Child Migrants, documents, events, memories

Justice for Child Migrants

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.

 

Roadside sign - Fairbridge Farm School, Molong
Photo by Rachael Hession, National Museum of 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.

Forgotten Australians, memories

Lowson House

by Jessica Dalton (guest author) on 10 June, 2011

‘I stopped correcting them, and certainly stopped respecting them’: Jessica Dalton describes her time at Lowson House, Royal Brisbane Hospital, in 1980. Jessica was 20 at the time but some of her experiences were similar to those recounted by Forgotten Australians who were admitted to adult wards of psychiatric hospitals as children.

I had taken an overdose after being dumped by my first boyfriend, and when I began vomiting I told my mother what I’d done. She took me to RBH where she worked and I was admitted to Lowson House where I was kept in isolation for three days on the locked female Ward D. Before being discharged, I was examined by a room full of doctors, students and staff.  The registrar assigned to my case argued that I was schizophrenic and should remain in Lowson House for treatment.  The psychiatrist invited me to give my version of events and I explained that I was very unhappy at home and when my boyfriend dumped me I wanted to die.  However I didn’t die and I thought my best plan was to return to finish my schooling so that I could get a decent job or go on to uni and get out of home as soon as possible.  He agreed with my interpretation of events and I was released.

When I was 20, I had finally made it to uni and had become extremely anxious prior to first semester exams. One night I couldn’t deal with the anxiety and walked to RBH and asked for help.  I hoped that I would find intelligent reasonable people with expertise to help me deal with my emotional problems and mental distress.  The anxiety was so excruciating that I told the doctor at admissions that if they couldn’t help I’d probably have to end my life. I was admitted to Lowson House again and the same psychiatric registrar I had met when I was 16, was appointed as my psychiatrist. She remembered me and told me that now I would get the treatment I should have received when I was 16. Although I had admitted myself voluntarily, I became an involuntary patient. I revealed that I had been sexually abused over the first 12 years of my life which I believed was the source of my mental distress, but this was interpreted as delusional, reinforcing the diagnosis of schizophrenia. I was heavily medicated, refused leave to attend my final exams, and refused leave to attend another doctor for a second opinion. I asked if I was entitled to a second opinion and my psychiatrist said that of course I was. So when I asked for leave she would smile and refuse. If I tried to discharge myself, I was put on an involuntary order and sent back to D Floor, the locked ward. If I refused medication, I was sent back to D Floor. If I refused again I would be held down by orderlies and nurses, have my jaw prized open and have syrup poured down my throat. I stopped there. The next step was injections. I couldn’t win that battle.

In the first few days on D floor I felt so heavily medicated that I used to fall over if I got up from bed, or stood up suddenly from sitting position.  They made me go up to E Floor for ‘recreation’.  I kept falling over and the orderlies made me crawl up the stairs, laughing at me and kicking me with their boots. Up on E Floor, sometimes people paced up and down but they’d be yelled at and made to sit down and be quiet. Mostly the patients sat around the room in the chairs lined up against the walls staring speechless into space, some drooled, until we were allowed to go downstairs again.

They did conduct tests on me including inkblot tests, intelligence tests and a couple of EEGs. I don’t know how my responses to the inkblots were interpreted but I had the feeling at the time that it didn’t really matter what I said, it would be interpreted however my psychiatrist wanted it to be interpreted.  Whatever results didn’t fit the diagnosis, were discarded as irrelevant or false, rather than revisit the diagnosis. I remember the psychologist bailed me up in the corridor and accused me of cheating on my intelligence tests. I asked how that was possible and she said I must have done them before. I told her I hadn’t, she insisted, so I smiled and asked if she was upset because they were higher than hers, and would she like me to repeat them in order to produce a lower score? She was furious, stormed off and she had no more contact with me. I didn’t really understand the ramifications of showing disrespect to the staff in this way but I believe I tried to be totally honest with them initially. But they didn’t believe me when I told the truth or they twisted what I said to mean something else. I resisted their definitions of me but they still got inside me and hurt.

The EEG results indicated some sort of electrical disturbance similar to epilepsy, but that was not investigated.  The psychiatrist insisted I must have been blinking, even though I wasn’t. I complained of the smell on D floor caused by faeces smeared on the walls in the toilets. That was interpreted as olfactory hallucinations. I complained of feeling like a slug because of the effects of the medication. That was interpreted as a psychotic Kafka-esque metamorphosis. I stopped correcting them, and certainly stopped respecting them. My psychiatrist explained that I didn’t like her because I was projecting my hatred of my mother onto her. I assured her that I hated her for herself.

