Australians in Homes?
by Gloria Lovely (guest author) on 17 June, 2010
Gloria Lovely was taken to St Vincent’s Orphanage, Nudgee, Queensland, in 1943, when she was 18 months old. She was then sent to a foster family at the age of ten. Here, in an excerpt from the book Lives of Uncommon Children – Reflections of Forgotten Australians (2009, Micah Projects – Queensland), and her poem A Child’s Despair (2005), Gloria writes about her experience in foster care.
He was murdering me. He was murdering me every day. I didn’t want to wake up of a morning because I knew what I might face. Another day of fear. Have to hurry, do the chores, then off to school – an escape. I’m free of fear there for a while, a positive advantage. School is the best time of day, learning to be smart and a little educated, making me feel good.
I absolutely love to learn, anything and everything, trying to fill my mind with knowledge, and remembering it all. I loved going to school; it was my sanctuary, but then I had to go back to my foster home, my home of fear and dread. And my foster parents. My foster father was a sinful man, using my body for his sexual gratification. No on else knew he was doing it on a weekly basis. It was my hell; he was destroying my spirit, and my foster mother was very cruel, punishing me for not doing the chores right. Like scorching a white shirt, peeling too much skin off the potatoes and onions.
But to the people of the community, they were such wonderful people, because they fostered other children from the orphanage as well, and going to church every Sunday, letting people know they were looking after their foster children. What wonderful people, but behind the scenes, behind closed doors, we foster children were suffering daily. What a charade. We were their slaves, and I was his bedroom slave. I was the housewife in every sense of the word.
Hence my thinking of him killing me – killing every part of my being, my soul, my all. Who can I turn to? No one. Were the other foster children feeling the same as I? Are they living in their own hell? Do they fear them as much as I do? I feel they would like to go back to the orphanage like I would. Oh, please God, help us all. This is the part of my life which I was lucky enough to survive this living hell. It is in the past now, and I thank my lucky stars that it came to an end when it did, and I grew to adulthood.
A Child’s Despair
(From Orphanage to Foster Care)
A girl-child sleeps at night
A stranger, she is not, to fright
She wakes, suddenly,
“Will he come tonight?”
This poor unfortunate, in such a plight.
To these unkind people she was sent,
No one knew, they were so bent.
Her body, he took, by force, times again
“My God, protect me”, once again.
“Our secret”, he says, “do not tell”.
His sick mind, he hid so well
And her (so cruel) she could not tell
That belt, the belting she could foretell.
She screams in her soul, no one can hear
She cannot cry out, she lives in fear.
Her body tells day by day
People do not read that way
“The child is slow,
She was born that way”.
Over the days, months and years
She carried on, despite her fears.
She now has grown to womanhood,
And all she likes to give…..is good.
by Diane Tronc (guest author) on 11 June, 2010
Diane Tronc was born in 1961 and was a resident, with her five siblings, of Silky Oaks Children’s Home in Manly, Brisbane from 1962 until 1974.
Diane shares her submission to the current Senate Review of Government Compensation Payments.
To Committee Secretary
Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee
P.O. Box 6100
Canberra ACT 2600 Australia
Re: Review of Government Compensation Payments
Dear Committee Members
My name is Diane Tronc. I am a Survivor of Abuse whilst in Care and I am a Forgotten Australian.
I wish to put submission into this Inquiry.
Firstly: This year is the 10th year since the Forde Inquiry.
The last 10 years has been for a lot of Forgotten Australians a compounding and overturning painful journey of repeating our lives over and over and reliving this painful journey through Redress and still suffering today to see some form of positive outcome for all Forgotten Australians.
With services in mainstream congested and waiting lists so long we take our ticket and still stand in line waiting. We’ve walk your line for long enough. We need ACTION, STRUCTURE, FOUNDATION, and STEPS UP AND STEPS OUT. Support services more involved with career paths, workforce, TAFE, university.
A lot have such difficulty in filling in forms making the first step up and step out. We need Mentors working with case workers supporting our people with visits to hospitals, appointment and home visits.
We also need a small bus e.g.: Libraries, our memorial, for events/ outings etc.
And a directory of services directing and referring our people and supporting through the process for their goals to be achieved to a comfortable area in their lives to move on….from start to finish.
Healing Journey when will that start, Family Histories, Reunions, and Bringing us all HOME.
Also like to see Legacy more involved as a lot of fathers and grandfathers/families of Forgotten Australian went to war and so did some Forgotten Australian themselves served..
We call for a Gold Card for all Forgotten Australian we should have Priority Access due to the damage inflicted upon us as innocent children now adults our needs and wants need to be met. Health, Dental, Housing, and Education and Training, exempt of fees.
Within our service centre I personally feel we need more steps up and step out and more support.
Foster Care/Adoption was not part of Redress in Qld nor did it get a State Govt Apology. We where under the STATE.
I personally would like to see a Royal Commission Inquiry into past practices and services today.
We will fight to our END to see things right for our past and for all our futures ahead.
We have a lot of strong good solid caring, compassionate and committed people amongst us all. That should be given every opportunity to excel and be given the chance to work with services in a paid position.
A lot of us are Volunteers and put in a lot of hours and time to help our people when services are closed or to help assist within telephone support and getting to visits, appointments or lend a hand when needed. I would like to see more funding given to Volunteers under some form of incentive scheme payment through Centrelink.
As a lot of our people are also on disability this would help in the transition step up 123 to TAFE, university or workforce part time or full time?
Also I have noticed a lot of people needing assistance who are in full time work area. Some struggle to keep their jobs. Pushing themselves to the limit all the time.
And not being able to service the services due to their working hours.
Looking for a constructive outcome for all.
And more community projects for our people.
by Rhonda Trivett (guest author) on 28 May, 2010
Rhonda Trivett, at the age of 13, from 1974 – 1981, was locked in the maximum security adult ward (Osler House), in Wolston Park Hospital, Brisbane. In her video, Rhonda talks about her experiences and the need for redress.