Agnes was born out of wedlock and her mother’s strict Catholic family made sure she was put into care. As a toddler in the late 1940s she was placed in a Catholic children’s home in regional Victoria. ‘We were only little innocent children. We didn’t know anything.’
The orphanage was run by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd. Sister Clara, Agnes’s favourite nun, ‘used to be kind to me’. Sister Eunice however was a ‘very hard person’ who was particularly ‘very bitter towards me’. Agnes was locked the cellar and attic as punishment, and had her mouth washed out with soap for saying the word ‘bloody’.
She was also punished for bedwetting by being made to lie on the sodden sheets, and having her bare bottom strapped in front of the other children. At the orphanage’s school she was made to sit in the corner wearing a dunce’s hat for not being a good student.
The home’s priest, Father Nicholls, sexually abused Agnes. She regularly attended confession, and when she was in her early teens Father Nicholls started moving the dividing curtains in the confessional and talking to her about sex.
Eunice would time Agnes’s confession, and she’d get into trouble if she was in there too long. She told the Commissioner that the priest had ‘taken advantage’ of her sexually, but was unable to talk about what happened in any greater detail. ‘It’s just too bad.’
Leaving the orphanage at 21, Agnes took on a domestic job on a farm that was arranged for her by the nuns. The farmer there would come into her living quarters each morning and ‘take advantage’ of her. Agnes did not know what to do, and eventually the farmer’s wife confronted her and asked her to leave. She moved on and found more work, and met her husband. They have been together over 45 years now. ‘He’s my saviour.’
Agnes has made several suicide attempts in the past – ‘I hate my life, really do’. At the moment she sees her psychiatrist every month, and also attends monthly lunches put on for people who grew up in care. She has not reported the abuse to police or the church, nor sought compensation, but has now been referred to a free legal service for advice.