The psychiatrist refused to give me leave to have dinner with a dear friend who had come from Sydney to see me, when I actually wanted to go out. Well she didn’t initially refuse the leave, it was cancelled without reason at the last minute when my friend arrived to pick me up. Yet I was forced to go on weekend leave to my parents’ place although I begged them not to make me go … until I overdosed on my father’s heart medication and spent a week in coronary care. Then my parents decided that they wouldn’t have me and I was spared those visits. One registrar argued my case for me with the psychiatrist to trial me off the medication, but I guess he was disciplined because he wasn’t allowed to speak with me again.

Occupational therapy involved making a teapot stand with matchsticks or little tiles.  I was never a really crafty person. Then they decided I should learn to type. I was put in front of a broken typewriter in a cramped and messy office or storeroom with an old book on learning to type.  I was left alone and supposed to do something with that. The ribbon was worn out, keys were broken and I was medicated to the eyeballs. I was labelled as non-compliant and that was the end of my rehabilitation.

The food was revolting and at first I didn’t eat it. But eventually I lined up like everyone else, ages before the meal was served, in that long shuffling, dribbling line of human despair. Everything looked and tasted like porridge. I ate flies and bugs caught up in the food without a care. I put on four stone in weight.

I felt so tired and heavy, like my veins were filled with concrete. I didn’t want to get up, all I wanted to do was sleep. But every morning at 5 o’clock I was dragged out of bed, had cold water thrown on me a couple of times, and forced up to E floor for morning exercises. This consisted of orderlies physically placing us in rows facing the staff member who enthusiastically jumped about like a wannabee PE teacher or aerobics instructor, complete with whistle around his neck. Well, I’ve never been good at aerobics either but being drugged up at 5.30 in the morning, surrounded by people in a similar or worse state, did not inspire me … it was humiliating torture. And I’d be yelled at and called names, which also did nothing to improve my performance. I didn’t complain about all the courses of ECT because at least on those days I didn’t have to go for morning exercises and I really liked the IV valium. I had a really good peaceful sleep-in on those mornings.

I remained in Lowson House for 13 months, continued to be heavily medicated, received three courses of ECT, was not allowed to discuss the sexual abuse, and became totally dehumanised, demoralised and institutionalised by my experiences there. Although suicide had originally been an option to relieve the anxiety, I perceived it to be my only option after treatment at Lowson House. I managed to summon the energy to make a couple of attempts, which were not successful. Sadly, others I knew managed to do the job properly.  One man put his head under the wheel of a reversing truck while being walked to the canteen. I remember a nurse who was really annoyed about how inconsiderate that man was, considering the investigation the supervising nurse had to undergo. Another young man on weekend leave with his parents, threw himself off the faculty building at his university where he had graduated with distinction many years before. And another hung herself on the ward after excusing herself to get a tissue during a rowdy ward meeting. I was first back into the bedrooms, walked straight past her blue, lifeless, swinging body across the aisle from my bed and lay on my bed oblivious. Eventually someone else came and screamed. A male patient held up her body, while a young nurse aide ran to find scissors and cut her down. Those two did CPR together on the dead girl till the crash team eventually arrived and took her away. She had recently given birth and been forced to sign adoption papers. Then the nurse aide let loose on me for doing nothing. I don’t blame the nurse for that. How could I not notice? How could I not call for help? I knew why, but she didn’t.

I was not assigned a case-worker because, according to the social worker, she didn’t waste her time on hopeless cases. I began reading my file and was appalled by the fantastic rubbish written up as case-notes, informed by my mother and interpreted by my psychiatrist. Apparently, I was a lesbian because it was documented in my case-notes and all the staff and patients accepted this as fact despite my denials.  However, I was not abused as a child because the case-notes said it didn’t happen. I learnt early in my stay not to talk about the abuse, because staff abruptly got up and walked away if I raised the topic.

At one point I did make noticeable improvement and a registrar wanted to write a paper on me because she attributed my remarkable recovery to a new trial drug. I had to tell her that I had not been taking the drug and it was likely that the improvement in my behaviour (I was voluntarily getting out of bed, talking to people and feeling better) was due to not taking medication at all. I was forced to resume medication.

