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Kallie's story

Kallie was taken from her struggling single mother while still a toddler and placed into a home for infants. When she was five years old, in the early 1960s, she was transferred to an orphanage for girls in rural Victoria run by Catholic nuns.

On her first night in the dormitory Kallie wet the bed. ‘Sister grabbed my hair’, Kallie told the Commissioner, ‘and pulled my face into the wet part of the sheet and rubbed my face so hard I remember my nose bleeding’. She was made to strip in front of the other girls and was beaten.

Violence was a regular part of discipline at the orphanage. Kallie was pushed down stairs, had her head smashed into sink basins and desk tops slammed on her fingers. She was forced to eat her own vomit when she was ill at meal time. Minor injuries went untreated and became infected. She was locked in a cupboard and under stairs for days on end.

The nun who most often locked Kallie in dark spaces was Sister Justina. Justina worked with Father Ronald Lambert to prepare the girls for their first holy communion. When Kallie began her communion lessons Father Lambert soon decided Kallie needed ‘private tuition’.

At these lessons for ‘special’ girls Lambert would kiss and hug Kallie when she successfully answered his questions or memorised passages from the Bible. The touching escalated until one day after a lesson Father Lambert put his hands under her uniform and inserted his fingers into her vagina.

‘I remember crying because it hurt so much, and he said it was to see if I was really a good girl or really a bad girl.’

Kallie was still crying when she returned to Sister Justina and reported what had happened. ‘She called me a liar, smacked me so hard I fell down and while I was on the floor she kicked me in the back and on the stomach. She then dragged me to the cupboard under the stairs where I stayed for another three days.’

When Kallie was released she went to see Father Lambert again. He angrily told her that whatever happened in chapel had to be kept a secret. ‘If I didn't, things would only get worse.’ He took off Kallie’s underpants and assaulted her again. ‘He said that evil was inside of me and he needed to get it out.’ She did not tell Sister Justina this time.

Days later in a room off the chapel, Lambert fed Kallie biscuits and warm milk and then raped her brutally. Sister Justina appeared and dragged Kallie to the bathrooms where she used a toothbrush to scrub out her vagina and rectum until she bled.

‘She told me never to mention this to anyone. I was a filthy girl that no-one wanted, so no-one would ever believe me anyway. I was only seven and a half years of age.’

That summer Kallie and her sister Louise were sent to live with a foster couple, Leon and Betty Owsinski. The new home at first seemed idyllic compared to the orphanage. Leon Owsinski was a ‘pillar of the community’ and well respected. He was also a vicious and clever paedophile.

Kallie endured eight years of abuse at his hands. Owsinski started with physical beatings, progressed to touching her genitals, then quickly escalated to digital penetration and repeated rape. He threatened Kallie, telling her to keep quiet. ‘He would say that if I disappeared no-one would ever ask any questions and if they did he would just say I ran away.’

A social worker occasionally visited the home. She would ask if everything was okay, but Kallie was too frightened and intimidated to say anything more than ‘no’. Hospital social workers noticed the scars all over her body from Owsinski’s attacks, but they accepted Owsinski’s assurance that Kallie had had ‘lots of accidents’.

‘Once I tried to tell a teacher, a nun, what Leon was doing to me. She quietly told me to pray for guidance.’ An attempt to tell the police what was happening in secret in her home was also met with disbelief. ‘He told me I should be grateful that someone as kind as Mum and Leon should care for an ungrateful child that nobody else wanted. I was a disgrace - that someone like me should make up such lies.’

When she was 16 Kallie met a boy and married him in order to escape Leon Owsinski. The marriage did not last, but eventually Kallie found William, the man who would be the love of her life and the one person she has been able to trust entirely.

Trust issues have been a huge problem for Kallie all her life, along with a fear of intimacy and bouts of severe depression. Kallie tried to bury the memory of her childhood, and did not seek counselling.

‘But your long memories, they're there, and they're harder as you get older I think - they're harder to cope with, because you haven't dealt with them as a child, you haven't dealt with them as a teenager, you haven't dealt with them as an adult. You've suppressed them so much that you know that the moment you start to talk about it, it will open up a whole new river that you can't control.’

Kallie has nevertheless decided to tell her story to the Royal Commission.

‘I want someone to tell me that it matters that when I called for help to nuns, teachers, welfare, police - that someone should have listened and protected me.’

‘I want justice for those of my friends who experienced the cruelty at the hands of the nuns and could no longer cope and committed suicide. I want justice for those children who simply disappeared. I want to scream that you cannot hide this any longer. I want people to remember that Australia has a dark past, that it happened here in Australia in our time. I want governments and churches to make sure that this never happens again.’

Kallie tracked down Sister Justina in a nuns’ retirement home a decade ago.

‘She was a bitch, that one … She said, "Oh, yes, I remember you. You weren't a very nice girl, were you?" I thought, "I'll give you nice girl" – and spilled a coffee over her. I made it look like an accident, though.’

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