Clementine doesn’t remember anything about her biological family. She was adopted out when she was three months old and was sent to live with another family. The family requested a child that ‘wasn’t as dark’ as Clementine and sent her back and she was then placed into state care. She was never visited by her mother or her father when she was in care.
In the early 1930s, Clementine was placed in a Catholic orphanage in a regional town of Victoria. At the orphanage, the girls weren’t allowed to know anything about the outside world. They weren’t allowed to read the newspapers or listen to the radio. Clementine didn’t even know her own birthdate until she was 10 years old.
‘We were kept stupid. You weren’t allowed to know anything outside of the orphanage.’
Clementine was also subjected to racial abuse and felt that she was ‘treated more harshly’ than the other girls. She was made to work in the laundry and in the kitchen instead of receiving an education. She was a bed wetter, and was often beaten by the Sisters in front of everyone in her dormitory as punishment.
When she was 14, she was sexually abused by the mother superior of the orphanage. Mother Louisa would fondle Clementine’s breasts in a separate room, away from the other residents. This occurred at least two to three times a week over two years.
Clementine said she never knew this ‘behaviour was wrong’. She explained that she had been brought up in care for most of her life and was never educated on sex. She never told anyone about the abuse because nobody questioned or complained to the Sisters.
‘We thought they were the ant’s pants.’
Clementine left the home when she was 16 and never saw Mother Louisa again. She went to a private home in a different town and worked as a domestic assistant. She explained that because she didn’t receive a proper education, she has worked in ‘lowly paid, manual jobs’ all her life. She married when she was in her late 20s and had several children with her husband.
Throughout her adulthood, Clementine kept the abuse to herself. She said that she learnt that it was wrong when she was in her late teens, but never thought to report Mother Louisa to the police. She said it was easy to not think about the abuse when she was working full time because she didn’t have time. However, she now suffers from flashbacks.
Clementine was very strict with her children and was always very aware of who they interacted with while growing up. She still finds it difficult to trust people and will often expect the worst of them.
In the early 2000s Clementine disclosed the details of her abuse. At a reunion at the orphanage, she met a woman who had been a resident there at a different time, and found out she had also been sexually abused. They became friends and were able to talk about the abuse, which Clementine has found therapeutic.
She also told her family about what happened to her and was happy that they were understanding and supportive.
She has never reported Mother Louisa or taken action against the Catholic Church and said she has ‘no wish to do so’. She still struggles with memories, but does her best to move forward.
‘The pain doesn’t go away and now that I’m older, it’s worse because I don’t work and I have more time to think.’