Forgotten Australians, memories, poetry

DOCS

by Diane Mancuso (guest author) on 4 October, 2011

‘These are my observations, thoughts & feelings’, writes Diane Mancuso. Many Forgotten Australians bear the burden of  memories associated with institutional ‘care’. In this series of poems entitled DOCS (Department of Children’s Services), Diane courageously demonstrates the intergenerational risk of  children being lost to out-of-home care. The cycle sadly continues.
DOCS-department –  ‘we keep families together’
Deluded I thought that things had changed since I was a child
 
Ethan

Hebrew – firm, strong long lived

First of November, a son is born
Five years of regret, five years of searching my heart,
Not a moment ticks without feeling torn
Questioning my thoughts, my regrets, and my body wracked with pain
1825 days, seconds, minutes spent apart

When I think I cannot go another day

I close my eyes hoping it will be the last time!
I am never granted this prayer

I did not hurt my child for this – evil is a crime!
Ridiculed —society thinking we didn’t care
I am forced to confront another tomorrow
For five years, we walked with our heads low feeling the shame
My body aches pulsating with so much sorrow
Our fault yes! Naeviety was not even considered I was to blame

DOCS-Department of Community Service Mission Statement

‘We keep families together’

Opening the door with my little son nestled upon my shoulder
Accusations, fingers pointed, voices raised, I only heard two words ‘son hurt’
No chance, to explain certain of our guilt their minds already made up
Six weeks old words of abuse, I did not understand! My tiny son ripped from my embrace forever

Not given even an opportunity to kiss his downy hair, or touch his hand
Moments so painful, never to forget, imprinted images to remember every day –
Means to want to die
Snapshots of pure joy, celebration of his birth, joyous moments in time.  That I would come to bring out tracing his face, his first smile, trying to smell his baby scent.
I repeated over & over
But they had already decided I was guilty
I did not see anything nothing I would cry
Over five years the pain was always behind my mask, long days when I sobbed & sobbed till I was spent

My baby gone, my man gone, I felt so alone, desolate only the walls to echo my screams of surrender, pleading to be free from this wretched pain that imprisoned me-to be gone
I was devoid of any feelings numb, a phone call to whisper what I needed
I lay down as he injected us both, I welcomed darkness
I died that night!
He screamed for me, shook me, but I was gone, no more pain no suffering
Ambulance came ‘flatlined’ they said but they did their job I cursed why?? Did they not let me be!?! Leave me be!
Where there was no light!!!

Five years of torment, anguish enveloped in so much pain, a part of me was gone -for ever
My decision not to see him, was not about me, to let him have a better life without disruptions was the only gift I could give him
In exclusion we lived, in fear of my memories, rejection being the norm, we held on together

Five years, have gone past, I yearned to be a mum, another chance to prove them wrong

I do not understand why I stayed with this man of destruction, manipulation, deciet, I cannot answer!
Nor do I know why I did not see!!!
I can only guess that through the years he slowly destroyed any self worth, doubting my every word or thought that I would speak.
He was a master of insencerity a genuine phycopath, I was blind everyone but me could see what he was doing behind the mask he wore.
Too trusting, nieve, or if I was to believe in what everyone said then what did that make me???

Again, I believed him
I thought I saw changes or maybe I just wanted to believe that he had been wrongly accused
After, so long I yearned to be a mother I craved approval I wanted to be the mother I knew in my heart I could be

I was not aware I had to have permission from DOCS-department to be a mum again but I was very wrong!!!!

If only I could turn the clock back I would have put him first not last, but no one can know what a tragedy my decision would be

If only, If only,

Aleayah

The greatest gift from god

That’s the meaning of Aleayah

My daughter waited 5 years then another 9 months to be able to meet the most precious, wanted little baby girl

From the most joyous moment of pure elation to welcome this wide eyed, scrap of such innocence & pure of heart little angel into our embrace

Fresh from the wonderment of her entrance to the delivery into gentle meek, hands of her mother
To be nestled against mother’s breast.
Her baby pink, rosy, skin moist, flushed,
Warm from the cocoon of her mother’s womb
The first hesitant gentle tender touch, that flutters & settles within my heart images of satin, rose petals, a tear drop caught before it stains her cheek.

The dizzyingly euthoria to be able to greet this cherished treasure to know the complete dependency upon our care the complete trust to keep her safe, secure, loved & all the little moments that we will treasure, & guard in our own box of memories to keep & laugh with her when she is old enough to share.

