Imelda grew up in the Australian Capital Territory in the 1960s, in a family that was ‘pretty dysfunctional’. Her mother left when she was seven, returned for a short while, and then left again when Imelda was nine. ‘And that was it … Then I saw her again when I was 17.’
Imelda was sexually abused by her father. ‘I had a lifetime of abuse with him from about six or seven, till I ran away from home, and things he used to … make my mum do.’ He would arrange for people to come to their property to work as caretakers, and they would get ‘board and lodging, and his wife’. Her father had drilled a peephole into the wall and would watch these men having sex with his wife.
‘He had a lot of strange ways … He used to tell me that the laws were going to change … so I grew up believing that, until I realised when I was a bit older that, “No, hang on, other fathers aren’t doing this to their girls” … that’s not normal.’
When Imelda was 10, her father took her to stay with a local priest he knew, Father Callaghan. She can’t remember exactly, but thinks she was there for several weeks. Imelda remembers being in bed the first night, when Callaghan got into bed with her. She still remembers what he was wearing and to this day, she does not like blue-striped pyjamas.
Callaghan told Imelda that he had come to keep her warm. ‘And then he … yeah, then he … hard to say it … he … I don’t know how to say it … He put his penis between my legs and then … until there was a sticky mess and then I got up and went to the toilet and cleaned myself up, and this was a regular occurrence while I stayed there.’
‘I think it was teed up. I think Dad had it all organised.’ Imelda believes this because she found out years later that her two brothers had also been abused by Callaghan, and that one of them remembers seeing ‘money, a lot of money exchange hands. That’s what he saw’.
Although Imelda never went back to Callaghan’s house, she saw him a couple of times in her early teens. ‘It made me sick to see him. It made me sick for him to look at me. And you know, I was a bit older then so I felt … I didn’t want him looking at me …
‘I haven’t liked life at all. I haven’t liked it at all. I hate life actually … but I know you’ve got to stick it out and you’ve got to be here and I want to be here for [my children] and [my husband]. Otherwise, I have thought about suicide … over the years’.
Counselling has helped Imelda understand she has probably been suffering from long-term depression and anxiety, caused by the priest’s abuse, a pack-rape she suffered in her early 20s and four years of domestic violence that ‘I probably allowed’ because of low self-esteem.
In the mid-90s, Imelda wrote a letter outlining her abuse by the priest and handed it to a high ranking member of the Catholic Church. Although he seemed genuinely shocked, because he thought Callaghan was ‘one of the good guys’, Imelda ‘has never known whether he … made that known, or whether he did nothing’.
Imelda came to the Royal Commission because ‘I don’t like the fact that it’s a secret and that it hasn’t come out and that he got away with it … I read what you guys are doing, why you’re doing this. It’s to help … It’s to prevent things from happening in the future and so the government can work out new ways of being, you know, wary about these kinds of things.
‘If it’s out there, this is all out there and people can … “Well, there is a place I can go. I can go and tell my story” and probably knowing that, and reading about what you do, is helping to get people to … I don’t know … just to let the world know that this is not okay, and it’s not going to happen anymore.’