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Dianne Clare's story

‘I didn’t like what happened to me but I wouldn’t change it for all the tea in China, because it made me the person I am today. I’m a strong black woman and I overcome a lot of stuff. And my life, my journey, is going to start from here.’

Dianne spent her early years with her parents and siblings on a government Aboriginal mission in regional New South Wales. She doesn’t know for sure why she was taken from her family in the early 1970s when she was eight years old (the only one of the children removed). She suspects, however, that it may have been because she had started complaining about the sexual abuse at the mission.

‘There was a lot of abuse going on ... I sort of took that on so it wouldn’t happen to my sisters.’

She was placed in a Sisters of Mercy convent, which was mostly full of white ‘high school girls’. The convent operated as a children’s home, and had a primary school attached. Children would be punished with a slap, or hit with canes and feather dusters.

‘It was lonely. It was strict. It was a very harsh place ... I was frightened of my brothers and sisters coming there. It wasn’t a nice place.’

Sister Clarence sexually abused Dianne during one-on-one tutoring sessions. ‘I knew it was wrong.’

The nun would say that if she did not do what she was told she would never see her younger siblings again. ‘She told me that I wouldn’t be going home. And she said that my brothers and my sisters would go in care. They wouldn’t come there where I was ... But they’d go in care, and I wouldn’t see them again.’

After her experience of speaking up about the sexual abuse at the mission, she kept her mouth shut about the convent. By the time she was in high school she had left the Sisters and moved back in with relatives.

Dianne did not have anyone to tell about this abuse at the time. She became very unsettled and developed an eating disorder – ‘I self-harm with my food’, and has anxiety, difficulties with change, PTSD, and obsessive behaviours. ‘My life was never the same after this.’

Finding that certain smells remind her of the abuse, particularly certain cleaning products used at the convent, she has developed ways to cope when she encounters them. ‘I just acknowledge them now, and stop and think of what it reminds me of, and then I just think, well this is where I am now and that’s passed.’

At 14 she got into a relationship with an abusive man, who was violent to her in front of their children. ‘I always tried to keep them safe ... He was strict with them.’ They separated in her early 20s when ‘I don’t think he wanted me anymore’. For a while after this she moved away ‘and was a drunkard ... I left my kids with my mum ’cause I just couldn’t cope’.

As a mother she held her children back from activities with friends and never allowed them to have any sleepovers or school excursions, and could not show them physical affection.

‘My relationship is not properly with my kids, because of the way that I was treated ... I tell my kids I love them, but I can’t touch my kids.’ She now cares for several of her grandchildren permanently.

Dianne has not reported the abuse to police and does not intend to do so. She has had bad experiences dealing with police before – once when she was beaten by her partner and covered in blood she attended the nearest station for help, saying she needed to collect her children who were still with him. Instead of assisting her, the officer called her partner to collect her. ‘It was pointless back then.’

A few years ago she put in a claim for victims of crime compensation but has heard nothing since. Around this time she also contacted the Sisters of Mercy as ‘I wanted them to know’.

‘I had to find closure for myself – so I went and met with them nuns. And I went back to the school, and I went and done a lot of stuff myself.’

The nuns told her that Sister Clarence was not at the convent during that time she was abused, so it was not possible for her to make a claim. Dianne is sure of what she remembers, but cannot prove it as all of the records have been destroyed. ‘I’m not stupid, I know she was there.’

Recently Dianne connected with an organisation which assists Aboriginal people who were removed from their families, and can often help with finding files and other information.

Dianne’s faith is very important to her, and she is involved in Christian camps for women which included elements of ‘spiritual healing’. She told the Commissioner she has ‘empowered’ herself through completing a university degree, and is now enrolled in post-graduate study.

‘There’s open doors out there for me, and I’ve got to walk into them doors now. I’m not going to let this hold me back.’

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