To protect her, cuddle her, sing her lullubys,
Watch her 1st step her 1st words, her giggle,
Her skinned knees that a kiss will make it better
All the years to tell her stories, to wipe away any tears,
To allow her to be just her
To let her run with the wind at her back

To embrace her when she hurts
To allow her to make her mistakes
To be there to pick up the pieces
To listen & not judge, praise her, cherish her

We adorned her room with pink, frills, a room for a princess, a theme of angels, & little girl trinkets
We wove a tapestry of love,
A testimony of our devotion of simplicity, warmth, to protect our most precious treasure.

Visions, dreams, hopes, promise, faith, shattered damaged, destroyed, ruined, hearts completely broken

Not 2 hours old they came with their ID’s, security, their legal paper work vocalizing their prepared speeches!!

DOCS-department minister, care, emergency, foster, say goodbye

The house phone rings sobbing’ ‘Mummy, Mummy come back to the hospital their taking my daughter’

No I scream, oh god no!!!

I entered the entrance just as they were taking my grandaughter away

Stop, I say leave her with me??? I repeat let me take her?? ‘No I’m told you can not have her’ why why why????
Given contact details then they left with my precious grandchild!!!!!
I stood there numb, devestated, bewildered, no, no, – not again please god don’t do this!!!

I could only watch as they wheeled my tiny grandaughter away from me to an unknown stranger

I ran, ran, up stairs to my daughter who was so distressed she could not speak, sobbing ‘Mum Mum just let me die now’
Feeling so helpless I sobbed with her rocking her in my arms

Her arms though were now empty!!!

My daughter the most gentle, kind, vulnerable, childlike lay inconsolable curled in a feotel position trembling with raw pain

When you are a mother & your child is suffering so badly & you can’t do anything
I wanted to take her pain but I knew I could not!
No matter how much I wanted to protect her
Visions of extreme murderous intent fluddered my mind
To inflict the same ravage pain I saw in my daughters eyes
To the people who did this to my child!!!

And so it came to be
To go home to a nursery decorated for a little angel
Close the door, close the door,
Oh if we could close the door to our pain!

Every day is a struggle the insane suffering never leaves, we battle on and on, for our little gift from god will come home
Not today, not  tommorrow, but maybe, maybe next week

As the weeks turned into months my daughter, struggled with severe suicide thoughts, I was very afraid that I would lose her & my granddaughter.

She did everything she could to have her daughter returned to her, she seperated from the man who had made her life so unbearable, she took out an AVO, we went together to all the contacts to see her daughter, even though It became extremly distressing to see Aleayah bonding with her carers.

We went to every court date only to be rebuffed each time by docs. She sought therapy & goes each week, she supplied DOCS with a drug test it was clear.

Now the nursery sits empty a cot with no Aleayah, toys untouched, musical ornaments to keep her entertained get dusty on the shelves.

If I have to go into her room, I rush in & out so quickly disturbing the dust moates & to avoid the sadness & the shadows in her empty room I run out slamming the door behind me as if this could keep the pain locked away.

Sometimes, I think I can hear her crying but it is only the night wind, for Aleayah is lost to us now my tears I hide my heart breaks for my beautiful blue eyed little tiny grandaughter.——–who I will never know

This is how DOCS keep families together …

Last entry ——-I was given an assessment to be able to raise Aleayah but it is so ironic I failed due to being bought up in care … poetic … justice … will it ever go away do I have this stigma for all of my life. It  cost me my grandaughter & my childhood
Family we fought in the courts my ex-husband again paid out thousands to a barrister & lawyer but no amount of money could restore Aleayah to us.
DOCS refused to even give my family the opportunity to raise Aleayah with her biological family.

It also came to my attention that they knew my daughter was pregnant from 3 months. My question to them was ‘why did they not contact us to be able to give my daughter some options other than to react with such mallisious, insideous, so callerously remove, rip her away from my daughters breast?’
I would not wish this inhumane treatment dished out by DOCS -department

To any family god bless please keep her safe let the angels watch over her tonight & every night

Diane Mancuso.

articles/lectures, Child Migrants, documents

Return to sender

by Hugh McGowan (guest author) on 30 September, 2011

Read the letter from the Superintendent of Quarrier’s Homes, Scotland to Former Child Migrant, Hugh McGowan’s mother, asking for her permission to send her son to Australia.