On my 21st birthday I was forcibly carried/dragged by 4 staff into the common room for a party I didn’t want to attend. After the party I stole my file, went to the embankment, drank a bottle of vodka, and burnt every page of my file. Another time I put a poster up on the front entry door to Lowson House. It was a picture of a sinking ship with the caption, ‘Abandon hope, all ye who enter here’. It was ages before the staff even noticed but eventually a visitor complained, an investigation launched and the culprit was tracked down. Yes, some of them really hated me. A new registrar let me read what she’d written in the file, and I was allowed to clarify it, if it was wrong. I thought that was respectful and sensible.

By the time I was to be discharged, my psychiatrist had left RBH and I had declined her invitation to be transferred under her care to another hospital. I don’t think I was allocated a new psychiatrist, because I didn’t see one again. I was not allowed to make my own living arrangements in the community and was given two options:  long-term accommodation at Wolston Park or a half-way house called Richmond Fellowship. By this time I had become institutionalised. I felt all my choices had been taken away from me. I had no hope for the future because I really was a mess by then, and besides that I’d been made aware that I should not have children because I would pass my mental disease on to them, and that I would never be able to work again, or achieve anything in my life. I badgered staff to help me make a decision about where to go, but nobody would give me any information about Wolston Park or Richmond Fellowship. The default option would be Wolston Park. I didn’t see how Wolston Park could be worse than Lowson House, I’d be fed and housed. Finally after following a registrar around for days, begging her to tell me what Wolston Park was like, she looked me in the eye and said it was a horrible place where I’d be treated worse than an animal.  I asked for an example, so I could differentiate between Wolston Park and Lowson House. She said that at Wolston Park I’d be herded with others, naked, into showers and hosed down. That sounded like a new experience I’d rather not be subjected to.

So I chose Richmond Fellowship, and discharged myself from there when it also proved to be less than helpful. When I arrived there I was not welcomed because a ward meeting was happening, which could not be interrupted. I was allowed to observe it from the corridor. I remember a young woman raised an issue about the way another group member spoke to her or treated her. The person responded by disregarding the complaint and telling her the problem was her inner child. The therapist agreed that she was dominated by her inner child and needed to use her inner adult more. The issue she raised was not addressed and she ran crying from the meeting. I thought that was interesting and some time later in life read about transactional analysis which shed some light on that strange interaction. Then I had to  complete several personality tests and was allowed to go to bed. Nobody spoke to me except the therapist conducting the test. I think they purposely made people leave you alone, in order to give you time to settle in. The next day the therapist asked to see me privately because there was a problem with my test results. The problem was that they were good. I didn’t know why that was a problem. He said they were better than most of the therapists. I still didn’t see why it was a problem. Then he told me that they have to show improvement between the before and after tests to justify the effectiveness of their programs. But my after tests wouldn’t be able to show improvement because my before tests were so good, and that was a problem for them. I offered to do them again and try to produce a worse result. He said that he couldn’t do that either, but he was pretty upset about it. I discharged myself and saved them the trouble of solving that dilemma.

After living in a share house for some months with other ex-patients, I was visited by the social worker who didn’t approve of my sleeping all day, eating hamburgers and watching television all night. She informed me that I was still under their supervision and would be re-committed if I didn’t assume a more normal lifestyle. I engaged a private psychiatrist, moved to another share house and never returned to a mental institution.

My life has not been easy, but I have raised a beautiful son to manhood; eventually returned to uni and graduated with honours; and enjoyed a successful career as a primary school teacher. But the horrors of my experiences at Lowson House still haunt me and make me cry. Although my family and very close friends know about it, they understandably don’t want to hear about it. Telling people has proven to be a poor strategy for maintaining friendships. And if I raise it with a mental health professional, I once again lose my credibility when I reveal my former status as a psychiatric patient.  So, it is a very lonely experience that I have not really been able to share, and it still weighs heavily on my heart. I remember there were people younger that me at Lowson House, who definitely fit your category of ‘child’ and I hope that at least some of them, like me, were able to recover. Thankyou for the opportunity you are giving people to share their stories.

Forgotten Australians, memories

He was living in a horse stable

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.

