When she made her first holy communion, Annabeth staged her own childlike protest against the visiting priest, Father Peters.
He had twice fondled her and tried to put his hands down her underpants in the sacristy of her country church where she and other children met him before his circuit visits.
‘Finally, going through communion, my way of dealing with it – it had been a very wet week … and my memory of it was just tearing my veil off and chucking it in the mud.’
‘I never really said anything to Mum [a staunch Catholic] or to Dad because all hell would have broke loose, with Dad who hates Catholicism anyway,’ said Annabeth who was about seven at the time.
She ‘got told off’ for ruining part of her communion-white outfit. ‘Back in those days you didn’t get a great voice [as a child] … to be seen and not to be heard’.
Annabeth was one of a very large family, ‘ridiculed’ and ostracised in their township which was largely Protestant, because they were poor and didn’t go to mass at ‘regular intervals when he [Father Peters] would come out’.
Only some of Annabeth’s many siblings acknowledge their Aboriginal heritage. Soon after she and her sister, who was anxious ‘to leave the township’ moved away to live with relatives in their teens, most of Annabeth’s siblings were removed from their mother as stolen children.
She learned recently one of her brothers was the victim of a notorious paedophile priest, and also ‘had trouble with [Father Peters] as well’.
When she went to live with a relative, Annabeth was also sexually abused in her teens by Father Padraic Birmingham who later became an archbishop.
Too ‘ashamed or embarrassed or whatever’ to tell her sister, she did tell her relative – ‘the second time’ – and was scolded with the tirade, ‘How dare you say that! That’s our Catholic father, the priest’.
However, Annabeth thinks ‘something must have happened’ because a month or so later ‘no more Father Birmingham’ at the house anymore.
One sibling was sexually abused by another local Catholic priest, Father Filmore, who also often visited their relative’s home.
Another was sexually abused at a Catholic orphanage.
Annabeth is now in her 60s. Both her parents have died as have a number of her siblings, one of them after multiple suicide attempts.
‘I’ve had to carry these rocks at the bottom of my soul but mainly to protect my brothers and sisters and to protect my daughters.’
She has approached a law firm about her abuse, but as the two priests are now dead, she has been told she must go through the Towards Healing process. She has never sought counselling, just counsels herself about the effect the abuse has had on her life and her siblings’ lives.
‘It’s affected it in a lot of ways but trying to be strong for my family I have to block it out.’
Annabeth knows how traumatic it was for her siblings. They were put into both a Catholic orphanage and state government residential care for nearly a year in the 1960s where they were ‘locked in cupboards, pushed around, scrubbed in baths, absolute cruelty’. She suspects that the sibling who suicided was also sexually abused at the orphanage while another sibling spent periods in psychiatric hospitals.
‘Then it comes down the tree. It affects the children of the parents,’ she said of several generations of her family who suffer panic attacks.
Although Annabeth, who has both bi-polar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, has been with her partner for more than two decades, she sleeps with a bra on.
‘I don’t let him fondle my breasts.’
She said that a well-known clergyman ‘tried to fondle my mother, even … [as] an adult, not long before she died’ in her 40s.
‘More protection’ was needed for children, Annabeth told the Royal Commissioner. ‘In all honesty I don’t think it’s ever going to stop, really. There’s not enough manpower. [But] it won’t be as bad as what it as back then.’
If she was telling her relative about being abused today ‘of course’ she would ‘have to believe now because it’s so evident’ and children who come forward now would be much more likely to be believed and think ‘I’ve got to investigate’.
‘It’s on TV, in papers. Back in the olden days it was silent, under the carpet. There was no sexual abuse, you know.’
To avoid paedophiles gravitating towards the priesthood, the Church should allow priests to marry, said Annabeth. She has also left the Church, having ‘been pulled through hell’ in the process of surviving the ordeals of her siblings.
Her continuing Christian faith, her children and her husband – ‘a good man’ – have helped her.
‘I walk the roads of just praying to the Father, the real Father, not these so-called fathers.’
What is needed in the future is ‘more education for kids and more awareness for parents to be vigilant around their children’ – from kindergarten and up.
‘You’ve got to be very careful [of your children]. You’ve got to be very wary.’