The envelope in the top of the image below is clearly marked “Retun to Sender”. Miss McGowan never read the letter and therefore her son was sent away without her knowledge.

Quarrier’s Homes

documents, Forgotten Australians, memories

The Other Side

by Lily Fontaine (guest author) on 27 September, 2011

Forgotten Australian and author Lily Fontaine has published her autobiography The Other Side.

At the tender age of four, a young child is left with no mother, father, or siblings. Suddenly there is no one for her to turn to. There is no one to trust. Yet through all the fear and deep sorrow she must learn to survive.

Over seventeen years in the writing, this is the untold true story of Lily Fontaine (artist, author, and poet). Though it is a story unlike any other, if nothing else, The Other Side will keep you thinking long after the last page has been read.

But no matter what one may believe about near-death experiences or angelic visitation, this powerful account of tragedy and ultimate survival, will leave you wondering how any child could have survived as she did.

This compelling self-published autobiography of a Forgotten Australian, is dedicated to the memory of all those ‘forever young’ who can never come to tell their own stories; and for every survivor who would choose never to.

For enquiries about The Other Side please contact the author at: lilyfontaine@hotmail.com

The book jacket of “The Other Side” by Lily Fontaine
Forgotten Australians

Westbrook Family Fun Day

by Clayton Rogers (guest author) on 27 September, 2011

Westbrook resident and Inside website contributor Clayton Rogers invites all Westbrook Boys Home survivors to the Westbrook Family Fun Day.

Clayton writes:

The Westbrook Family Fun Day will be at Centenary Park, Barwick Street, Westbrook on 21 October 2012. This date will align with Family Week in Toowoomba. Our Family Fun Day will have all the usual free things. Free jumping castles, free music, free rides, marquees, tents, stalls, affordable food, interactive skate ramps, tool time building for families, KIDZ zone – with all the messy goop – our theme is ‘Celebrate our Community’. BBQs, food stalls, shaded area – all these and much more. The local businesses financially support the day and we promote them.

It would be an honour to have any survivors from the Westbrook Boys Home to be there on the day. This may be a lot to ask of you – but the offer is there.

documents, Forgotten Australians, memories, objects

Letter to Mummy

by Dianne Gallagher (guest author) on 19 September, 2011

As a young girl growing up in the Church of England Girls Home, Carlingford, NSW, Dianne Gallagher knew that the staff didn’t forward her letters to her mother. So, Dianne used to give her letters to her school friend to post.

Below is a letter that Dianne wrote to her mother, in 1964.

Click on the images to enlarge.

Forgotten Australians, memories, poetry

The Crucified #1

Carole May Smith shares a poem written by her deceased brother Christopher Peter Carroll. Chris grew up in homes in three states. He died just before Carole was to meet him after a 15 year separation.

Chris grew up in Largs Bay Cottage Home, SA; St Michael’s Home, Baulkham Hills, NSW; Bridgewater Care and Assessment Centre, WA;  and, Hollywood Children’s Village, Hollywood WA.

Carole writes:

My brother wrote this poem in 2001 not long after the Salvation Army found him for me after some 15 yrs at least apart.

He wrote these words while in rehab in a bout of depression trying to deal with the horrors and terrors inflicted on him, me and our other brother and sister in our childhoods.

Bro passed away in Feb 2004 of a massive heart attack before we had the chance to meet again in person.

These are his story through his own words …

The Crucifed

What are they that we bear them in mind?
Welcome us no!
They pay us no mind.

Here is a question to ponder aloof _
Is Man kind?
Harken to me quickly truth,
for it has nought to do with mankind.

Tales of woe and rusty knights,
To fearful dreams and sleepless nights.

Of things etheral and in silhouette,
Only ethetics,
vain,
slimy
silly and wet.

What will befall me this awful morn?
When will they gather?
and who for me will mourn?

Surely keep my mind and heart
rock steady and able,
So to keep me from murder intent,
of the likes of Cain and Abel.

For fiery arrows at me they have threw,
Forgiven me not,
they pierce me through.

Truly this morning is both dire and grave,
They have conspired together,
and have already dug my grave.

What have I done for this to earn?
If they only knew –
Behold!
When will it end?
For they now have bound me
in this dark dank hold.

This time I was broken,
busted
and kneed,
They never once showed pity,
or tended to my earnest need.

