‘I need closure for them and for myself because, like I said, this is something that I’ve got to take to my grave which I will never get over.’
Ivy came to the Royal Commission to speak about the child sexual abuse that her brothers experienced on a Catholic mission in the 1960s and 1970s. Chris knew that Ivy was attending a private session on his behalf. However, Mark died a few years ago.
Until her late teens, Ivy’s mum lived on the mission. ‘She moved out, and then down the line we moved in … It’s just a circle that goes round and round.’
Ivy was about six when ‘the welfare’ took her and some of her siblings from her parents who were living on the ‘native reserve’. The children were placed into the care of the monks ‘because there was neglect and alcohol problems in the family’.
The sisters and brothers were placed into separate orphanages for girls and boys, and were not allowed to talk to each other in the classroom they shared. They had a caseworker – nicknamed ‘the dragon’ – who ‘never visited’ them. Nobody supervised their care. Ivy said, ‘we were just left there’.
The ‘cruel’ monks used to call the children ‘piccaninnies’. Ivy remembers them beating her, and caning her after making her kneel in the gravel. She remembers wearing bloomers and no shoes most of the time, and being made to do physically demanding work. Her brothers made bread and holy communion bread in work sheds. ‘I called it slave labour,’ she said.
The food there was ‘bad’. ‘The apples had worms’, and the porridge and biscuits had ‘weevils in them quite a lot’.
‘Only time we had nice food, and they were good to us, is when it was a saint’s day or feast day or parents came to visit. Then, on comes the nice little coats and the nice little shoes and the nice little bows.’
Once, Ivy said, ‘they took me out to a farm with white people and I rebelled. I just went on a rampage. Went wild till I got older and realised’. When she was almost a teenager, Ivy managed to escape the mission for good. ‘I caught a fuel truck all the way to Mum’ and ‘wouldn’t let them take me back’.
Until recently, Ivy didn’t know that Chris and Mark had been sexually abused at the orphanage. During an appointment with a solicitor, Mark revealed that he and Chris had been abused in the years before the orphanage was closed down in the early 1970s.
‘There were older boys that was abusing the younger boys, and apparently my brother told me that he was being abused, like sexually abused, quite often, possibly every night or two nights ... He used to cry out for help. Nobody used to come and help him … He told his other brother, but he was being sexually abused also, so there was nothing he could do.’
‘My brothers were also both were altar boys in the church ... When they went to communion, they used to drink the wine, and I’d say possibly now that is why they both came out … like myself – we all came out alcoholics.’
Ivy stopped drinking because she knew she ‘had a life to live’.
‘I was one of the lucky ones that, you know, changed my mind when I come out. I went to alcohol for a long time, then I realised there was more to life. And now I’ve got a good life. I’m trying to have a good life.’
Her brothers, however, ‘kept drinking’. Mark ‘drank until he died’, and passed away before his interview with a government redress scheme. Chris ‘drinks every day’. He received some compensation from the redress scheme, but the process was ‘horrible’, and the payout ‘is in Public Trustee, so he can’t even get money out’.
Chris has been ‘in and out’ of mental hospitals since his late teens, and he has ‘not had any permanent relationships’. Ivy works with his caseworker to support him, but knows that he needs help to just ‘feel good about himself because he doesn’t really feel good about himself’. Even though Chris is getting advice about pursuing a civil case, Ivy fears that he is really ‘just waiting to go’.
After escaping from the orphanage, Ivy ‘retaliated and went wild’. She drank and did drugs, and had children with men who were ‘alcoholics and abusive’, but said that she reached a point where she ‘just got myself better’. These days, she suffers from arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome, possibly caused by five or six years of hard work in the orphanage. She is also having counselling, but wishes she’d had such support years earlier because ‘now, later on in life, it’s just too raw’.
Recently, Ivy attended a reunion at the site of the former orphanages. She ‘thought it was going to be nice’, but ‘it was a horror’. Instead of a memorial to victims, she found a museum celebrating the mission’s history, and many locked rooms. If she could have looked into the classrooms, or if she could get photos of ‘when we were kids’, she thinks ‘maybe we could be able to deal with it better’. After all, ‘that’s my childhood’, she said.
Ivy would like to see individual victims get a ‘proper apology’. The Church ‘should just apologise to them themselves. Even send a letter out to my brother or something, apologise to him, because like I said, I’ve got to live with it, he’s got to live with it. It would be nice to know that the apology was real’.
Ivy is the only member of her family who Chris and Mark have entrusted with their disclosure of child sexual abuse. ‘Like I said, I’ve got to take this to the grave because they haven’t told the other sisters really. They’ve sort of like only opened up to me, which makes it more difficult for me … but I’m glad they told me.’