Wayne writes:

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

  1. St. Anthony’s Home: 1950 to 1951
  2. St Joseph’s Home: 1951 & 1952
  3. St John of God Home: 1952 to 1960

Domestic Routine

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
  • Starvation
  • False imprisonment
  • Incarceration in a psychiatric institution sat the instigation of the brothers
  • Deprived of an education and subjected to unpaid child labour

Sexual abuse

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.

Physical abuse

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.

Starvation

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.

False imprisonment

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!

Tony Danis and Wayney Chamley
events, Forgotten Australians

Kimberly’s ride

by Diane Tronc (guest author) on 11 May, 2011

Diane Tronc is inviting others to join her in supporting Kimberly Kiser with her ride to raise funds for child protection. Kimberly will depart the Gold Coast and arrive in Canberra on White Balloon Day in Child Protection Week, September 2011.

Further information is available at Kimberly Kiser’s Fundraising Page.

Itinerary for Kimberly Kiser’s Trip from Gold Coast Qld. to Parliament House Canberra ACT (Wednesday 31st August – 7th September 2011)
Wednesday 31st Aug. 2011
Depart Gold Coast office at 10.30am

Day 1
Wednesday 31st Aug. 2011
(Napper Road) Gold Coast to Byron Bay  (Tweed Coast Rd.)
Byron Bay to Casino (Bangalow Rd.)   108mi./
Overnight in Casino

Day 2
Thursday 1st Sept. 2011
Casino to Coffs Harbour  (Summerland Way & Orara Way)  114mi./183.47km
Overnight in Casino

Day 3
Friday 2nd Sept. 2011
Coffs Harbour to Lakewood  (Pacific Hwy)   112mi./180.25km
Overnight in Lakewood

Day 4
Saturday 3rd Sept. 2011
Lakewood to North Arm Cove (Pacific Hwy)  97.8mi./157.39km
Overnight in North Arm Cove

Day 5
Sunday 4th Sept. 2011
North Arm Cove to Gosford  (Wangi Rd.& Pacific Hwy)   90.6mi./145.81km
Overnight Gosford

Day 6
Monday 5th Sept. 2011
Gosford to Wollongong (crossing Sydney Harbour Bridge)  Total: 94.5mi./
* thru North Sydney (Pittwater Rd.) w/ Ferry crossing  (40.5mi./65.178km)
* thru Sydney (George St.)  (2.5mi./4.0234km)
* to Wollongong (Princes Hwy) 51.5mi./ 82.881km)
Overnight in Wollongong

Day 7
Tuesday 6th Sept. 2011
Wollongong to Braidwood (Nerriga Rd.)  122mi./ 196.34 km
Overnight in Braidwood

Day 8
Wednesday 7th Sept. 2011
Braidwood to Parliament House Canberra (Mulloon Fire Rd.)     49.0mi./78.858km

White Balloon Day!

Forgotten Australians, memories

In the beginning

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 …

Child Migrants, memories, photos

Orphaning experiences

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.

Godfrey with mother Mary Tonna, 1955, WA
Godfrey (circled) at swimming pool construction site, Clontarf, WA
documents, Forgotten Australians, memories

Graham John Davis 1946 – 1974

by Warren Porter (guest author) on 5 April, 2011

Following on from his autobiography, A Tormented Life, Warren Porter writes the story of his deceased brother, Graham Davis. Warren writes about their abusive stepfather, how Graham was sent to Westbrook Farm Home in 1961 and police violence. Warren argues the case for a Royal Commission into the treatment of children in Australian institutions.

Warren mentions several locations in the south side of Brisbane including “the Gabber (the Five Ways)” which refers to the then layout of the railway yards in the suburb of Woolloongabba.

Download Warren’s account of his brother’s history: Graham John Davis 12.3.1946 – 23.10.1974 (PDF 7mb)

Child Migrants, documents, Forgotten Australians

Barriers to justice

by Oliver Cosgrove (guest author) on 25 March, 2011

This month, a US federal judge threw out of court a class action filed on behalf of an estimated 10,000 former Child Migrants. U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty dismissed the case because:

  • the statue of limitations had expired
  • the Order of the Sisters of Mercy is not a legal entity
  • there is no evidence that the Christian Brothers in Australia were acting under the authority of Rome

You can read more about the case at the Courthouse News Service website. Click on Ex-Child Migrants Missed the Mark, Judge Rules