Gabriella’s parents migrated from Europe in the early 1950s and settled in New South Wales. When they split up a decade later, her mother struggled to bring up her daughters, and was forced to place them in a children’s home in Sydney. Gabriella was three when she went into the home.
There were two buildings at the children’s home. One housed the nuns and priests, and the other housed the children. At night, ‘three nuns in their black habits’ came and took Gabriella out of the dormitory.
‘I remember everything, except for a certain part which I blacked out. [My sister] even bit the nun’s leg trying to stop her, the main sister. And so they used to carry me out, down the external stairs to the priest in the next building … He’d always be sitting at the end of the bed, and I’d be as an offering …’
When Gabriella’s sister bit the nun on the leg, the nun dropped Gabriella on the floor and said to her sister, ‘If I don’t take her, you choose who I should take’. Gabriella’s sister, who accompanied her to her session at the Royal Commission has always felt guilty about not being able to protect her little sister.
Gabriella recalled, ‘I sort of remember emotions, feelings, but not exactly what happened … I think I remember seeing his genitals … Anyway I think I blacked out … and he used to put me in the wardrobe and lock the door till I stopped screaming and then … he’d carry me back up to … the nuns, and that was it.’
The sexual abuse occurred ‘quite a few times’. When Gabriella asked the priest, ‘Why me’, he told her, ‘because you’re so pretty’.
Gabriella recalled that there was one young nun who was being taught how to carry her to the priest, but she refused and started crying. A few days later, this nun was gone.
When their mother came to visit, Gabriella and her sisters told her that the priest was hurting Gabriella. ‘My sisters were saying, “Mum, look, it’s no good here”.’ The nuns assured her that everything was fine, but when she came back a few weeks later, and the girls once again begged her to get them out of there, she believed them and tried to take them home.
The nuns told her, ‘No, we can’t let you take [them] … You’re only a woman … Only a man can take them out’. Their mother left, to track down their father. This took a few weeks, because he was working in outback Queensland. When she found him, he came down to Sydney, and the girls were able to leave the home.
After she returned to live with her mother, Gabriella started wetting the bed and only stopped when she was about 12. ‘I wasn’t wetting the bed before I went in there.’
When she was in the final years of primary school, Gabriella avoided going to school because her older sisters were no longer there. ‘I had no sisters as security blankets around me … I had a fear of being alone without them … When I left school, I began smoking and that became my security blanket until about four or five years ago …
‘I just focussed on work my entire life … [but] it [all] fell to pieces. I couldn’t juggle all the balls and I’ve just spent since [the early 2010s] in bed. Couldn’t move for four years.’
Gabriella has tried counselling but it hasn’t been successful. ‘I’ve cried so much over the years. There was a few years I was just crying every day and I thought, “It just doesn’t seem to go away”.’
Gabriella has had issues with relationships and trust, and has never married or had children. She has problems with people touching her in certain ways, and will scream and cry if they do.
Gabriella’s sisters had been urging her to come to the Royal Commission but she kept telling them she wasn’t ready. Her sister commented that, ‘For her to come here, it was like, “I’m ready now. I’m ready to deal with it, and hopefully it will go away”’.
Gabriella decided that she was ready to come forward, and thought that if there were others who were abused at the home then she needed to come, ‘not just for myself, [but] to support them, to know that they weren’t the only ones’.
She told the Commissioner, ‘I’m glad they’re cracking down now to prevent this going on another generation for the poor kids there now’.