Francine told the nuns she didn’t want to see her stepfather, Herb Jameson, but she could never tell them why.
She and her stepsister had been sent to stay at the convent, in suburban Melbourne, in the mid-1960s. Her mother experienced significant mental illness, and had been hospitalised for a nervous breakdown.
A couple of weeks later, her mother was discharged and came to collect the girls. Ten-year-old Francine told Sister Patricia she didn’t want to go with her.
‘I said I don’t want to go home, I hate my Dad, my stepfather. He always told me I wasn’t his daughter, and didn’t want nothing to do with me.’ This upset her mother, who told her to stay at the convent until she was 18 years old.
Conditions at the convent were harsh, and she received little education. Francine was forced to work in the laundry during the day, and take care of the babies at night. ‘I didn’t seem to stop, to me it was slave labour, the way I worked.’
The food she was given was poor. For punishment, she was made to sleep on a pile of dirty laundry, covered in mice. Still, she felt safer there than with Jameson in the family home.
Her mother’s mental health continued to deteriorate, and she spent time in other psychiatric facilities. Jameson would visit Francine at the convent, and despite her protests, Sister Patricia would make her spend time with him.
He would take her to a rotunda in the gardens, and ‘he used to touch me up, things like that, sexually touch me’. Francine was scared to tell anyone about what Jameson did to her.
‘I was frightened, and he said to me, you say anything and you’ll be in a lot of trouble. And I was only little, so I was very frightened.’
This happened a couple of times, ‘and poor old Mum came down one day to see me, in the convent ... I don’t know what her wishes was, to say goodbye to me or what.
‘But she asked the nuns to make sure they looked after me, and he never got me. And the next day Mum hung herself.’
She suspects her mother knew that Jameson was sexually abusing her. ‘She was sick, I don’t think she was silly ... I think she might have known, the way she said to the nuns, please look after Francine.’
Francine went to stay with an aunt for a while, but they didn’t get on well, and she returned to the convent. Jameson continued to sexually abuse her there, until she was old enough to live independently.
‘When I left the convent, I pushed it away’, but ‘I just seem to have got worse as I’ve got older’. Francine has been going to counselling for a few years, and is supported by an organisation for people who grew up in care.
‘I see him, he’s always there in my mind. I can’t get him out of my mind. I wish I could, but he just won’t go ... I just can see him, in that brown suit and hat, all the time.’ Jameson is now deceased, but she feels he still haunts her.
‘I went to a clairvoyant, and she said to me about this little man in the room, in the suit and the hat. And I couldn’t believe that was him in the room. I saw a photo one day, I went to my sister’s, and that was him, the rotten pig. Why, why was he haunting me? He really hated me.’
She has tried to tell her stepbrother and stepsister about how their father abused her, but ‘I say something and they don’t believe me about him, they don’t believe me ... I wouldn’t lie to you, there’s no way I’d lie’.
Francine’s husband is supportive, though he is uncomfortable hearing details of the sexual abuse. Her kids know she was in the convent, but not about what Jameson did to her there.
She has a number of grandkids. ‘I look forward to them, they cheer me up.’ Though her time at the convent was hard, she keeps in touch with a couple of girls she met there, and even one of the nuns.
Francine was scared about speaking with the Royal Commission at first, especially as she was anxious about being believed, but is happy she did so now. ‘I’ve been very frightened, but it’s done me good.’