‘I heard them tell my parents that they were removing the children from their care … The next day we were taken to court … I heard the judge say, “I declare these children wards of the state, until they turn the age of 17 years”.’
Katrina told the Commissioner, ‘the government came along and removed us from our home, from a bad situation, and put us into a worse situation … [Mum and Dad] were alcoholics … but there were never any beltings or abuse or anything. They just couldn’t cope because they didn’t have enough finances to look after [their] children’.
In the late 1960s, when Katrina was 10, she and her sisters were taken to a Catholic orphanage in rural New South Wales. When they arrived, upset and confused, the sisters were left locked in a room for days.
Eventually, ‘they took us from the room and stripped us naked and showered us. The nuns used soap and washed between my legs, hard, and it hurt … They put a bowl on my head and cut off my beautiful long hair … I was upset and crying that they cut my hair. That was when I realised the power they had over me. I had no choice anymore’.
Life became harsh and regimented, and ‘from the moment we went into the orphanage, the nuns were uncaring, mean and cold’.
Katrina attended school on the grounds. Her teacher was ‘very cruel. Every day in class she would dig the ruler into my back … until I was in great pain. If I had my hands on the desk, she would belt me across the hand. My hands used to sting. I couldn’t lie on my back at night because of the pain’.
The first time Katrina did something wrong at the orphanage, a nun took her downstairs through a locked door. When they came to a second locked door, ‘the nun took me in there, told me I had been a bad girl. She left me in the dark and closed the wooden door … I was so afraid. It was totally black in there … This was done to me every time I was disobedient’.
One day, ‘things changed’. When she was locked in the dark room, there was someone waiting for her.
‘I heard a male voice speak to me. He said that he was told I had been a naughty girl and said he was there to teach me right from wrong.’ The man sexually abused Katrina, touching her and forcing her to touch him and perform oral sex.
‘The next time I was taken down … I was stripped naked and put on the dirt ground, and he sexually assaulted me. The pain was terrible. I screamed and yelled. I was put in a wooden box. I could barely move. I tried to get out but there was nowhere to escape from it. This happened to me many times.’
When Katrina threatened to tell someone, the man locked her in the box and threatened that she would never see her parents or sisters again, and that he would leave her there and never come back. ‘The fear of them never coming back to get me was very real. I believed I was going to be left there to die …
‘They also controlled me by making me step into a hot bath … I would cry from the pain of the burning water and I’d beg to be let out. I was told that it was my punishment … I longed for someone to come and save me, to take me away from the pain and torment … All the torture and physical, emotional abuse was too much to bear.’
Katrina told the Commissioner, ‘Those evil people stole my innocence. They degraded me, sexually assaulted me, locked me up in a box, and left me there … I really thought I was going to die’.
When Katrina was 12, she and her sisters were ‘released from the hellhole. I may have been set free physically, but I have never been set free emotionally … I could not live a happy, normal life as what had been done to me destroyed me as a person. In the past I have tried to take my own life many times, as the pain is too much to bear’.
The impact of the physical, emotional and sexual abuse Katrina experienced at the orphanage has been huge. ‘I live with the scars, deep in my soul that will never go away. Scars you do not see. They stole my essence, my being, left me impaired.’
Katrina could not tell anyone her secret. ‘I tried many times, but instead, I tried to take my life. I can only hope someone hears my cry and says they understand and believe. I have been betrayed and robbed of so much, as I ask of you, please be my voice, not only my voice, but the voice of other victims who do not have the strength to step forward.’
Katrina has suffered life-long learning difficulties and failed relationships. ‘I’ve had two failed marriages. I’ve been single for years. I live alone. I have no trust of people. I’m very fearful. I don’t have a social life … I don’t have any friends at all. Not one friend … At a point in my life, I turned to alcohol because of the memories.’
It was difficult for Katrina to come forward to the Royal Commission but, after cancelling a number of times, she was finally able to find the strength to tell her story. ‘It’s hard. I’m doing my best through counselling to try and you know, deal with this somehow.’
Katrina has always wondered why, after the government removed her and her sisters from their home, no one ever came back to check on them.
‘Why? Why? Where’s their responsibility? What about their duty of care to us? And it’s important to me that the Royal Commission … makes strong recommendations that will make it harder for government agencies to hide from responsibilities, because they’re only adding insult to injury.’
‘I believe in God, [but] as far as the Catholic Church goes, I believe they’re evil. They’re an evil entity, the whole lot … I don’t think any children should ever be put in care of Catholic people’.