Delores was made a ward of the New South Wales State as a baby in the early 1950s. After spending a few years in one home she was sent at six to a children’s home overseen by the Sisters of St Joseph.
‘It was horrible’, she said. ‘It was awful. I still have nightmares about it.’
Delores described continual violence meted out by nuns and ‘the head Sister, she was always bashing into someone’.
‘You got bashed up for nothing, or just looking at them the wrong way [they] punched you up. Beaten for answering a question, you know. If you asked a question and they didn’t like it, they’d just swipe you. You were frightened all the time. You didn’t want to talk to them. I hated them. I hate them to this day.’
In holiday periods girls were sent out of the home, and during these times Delores went to her aunt’s place. Here Delores would catch up with her brother who was living in a boys’ home, but her aunt didn’t like her or her brother and ‘didn’t want them in the house’.
The children’s grandparents also lived on the property, and over the 10 years Delores went there she was sexually abused by her grandfather. She made several attempts to tell the nuns back in the home but found it difficult because she feared not being believed and thought she might be further punished. One day she tried to tell a priest during confession, but found she didn’t have the words, and at the last minute she told him something else in the hope that he’d ask her questions. He didn’t, and with no other visitors or welfare oversight she ‘had no one to talk to’.
The abuse stopped when Delores was in her early teens and one day ‘had had enough’. As her grandfather approached her, she decided she ‘was going to kill him’.
‘I stabbed him ‘cause I thought, “No, I can’t take no more”. So I went up to get a knife and I couldn’t get a knife, I just grabbed this great big fork and I stuck it into his arm you know and well, blood went everywhere.’
After that, ‘he left me alone’, Delores said. ‘But he got me all those years.’
Through the years she was sexually abused, Delores continued to be physically assaulted by the nuns. She recalled one particular incident when she was in her early teens and was set upon by a nun who ‘lost it and started punching into’ her. As Delores ran, the nun gave chase, cornered her then started ‘bashing me bad’. The nun then stopped as abruptly as she’d started.
Three months later, the same nun called Delores into the bathroom and after locking all the doors took up a feather duster and started hitting her again. This continued for what Delores thought was over half an hour.
‘Then she walked out’, Delores said. ‘And I come out.’ With her hands and face swelling up the nun ‘nearly died when she saw me. I know, ‘cause I could tell by the terror in her face’.
The nun then sent Delores to the infirmary and for four days was her only visitor, bringing food and taking the key with her when she left.
‘I hate that woman to this day’, Delores said. ‘Not for what she just did to me, but for everyone she bashed. You know, and when I look at her, I used to think, she’s a really beautiful woman you know. She had the most beautiful blue eyes, and she came from Ireland, beautiful white, beautiful skin and underneath that she was real callous.’
Delores had never made any reports to NSW Police about the abuse by the nuns or her grandfather, nor had she sought compensation.
She disclosed the abuse to her husband early in their relationship and since then had told her children. One child had been supportive while the other said, ‘All those things you told me Mum, they’re probably not true’.
Children and home life had always been important to her.
‘I put all my love and everything into my kids you know, my whole life revolved around getting up in the morning. They loved it, you know, taking your kids to the park, and then I brought in other kids and looked after them. And in the holidays our whole house was full of kids, you know, I’d have 15 kids at my house. That’s my whole life was just, you know, looking out for the kids.’
Delores felt something of a gap now that her children had grown and she was thinking of going to a support group nearby.
‘They’ve got this depression thing and it’s run by just these people, not by the government or anybody and they just all get together and talk about a problem. I thought I should maybe go in there. I might make some friends you know because yeah, I’m a real strong person, really strong minded and you know, okay, put all that behind you, get on with it, and don’t dwell on it or anything.’
Her ‘happy-go-lucky’ personality and ability to laugh had always helped.
‘I reckon that’s what got me through everything ‘cause that’s my personality … I still do it today at certain things. I think I’m going to crack up unless I get out of this room you know. I think it’s the laughter that got me through, or cracking funny jokes. I used to read funny stories all the time and joke books, and I think that’s what got me through.’