Edie died in the mid-2000s, but was represented at the Royal Commission by her younger siblings Alistair and Roxanne. They brought with them a statement Edie had written in support of her claim for compensation from Wesley Mission, submitted in the early 2000s. Sharing the statement with the Commission was a way to honour her, Roxanne said, a way to allow her to ‘speak from the grave’.
Edie was the oldest of five children. The youngest were twins, and Edie’s mother died giving birth to them. The babies were taken and adopted by the superintendent of a Wesley Mission – then Central Methodist Mission – home in Sydney. Soon afterwards, with their father unable to care for them, the three older children were sent to the same home. Edie was eight when they arrived there, in the early 1950s.
As the oldest, she took her responsibilities to her siblings very seriously. She’d been told by her father that she needed to be a mother to the twins. But at the home she was separated not just from the twins but from her two other siblings as well. She found herself the target of a campaign of relentless vilification and bullying led by the superintendent, Paul McAlly.
Her siblings were told she was the ‘bad seed’ of the family and a liar, that she was ‘rotten’ and not to have anything to do with her. McAlly said their mother was a prostitute, that the children had been rescued from the gutter and that in due course Edie would end up back there.
This was accompanied by a cruel regime of punishment and other abuse. In her statement, Edie wrote that McAlly wanted her to give up her claim to the twins. But she refused, and his brutal treatment was the result.
‘I was subjected to humiliation, verbal abuse, cruelty and beatings on a daily basis. His one aim was to shut me up and stop me saying the twins were my family. I never shut up. I never denied them and he never made me cry’, Edie wrote in her statement.
Their father had been barred from visiting his children soon after they arrived there, after McAlly falsely accused him of picking a fight. His letters and cards were kept from them and they didn’t see him again.
One night when Edie was in her early teens, McAlly called her to his office. He spoke softly, and said he wanted to be nice. He didn’t want to keep punishing her. They should try to be friends, and be kind to one another.
‘He beckoned me over with his arms out and I went. It was the first kind word I had had from him ever, and the first physical touch since my mother and father. When he kissed and caressed me the floodgates opened and I sobbed in his arms.’
McAlly sexually abused Edie that night, and continued to do so in the weeks and months that followed. He told Edie that if she revealed what was going on her siblings would suffer – and that if she kept the secret he’d let her see them occasionally. As well as the threats he gave her gifts and treats – stockings, petticoats, perfume, books and trips to the movies on Saturday afternoons.
‘Although I never asked for anything or said thank you, I took the money and gifts which I believed – and hated myself for until I was 52 – made me into the prostitute he always said I would turn out to be.’
One day Edie felt she couldn’t tolerate the abuse a moment longer. She was on the bus, on her way home after work. She stayed past her usual stop till the bus arrived at the station, then took a train into the city.
For the next two years Edie lived on the streets. Eventually she found work and a place to live. On Sundays she’d catch the train and bus and wait outside the church her siblings attended, hoping to get a glimpse of them. McAlly saw her and threatened her with jail. She had to stop going.
McAlly died when Edie was 18, but the Church dealt her one final blow. The new superintendent at the home said she should apply to adopt her younger sibling. She put in an application, but when she called to inquire about its progress, she was told the application had been rejected. It was a lie – one that sent Edie into a downward spiral.
‘I was devastated. Shattered and guilt-ridden’, Edie wrote. She felt she’d broken her promise to her father, that she would look after and protect her siblings. ‘I gave up on everything then.’
Her sister Roxanne said Edie had a ‘dreadful’ life. ‘She was an absolute lost soul’, she told the Commissioner.
In her statement, Edie wrote powerfully about the effects of her childhood experiences and the question of compensation.
‘To the Church and State’, she wrote, ‘all we children … were invisible, locked up and forgotten, left to the mercy of torturers and degenerates … Neglected responsibility and dereliction of duty of care cannot be justified or rationalised.
‘Nothing under this earthly sky will make up for the pain, anguish and torment suffered by us ... What was perpetrated on us and many other children in the name of God cannot be undone.’
And she posed the question, ‘What value does Wesley Church place upon the destruction of my life and familial ties?’
According to Roxanne, the Church responded with an offer of access to its mental health services. And that was all.
‘That was so disappointing for her’, Roxanne said. ‘And she died not long after.’