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Josie Margaret's story

The first thing Josie mentioned about the Marist Brothers boys’ home was its degrading lack of privacy: no doors to the bathrooms and an open sleeping area. The second thing was the bad food. The third was the ongoing sexual abuse and violence.

Josie is an Aboriginal transgender woman. As a little boy in the 1960s she spent time in a Catholic home. When she got too old to stay there, she was meant to go back to her family, but ‘I was kidnapped’, she said. Her ‘so-called dad’ took her to a Marist Brothers boys’ home and paid for them to keep her. She was 13.

Josie was away from her physically abusive father but trapped in a whole other world of hurt, surrounded by a fence topped with barbed wire. She was sexually abused, not just by the Brothers but by the older boys.

‘The older ones would come round at night time to … get the person and escort them to the person who wanted them for the night and everything else. It happened to me a few times. First up you played with them for a while and then later on it was full on.’

The high school was onsite and the teachers worked at the home as well, so there was no talking to sympathetic outsiders.

A friend told Josie that if she wanted to survive she had to fight back. ‘So after a while I fought back … I squeezed ‘em. I nearly ruptured a few of those little nuts.’

But the price for defiance was severe beatings. ‘People would hear me screaming … When I escaped the first time I told the police what was going on. He told me I was a lying little shit, then he told the top Brother. So I knew I was going to cop a hiding that night. I copped it by three people that night.’

Josie suspects one little boy might have died in the home and that others committed suicide. The older boys were certainly brutalised by what they experienced.

‘Because it happened to them all the way through, so they done it to the young ones as well. So yeah, it was a complete circle of violence and sexual assault.’

It was survival of the fittest. ‘I was one nasty person after a while in there, to survive.’

The well-behaved boys were allowed to go ‘off premises’ with staff to see a movie. ‘I never got to go to movies.’ When Josie was asked if welfare workers ever visited the home, she laughed. The boys would never have been told about such a visit. The government was hiding the kids, not caring for them.

Josie ran away again. But this time the police were waiting and took her back to her father. She was then sent to a Barnardos home. ‘There were some sickos in there as well.’

When a house parent tried to kiss her, she grabbed his balls. ‘I told him, “If I find out you’ve done anything to these kids in here … I’ll cut it and put it where the sun don’t shine”. Two days later he was gone.’

When she was 15, Josie was released and used the skills she’d learnt in the homes to strip cars and sell the parts. There was the odd break and enter as well.

As for the abuse, she kept it bottled up. She didn’t trust anyone much. Alcohol helped for a while. Then Josie got married and had children. That helped her cope because she was kept busy looking after kids, then grandkids.

Josie has seen various counsellors, including through her gender transition, and is calmer now. She is on anti-depressant medication.

Josie has discovered that she has an artistic side and she now paints. ‘It helps big time.’

Attempts to get financial compensation have been foiled by the fact that she can’t prove she was in the Marist Brothers home at all. This may be because her stay was privately arranged by her father. ‘I think [my file] went under the table … I can’t prove nothing … They can’t find me being in there.’

Josie doesn’t want to report the Church’s abuse to the police. Nor does she care about an apology.

‘Don’t want nothin’ to do with the Church. The Church is a pack of liars. The Pope’s a liar, straight out. They knew what was going on.’

Josie’s recommendation was simple.

‘Look after the people in the homes better … They were put there for protection. What protection? … What protection?’

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