‘I remember the nun distinctly saying, “It’s God’s way of punishing you for not doing what you were told”.’
Lulu's childhood memories are all of harsh institutional care; she has none from her family. In the late 1940s when she was two, Lulu and her siblings were taken into state care. She was told repeatedly that her parents had died in a car accident, although this turned out to be a lie: instead, the marriage had simply broken down.
For the first few years, Lulu was moved from institution to institution in regional Queensland. She was then placed in a Catholic orphanage, run by the Sisters of Mercy, and stayed there until she was 16. In the home, Lulu was separated from her siblings, something that caused her much distress.
The orphanage workers were strict and religious. Lulu went to mass every day. The nuns frightened her with threats of sending her to reform school. Lulu was scared of doing anything wrong and always toed the line at school and in the dormitory.
In the late 1950s when she was 12, Lulu broke a bone during sport. She remembers the nuns being annoyed at her for not folding her linen as instructed and refused to send her to hospital. The pain became overwhelming and Lulu was up all night, crying in pain, but the nuns merely told her to be quiet.
‘The next morning the mother superior came to see what was going on. She said, “This girl should be in hospital; she’s got a broken [bone]”.’
An ambulance was called and Lulu had to be lifted into the vehicle. On the way to the hospital, the driver stopped the vehicle and jumped into the back. He pulled down Lulu’s pants, touched her and forced her to perform oral sex. She had never seen a man’s genitals and didn’t know what he was doing.
Lulu said he was hurting her but to no avail. After she vomited, he told her the abuse was medicine for her injury, and she believed him and kept quiet. When they arrived at the hospital, the driver explained the vomit on the car seat by saying that Lulu had been car sick.
Due to the seriousness of her injury, Lulu stayed in hospital for several days. She thought she’d never see the ambulance driver again, but one night he came into her room and said he was going to give her medicine. Lulu told the nurse that ‘the medicine’ the man gave her hurt – but nothing was done, and she was sexually abused after the nurse had left the room.
‘On the way home, he stopped the car and did the same thing again. I had to keep going back to the hospital for replacement plasters and he abused me on the way to and from.’
Lulu believes there were between six and eight assaults in total, which culminated with the driver raping her.
Several days after she had been returned to the orphanage, Lulu started bleeding. She believed it was because of the abuse so she told one of the nuns. Lulu thinks the nun believed her because she was subjected to an examination. However, she was told that she was only menstruating – without any explanation what that meant.
In the early 1960s when she was 16, Lulu left the orphanage. She was taken in by a foster family in a different town and was delighted with their support. Lulu never saw the abuser again.
Lulu has had a long career in the health service sector, but reports having difficulty maintaining relationships. At age 19 a brief marriage ended, and a year later she was forced to relinquish her child for adoption. Lulu went on to have several more children but says her connection with them is strained.
She has not told her children about the sexual abuse, and never approached the police because she didn't know the perpetrator’s name. However, Lulu has shared the details with her support worker and the knowmore legal service. Recently she launched a civil action against the Sisters of Mercy and is awaiting a response.