Afternoon excursions to see the friendly dog at the presbytery became a regular habit for Heather at the age of eight. She described home life in Canberra in the 1960s, with her and several older siblings under the rule of her ‘extremely religious’ father, as being highly disciplined. The visits provided her some relief from the tense environment.
‘I wasn’t allowed a dog, so I used to find myself visiting Ollie quite often, he was a lovely dog. Things weren’t good at home, and I was just drawn to him.’
During one visit, Heather recalled, the parish priest invited her inside his home for a cool drink.
‘It was a really hot day, so I went in and he proceeded to grab my hand and put it on his crotch and start rubbing it. I freaked out and ran. I just thought, you bastard.’
Heather said this encounter with the priest shattered her trust and faith.
‘My conduct changed fiercely after that at home, but more particularly at school. I went from being an A-grade student to almost uncontrollable within a very short space of time. Buggered if I know why it wasn’t picked up at the time, no one did anything.’
By 14 years of age, Heather told the Commissioner, she had started experimenting with drugs.
‘I started smoking and dropping acid, then at about 17, I started using heroin. I still hadn’t told anyone what the priest had done, and he had just carried on like nothing had happened. I lost respect for everything.’
Despite Heather’s efforts to break what she described as a severe addiction, she remained heroin-dependent for several years while periodically working and travelling overseas.
‘Then I got busted, and it was a really awful time for me. My co-accused ended up committing suicide and the court case went on for three years. In the end I got four years.’
Heather was sent to jail in her early 20s, and released two years later. Years later, a newspaper article about Towards Healing caught her eye.
‘I rang the number at the bottom and a lady came over to my house. She was a nun, but she wasn’t forthcoming about telling me that. I’d been told it would be an independent inquiry, and they sent over a nun. A few weeks later I got a call from an assessor who tells me she’s an ex-federal police officer, one of my favourite people.’
Several months after her interview with the Towards Healing assessor, Heather said she was advised the priest had been interviewed, and that since he’d denied her allegations the matter would be dropped.
Heather has struggled with thoughts of suicide and has been treated with anti-depressants and psychotherapy.
One of her main concerns now centres on the high number of prisoners who were sexually abused as children.
‘Why are we building more and more prisons to put the victims and survivors of sexual abuse away? I want it addressed, because it’s wrong.’
Over the years, Heather said she’s lost a lot of friends to drug abuse sparked by early childhood traumas, and has penned a poem in their honour, which starts:
'Each month another seems to pass prematurely to their grave, each a deeply scarred person often not knowing the cause of their darkness, having buried it so deeply inside.
‘Their wounds rip at their soul like some mindless and sinister game, dreams and feelings of nausea created by fear.
‘There is no quick remedy to relieve this incessant pain at it nags at the heart and eats at the brain. And for all this time the perpetrator has long forgotten the act, a thought to fulfil a selfish lustful gain.'