Kicking and bashing me
they thought it light,
Keeping me imprisoned,
they are blinded
and cannot see the Light.

The assaults and insults,
my body torn,
it bears the score,
They slashed and hacked,
laughing and mocking
as they added their score.

Hear the screech of the baleful crow,
How they mocked me,
and stupendously did crow.

It was terrible indeed to pay this fare,
Ignoble and ignorant
they despised
what was honest and fair.

Dear sweet mankind,
who cut and vexed me to the vein,
Dead ears to listen,
all given freely and truly not in vain.

Splintered and shattered
they pummel me to an un-Godly site,
Satanic untold horrors are my plight,
as I now fight what defies sane sight.

Please forgive them Father
and be not cross,
Pagan rituals they rather,
as they hammer me to a cross.

Father keep me true
and in fair stead,
For they dishonour me,
and defy logic instead.

Likened as a dog,
they hung me from a tree
at a place called the skull,
Loathesome men,
their crime is clear,
while cavorting
and drinking wine did scull.

So now here I am,
I beseech Thee
with my voice
and arms out-stretch,
So be it,
I can do no more,
 for I have done my stretch.

I go now to a glory
where everything is majestic
and bright,
I truly forgive them,
for they are slow witted,
dull
and not quite bright.

Dreadful men what have you done?
I will surely mark your crowns.
desire me,
and wake up to be ready
in time to receive
the promised golden crowns.

Come be with ME
and I will let you ascent,
Can you understand ME
or the energy I’ve spent,
all I ask is an oath of accent.

All things must be
and will be
to MY true accord,
Any who defy ME,
I will accordingly sever the cord.

I AM who I AM,
and there is nothing
that I do not know,
If you ask ME properly
and truthfully
I would never say no.

I was and AM
even before time began to flow,
I will let you drink from the waters
that will never cease to flow.

by Christopher 2001

documents, Forgotten Australians

Missing pieces

The Queensland Department of Communities has published a booklet to provide former residents of institutional care with  information about the records of institutions that have been located to this date.

You can access Missing pieces: Information to assist former residents of children’s institutions to access records on the Department of Children, Youth Justice and Multicultural Affairs website.

Forgotten Australians, memories, poetry

Billy Billy

Diane Mancuso shares two stories about growing up in a large Irish family in the suburbs, time spent in Bidura children’s home and beyond. Diane has also written a poem, ‘Billy Billy’, about her brother who was also in ‘care’ and later died on his birthday.

Diane, also known as Eileen Kennedy, penned ‘Billy Billy’ about her brother, who spent time in Royleston Boys Home, Glebe, NSW. You can also read her creative writing below in ‘Just a Number’ and Born to the State’. 

Billy Billy

Do not slip away
Please Please
Stay with me another day
Where have you gone my brother?
You had not begun to live
It was before your time
He took you to live with our mother
9th April you were born
35 years later I would mourn
No! They did not see your pain
In your anguish and your sorrow
Drugs became your way of life
For you there will be no tomorrow
Billy Billy
I love you so
Please please do not go
One hit too many
They found you dead in a back street alley
The road was too long
It was too much to carry the load
Daddy Daddy loved us all
He was on the wrong side of the law
Mamma Mamma
Did her best
I pray you are now at rest
Billy Billy
Do not slip away
Please please
Stay with me another day
The children’s court decided our fate
They took us all
You cried and cried when you were told
We were all sent to Juvenile Hall
As children and later as adults we are told not to hate
Torn apart and sent along different paths
Mamma’s heart broken like shattered glass.
Suffer the little children who did no wrong
Ignorant are they!
Who say forgive them they know
Not what they do
Where were they when I held my brother’s hand and
Wanted him to stay
In and out of foster care
We grew up with more than our share
Billy Billy
Do not slip away
Please please
Stay with me another day
They failed!
Yes! Suffer the little children
But if I can change it in some small way
Billy Billy
Never fear
I remember and I am here
Your life was not in vain
For I will be here for that day
Billy Billy
My sweet brother we are separate
But never apart
For you are always
In my heart

copyright 2011 Diane Mancuso/Eileen Kennedy

Just a number

1962 was the year the NSW State Government destroyed my family, separating my brothers & sisters for ever. In 1962 what they did can never be repaired or forgotten. My Mother had six children the youngest was five yrs old. My father was languishing away in prison. My mum could not support her children financially. The State decided it would be best for our family if they took her children & threw them into Orphanages for kids whom they had deemed to be neglected.

