art, Forgotten Australians, memories, painting

What Mrs Letherby did for us

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

Rachael explains:

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

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

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

This gave us hope when we had none.

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

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

22×30″ copyright Racheal Romero
art, Forgotten Australians, memories, painting

‘The stain is indelible’

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

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

Rachael describes its significance:

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

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

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

Painting of two girls with cross and nun in dark quadrangle
Pines Quadrangle dark with station of cross detail by Rachael Romero
art, Forgotten Australians, painting, poetry

‘A Severed Life’

by Rachael Romero (guest author) on 8 June, 2011

Rachael Romero, who was in the The Pines, the Convent of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in Plympton, South Australia, shares her drawing A Severed Life.

Rachael writes about her art work:

Those responsible for our incarceration were looking in the mirror.
How many lives cauterized?
How many hands maimed?
Girls not protected but stained by unwarranted and self-righteous religious and civil presumption of guilt.
Their persecuters were looking in the mirror.

‘Magdalene Laundry Convent of Good Shepherd Crown’ by Rachael Romero copyright 2011
Forgotten Australians, poetry

‘Pines Indoctrination’

by Rachael Romero (guest author) on 2 May, 2011

In 1971, Rachael Romero, soon after her release from The Pines (Sisters of the Good Shepherd Convent), Plympton, SA, wrote a poem about how it felt to be indoctrinated.

Of Pine Indoctrination, copyright Rachael Romero

Of Pines Indoctrination

A tattooed mind
with fear and cold
and logic warped
to please false aims

a cringing heart
a slaughtered soul
a bleeding confiscated mind

Deadened, buried lay my will
Hushed with fear and violent threat
Unwanted, stifled, broken, ill
stumbling on a stormy deck.

copyright Rachael Romero

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 …

documents, Forgotten Australians, memories, poetry

‘Escape Attempt’ 2

by Rachael Romero (guest author) on 13 April, 2011

Rachael Romero, who was in The Pines (Convent of the Good Shepherd, Plympton) shares one of her poems:
Rachael explains:

This was written right after I left the Pines, Convent of the Good Shepherd. My friend Agi and I decided to feign a religious calling so we could “do rosary” in the chapel before dinner. We had our eyes on a high window that was not barred. To escape through it was a dream, but we persisted for weeks before abandoning the idea.

Furtive, stealthy in the gloom The noise and cracks of a silent room Every step an inch to free life Every inch a step to new strife Fear, regret, anticipation Throbbing, pulsing, circulation. “The window’s high, the glass is thick. All I need’s a heavy brick.” “But what of noise? – Someone will hear They’ll keep us here another year” “Agi come back it is too late I hear a key at the staircase gate Kneel down, kneel down, make out to pray They may not even come this way Our chance has gone, perhaps it’s best Let’s go back, sit with the rest I had no-where to go anyway Trust “Sour Grapes” to cause delay”  copyright Rachel Romero
Escape Attempt poem

Escape Attempt

Furtive, stealthy in the gloom
The noise and cracks of a silent room
Every step an inch to free life
Every inch a step to new strife
Fear, regret, anticipation
Throbbing, pulsing, circulation.
“The window’s high, the glass is thick.
All I need’s a heavy brick.”
“But what of noise? – Someone will hear
They’ll keep us here another year”
“Agi come back it is too late
I hear a key at the staircase gate
Kneel down, kneel down, make out to pray
They may not even come this way
Our chance has gone, perhaps it’s best
Let’s go back, sit with the rest
I had no-where to go anyway
Trust “Sour Grapes” to cause delay”

copyright Rachel Romero