‘My family’s pretty poor and the nuns knew that and they used to pick on us … I got caned and I got whipped and verbally abused, mentally abused, physical abuse by the nuns … We were humiliated daily, but we’d only gone there for a couple of years, which was something.’
Ellie attended a Catholic primary school in Queensland in the early 1960s, and it was there that she was sexually abused by Father Roberts, the local parish priest.
‘He touched me in the playground. I think I must have been going to the toilet, because I don’t remember a lot of kids around me … I remember him just calling me. Didn’t know my name, but he just like, “Hey you” or something like that, to get my attention.’
When Ellie approached Father Roberts he started touching her breasts. Ellie told the Commissioner that this happened three times, when she was nine or 10. ‘He was laughing when he was doing it, so I just thought it was funny, a game.’
The third time it happened, ‘there was older girls there … and they called me aside and they said, “Do you know what he’s doing” … and I said, “I think he’s just tickling me” and they’re like, “No, he’s fondling you. He’s touching your boobs … He’s not allowed to do that”, and I really didn’t know. I thought he was tickling me. But he’s actually touching my breasts. They told me to stay away from him’.
Ellie believes that Father Roberts may have done the same thing to these older girls. ‘I think they knew. I think it happened to them. I really do. Because they were sort of aware of … what he was doing, and I don’t think he knew that they were there, of course.’
After the warning she received from the other girls, Ellie avoided Father Roberts, and made sure that she was never alone in the playground when she went to use the toilets.
Ellie did not report the abuse to the nuns because, ‘The priest is the priest, like he’s the higher … You wouldn’t tell … Most of the nuns were pretty strict anyway, so if you told them … they wouldn’t believe me’.
The abuse she experienced affected Ellie’s schoolwork. ‘I used to think about what he was doing because my father used to talk to us about sex and that, and no one touching your body and all that, so I knew that what he done was wrong when the girls told me what he was doing was wrong, and so … I’d sort of drift off and think about, “Why’s he doing it to me for? Is it because I’m poor, because I’m worthless? Is it because … you know”?’
When Ellie’s parents split up at about the same time that she was being abused by Father Roberts, she and her siblings were made wards of the state. They spent a short time in a children’s home, where one of Ellie’s older brothers was befriended by another boy, Frank. When all the children were released from care, Frank began to visit her brother. He was about four years older than Ellie, and began to sexually abuse her.
‘He used to touch me down below when I was 10 or 11 … He probably done that … I can’t remember how many times, maybe five times, something like that.’
Ellie started drinking when she was about 11. ‘My mum worked all the time, so she never noticed … I used to wag school a lot.’ She dropped out of school during Year 8.
When Ellie was 15 or 16, she was at a hotel, drinking. ‘I know the age was 21, but I’ve been drinking since I was 11 or 12, and I was at a hotel and [Frank] was there and he got me drunk and he took me out the back and raped me at the back of the hotel. I didn’t tell no one. I can’t even remember getting home. Everything’s a blur.’
Ellie has only recently stopped drinking to excess. ‘I just woke up six months ago and said, “I’ve had enough”. Only six months ago. I just had enough one day and just thought, “I’m getting too old for this” and just yeah, didn’t want to do it no more. I still drink, but I … hardly drink at all now … I’ve got it under control now which is great. It’s taken a long time.’
Therapy is something that Ellie has found challenging, because her current therapist ‘lectures me and if someone starts lecturing me or talking … I switch off. I just don’t listen and I feel just a little bit like she’s lecturing me, so I just did it myself … When I see her I want to drink, and I think it’s because I bring up the things. So I’m trying to hit that on the head, too’.
Ellie told the Commissioner, ‘I met a girl that went through nearly the same thing as me … and I’m like, “Well, I’m not the only one it’s happened to” and because she told me that she went through it, I felt a little bit comfortable. “I’m not the only one. It’s not a dirty little secret” and watching it on the news all the time, watching the Royal Commission and you know, other people coming forward with their story … I think it’s helped a lot of people, the Royal Commission’.