Bidura was where my elder sister Yvonne & I were kept captured whilst my younger sister Kathleen I never found out which Goal she went to. My two brothers Marty who was eleven Billy who was 18 months older than me at nine went to Royalston down the road from Bidura.

It would be ten years before I saw any of my family again, we never recovered as a family. My sisters became strangers to me also my brother Marty who was always in & out of prison. For some unknown reason I managed to keep a loose relationship with my brother Billy whom I had always been close to.

In 2009 I stood with all of you homies at Canberra & listened to Kevin Rudd apologize & Barry O’Farrell. I heard people speak about how they felt if or what had been the words that had helped their road to recovery their pain of the past. I have asked myself ‘Did I feel any different after the apology?’ And for me? Yes I am glad we were finally recognized for what we all went through. Finally Australian people would be aware that it was not just Indigenous families that had so shockingly been removed & forgotten about.  That we were believed & vindicated in what we all tried so hard to tell our friends, etc Who mostly did not believe us. So yes it was a good feeling though even today people are still in denial of our treatment at the hands of the State.

Though I wish I had a forgiving heart but I do not. For just maybe, maybe my brothers would be alive today instead of both in their graves much too early from drugs. –Physically drugs– but I believe it came from their horrific childhoods. My brother Billy told me about the rapes he had endured in goal. Though the way he spoke about these hideous crimes, against him, was to have me believe he was commenting on the weather. He wore his Armour like we all do to prevent anymore pain ..

Forgive?, I don’t think so. Too much despair, inanity, nightmares, desperation to want to fit in to be loved, wanted, cared for … it’s like the song ‘How can you mend this broken heart?’ It is impossible to repair, to forget my Mothers tears, my brothers fears. ‘Sorry’  just does not do it for me! Forty, fifty years Too late. Too late, You can’t fix something that they shattered into pieces. It was all a little too late so that day as I stood listening to Kevin Rudd that day I realize that it was not Kevin’s fault but it was not mine either or my Family.

My Brother did not set the world on fire, he was not well known (maybe to the police), he did not have any social skills, it was difficult for him to talk to people. There will be a lot of us who will not be acknowledged now or in our life time. The majority of us will just put one foot in front of the other or crawl & hope for the best. We are not celebrities but what we are — we are survivors, who lived through & came out the other side. We conquered tremendous adversity, inhumane treatment, brutality, solitary confinement. What sane person takes a twelve yr old & puts them in a black hole? These Orphanages were worse than prisons. We were children! Was this their way of rehabilitation to a lost child?

Our identities stolen, is it any wonder that we have to struggle with who we are? I had so many different names growing up I could travel the world under an alias with no problems! But with my luck I would be caught & it would be solitary for me again, but they were the ones who had given us all these different identities, no wonder we suffer from identity crisis. What was left to take? They whipped us, belted us, abused us, but they could not break us nor take our memories away from us. So I say for your family whom may not be here to speak for themselves, we have to take up the reins & never let them forget what they done to innocent little children. Makes me wonder how many & whose palm was being greased to justify their behavior? Is it any wonder that many of us became uncontrollable with no role model, no love, no human warmth? And is it so surprising that many turned to drugs & alcohol to block out the sheer pain of remembering how barbaric & cruel these so called authorities who it was their job to care & nurture us?

It is remarkable that we even survived & forbid that we could even have a promise of life that bought no pain! As disturbed as our childhoods were I am sure that you stumbled through like I did trying to shield & keep your balance, with no life skills. With no direction, no guidance I became an expert at when discussing childhoods with anyone.

Many, many times on my journey I wrestled with my horrific upbringing, though no one would ever guess my despair dueling with my demons day to day. My mask rarely slipped, what other people thought was a tough upbringing I thought was Idyllic, that is not to say they were not deserving of sympathy or my thoughts it was just how it is.

But as I trowel over my past I believe if I had not experienced each & every interminable situation I would not be the determined, strong, willed woman that I am today. Nature verses nurture, is not for me to question, though it remains an interesting topic, one I believe that I will never have the answer too. I embrace my flaws, as this is what makes me realize that there is no one person who is without their own faults.

Corruption, incitement of power the provocation of abuse towards children can ever be stamped out but we as part of our legacy is to shed our masks & retell our stories so that history can never be repeated.

