Lynda Maree's story

Lynda was first placed in care during the mid-1960s when she was four years old, after her father went to jail. She was placed in a Catholic orphanage around a year. Being so young, she isn’t sure exactly where this was, or even what state she was living in at the time.

While at the orphanage, Lynda was repeatedly sexually abused by a priest. She remembers he wore a dog collar, and would get her to sit on his lap. At first, this ‘was more of a comforting thing ... but I remember he started putting his hands down there and rubbing and to the point where it'd get very sore and I'd squirm and get off his lap. It was our secret apparently’.

Sometimes she bled from her vagina after these assaults. ‘I remember going for a bath and I remember I had blood, because I remember the lady that bathed me asked if I'd had a fall.’

For a long time afterwards she had nightmares about priests, and she still avoids people who remind her of this man. ‘I've got a feeling he wore sunglasses because I have a thing about that even today, especially elderly men with sunglasses on ... I will go for miles out of my way just so I don't have to go past them.’

The orphanage was scary in other ways too. An older girl there used to hold Lynda under the water for long periods of time when bathing her, so she thought she might die. ‘I don't remember her face to look at, but under the water, I could pick her anywhere, because I saw her under the water, struggling to get up for air.’

After a year or so Lynda was returned to her mother and new stepfather, living with them until her mother had a nervous breakdown. She and her brothers were told they were going to boarding school. Instead they were sent to another children’s home, this time run by the Sisters of Mercy in regional Queensland.

‘It looked like Wuthering Heights. I remember when we pulled up they had those big gates there and we looked up and here's this thing out on a hill that just looked daunting right there ... We used to call it Stalag 13. It wasn't a nice place.’

Life in the home was very harsh, and she recalls being force-fed on her first night there. The children were made to work for hours each day, on their hands and knees scrubbing floors.

Another girl warned her about the priest, Father Giles, telling her to ‘watch that man’. She soon found out why.

When Giles gave her a present for her 11th birthday, he hugged her ‘really tight, just wouldn't let go, and then proceeded to give me a kiss and stuck his tongue down my neck’. After this he would regularly grope her and hold her close, touching her bottom, though she would try to get away. He told her it was okay ‘because if it was wrong, well, then, God wouldn't let this happen’.

Another older girl used to sexually abuse her too, coming into her bed a few times a week. ‘I had never seen a lady naked before ... she'd do things. I didn't know what to do ... I don't think I was the only girl that was getting that from her, but it was comfort.’

Lynda suspects some of the nuns were having sexual relations with Giles, and that other girls were sleeping with the bus driver at the home. She believes a number of babies were born and died there, and were buried on the property.

After a year Lynda was allowed to return to her mother and stepfather. Not knowing about the abuse, they placed her in a Catholic school. The priest there used to look up the girls’ dresses – ‘within two weeks, I knew that I was over anything to do with the Catholic religion’.

In Year 9 she had a ‘breakdown’, and after leaving school went to work with her uncle. ‘He tried to get friendly. And that is when I took a pile of sleeping pills, and remember waking up absolutely horrified that they hadn't worked and I was still here.’

It is hard for Lynda to trust people. She was married for a short time many years ago, but finds relationships with men difficult. ‘I thought I was a virgin until I got married only to find out that that had already been done, and I know that no man ever touched me. The only place I remember that ever happening in my life would have been when I was little.’

Lynda enjoys being a mother and grandmother, and has good relationships with her kids. She has never told them, or even her brothers, about what happened to her in care.

Speaking to the Royal Commission was the first time Lynda had disclosed the sexual abuse. ‘You put it in a box, lock it up and you know that that's never going to surface and that can stay buried there. And because I came from a good family, it's something you don't talk to your family about, definitely not, and so it was never discussed or talked about at home.’

She didn’t ever consider making a report to police. ‘I didn't even know you could do all that, see, and as I got older, I thought who would believe you?’ Nor has she ever applied for compensation: ‘What price do you put on a childhood?’

Lynda is now linked in with a support organisation, and wanted to share her story with the Royal Commission to ‘put a voice out for all the people that may have passed on and never got to tell their story. They've died with the horrible memories’.

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