Each & every one of us took our different paths.

Although, my brother Billy did not leave a fortune behind, nor a child of his own to inherit his special qualities —He did not leave foot prints in the sand! He left his imprint on my heart & my mind I remember my brother & I am here to tell what the brutal system did to Him You & Me.

It was a privilege to call you my brother Billy.

copyright 2011 Diane Mancuso/Eileen Kennedy

Born to the state

October was the second month of spring the cool moist air had turned into the promise of a warm summer to come.
The tiny buds of flowers were opening to the warm sun, fresh green shoots of grass glistened in the early morning sunshine. If one took the time to stop and savor the scent, to see with virgin eyes, to hear the birds chirping in their safety haven nestled in an old oak tree. One would decide that this day was full of wondrous new beginnings of hope, faith of another tomorrow.

On this day in the outer suburbs of Sydney, the day had lost its heat, dusk had settled over the suburbs. The first lights could be seen from the roads, there were familiar sounds of children laughing and arguing simultaneously. Pots and pans clattering as mothers tried frantically to cook dinner, bathe children and supervise homework, which they did with remarkable ease as these were times of large families when mothers stayed home and fathers went to work, there was no confusion as to which role one played.

The families in this neighborhood had no luxuries. They came from good Irish catholic stock or depending how you looked at it they were quick to temper and quick to smile. Many of these families battled to put food on the table for their brood. Martin Kennedy was such a man who found work when he could. He had a wife with four children and one due any day to provide for. 

He was a tall man six feet to be exact but not an ounce of fat on his solid frame. He was a striking man. He looked younger than his thirty four years with jet black hair, and hazel eyes. A smile to melt any woman’s heart but with an Irish temper to match his steel black hair. He had just finished a twelve-hour shift as a bus driver, his muscles ached and he felt tired and stiff from sitting all day.

He walked with an air of confidence and pride in one’s appearance as he put the key in the door he could hear the racket of children squealing and of muffled laughter. What’s for dinner? He inquired of no one in particular. He didn’t expect an answer, he picked up his youngest son ‘Billy’ whom was eighteen months old. Billy was a ‘Daddies’ boy and loved nothing better than being with his Dad.

Next in age was Yvonne, named after her mother at three she had an impish grin and pale hair with blue eyes the color of topaz inherited from her Mother. She ran to her Father and planted a sticky kiss on his stubble cheek.

Martin ‘junior’ was the eldest boy at seven he was already gangly all elbows & knees his mop of fair hair fell over his pale freckled face.

Colleen was his eldest daughter. At nine she had more the Irish coloring of dark hair with brown eyes. As in large families Colleen helped take care of her younger siblings.

After a few minutes he disentangled himself from eight pairs of arm’s and legs and went in search of his wife he headed for the kitchen the children trailing behind. His wife was not in the kitchen, his stomach protesting loudly that it was past dinner. Colleen’s voice rising above the din of the others to inform her Father that her Mother was in the bedroom ‘She’s sick Daddy’ she said trying not to show any fear but her voice had a tremulous tone to it.

He made his way down the narrow hall to their bedroom, as night was descending quickly he could just make out the outline of the bed. As he stealthy approached towards the narrow cot, a small moan escaped from his wife. He bent over her miniature doll like body, as he was tall and strong she was small and delicate.

He put the lamp on. Yvonne lay in a fetal position her ice blue eyes glazed over with pain he touched her honey colored hair to find it damp with sweat. After four children there was no need to ask, ‘How far apart are the contractions’ he whispered? ‘Don’t know bout ten minutes’ she gasped.

‘Colleen’ he shouted. His daughter who had been standing in the doorway came forward ‘Yes Daddy’. ‘I have to go and pick up Nurse Fisk. Look after your Mother till I get back’.

He grabbed his keys and rushed out to his old 1940’s Dodge he put the key in the ignition it coughed and spluttered in protest Martin cajoling and swearing finally the motor kicked over, reversing quickly as the first drops of rain fell.
Nurse Fisk lived about ten miles out on the Highway. By the time Martin pulled into her driveway the rain was pelting down. He ambled from the car ran up the sidewalk by the time he was banging on the door he was soaked to the skin but he either did not notice or did not care.

The door was answered by an elderly stoutly women with Grey hair and an air of no nonsense about her. She took one glance at his disheveled appearance and said ‘just a moment I will get my bag’. Martin had left the car running not wanting to chance the old rust bucket would not start for him. He overtook cars, breaking the speed limit, careening around bends the wind screen wipers working furiously to keep the rain at bay he peered into the dark night anxiously trying to hurry them along.

Thirty minutes later but for him felt like an eternity pulled into his street. He could hear the muffled screams as they approached the door he inserted the key with trembling fingers. Rushing to his wife’s side he could see her fragile body wracked with pain.

Nurse Fisk was already prodding and pushing the huge bulge with expert hands sure in her knowledge in having delivered hundreds of babies. ‘There’s no time this baby is in a hurry to enter the world’. Martin stood against the wall with its cracked, peeling paint and looked on anxiously. ‘Push! Push!’ she yelled. Yvonne each time exhausted herself and was sure she was not to live through this agony. She had already birthed four babies but could not remember them being in this much pain.

After an almost inhuman effort Nurse Fisk held up an unnaturally still infant in her hands. ‘It’s a girl’ she said. The nurse held the baby by the ankles which was practice in those days and swung her around.  She wasn’t breathing; by the fourth go they heard the lustiest cry. It was as if her cries were to protest at being wrenched from her protective envolope. Rebelling at having being swung around in such an undignified way.

Throughout the ordeal feeling quite helpless my Father stood upright against the  ancient, chipped doorway, he was not aware he had been holding his breath until relief flooded through him, & fighting tears that glistened in his eyes he blinked them away before.

 He gingerly walked over gazing down at his daughter he put his finger in the her tiny fist. She gripped his finger with amazing strength, & with her turbulent stormy blue eyes that  stared at him he thought with an accusatory wisdom.

They named her Eileen she was a bonny baby at eight pound eight ounces with dark down and her eyes as bright as fire & the color of the ocean on a stormy day.

My Mother had one other baby two years after my birth she was named Kathleen. She was a mirror image of my eldest sister Colleen as I was a smaller clone of my sister Yvonne.

I do not recall my earlier years images flash in and out some remain at the fringes of my mind. There is a tall, rugged handsome man lifting me into the air and landing me onto the kitchen table to teach me how to tie my shoe laces and then sweeping me into his strong arms. The backyard was enormous with chooks and a goat feeding off the sparse grass patches that kept them from starving. My siblings and I took great delight in trying to ride on the back of the goat but the animal had other ideas and got his own back when he would buck till we all fell off landing on all fours. Trying but failing to keep our dignity in tact we would mount him again and again much to our disappointment we never did tame him.

My eldest sister seemed to take on the role of mothering us little one’s. Later on I was to learn my mother was often passed out during the day from her addiction to diazepam. This was of great concern to my Father and he used his bus route to pass our house and run in to change my nappy and quickly return to his waiting bus.

My memory becomes a little clearer when we all moved to the outer suburb of Granville. The house was in a shambles, dilapidated and in dire need of painting and repairs. The windows were all broken the lounge room, which doubled as my sister’s and my bedroom sleeping in one bed. Whilst my brothers slept in a closed in veranda off the kitchen to the rear of the house.

I rarely saw my Father the only recollections is of being woken out of a sound sleep by my Father’s voice singing ‘I have the whole wide world in my hands’. Strange how something so insignificant can have intricate details lodged in my memory. My favorite toy was a gollywog with a zip in the side and my father used this to store his gun. I guess he thought it would be a safe place.

It was a rough neighborhood the neighbors’ son bashed my little sister over the head with a dirty wooden stick. It took six nurses to hold her down whilst they shaved her hair off so infection would not set in. I believe this event was instrumental and a contributing factor in my sister’s life further on through the years my sister developed extreme emotional disturbances and instability.

There was a creek down the end of our street there was a rope that dangled down from a footbridge. My brothers would grab the rope and swing from one side of the bank to the other side. I smile at this memory as my brothers were assured of great entertainment when with out fail I would always get stuck in the middle of the creek they would break out in peals of laughter at my distress much to my annoyance.

Innocent as only children could be my brother Billy and I would vow to marry when we were all grown up Billy with his rich, dark curly hair, impish grin and mischievous eyes.  was a strange little girl.I had compulsions which were really rituals that were to be repeated on a daily basis.

copyright 2011 Diane Mancuso/Eileen Kennedy

           

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 generation[1]. 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] http://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.