Madison's story

Through her childhood years, Madison spent a few periods living with her mother in regional New South Wales. They weren’t happy times however because her mother was violent and had a lot of different men coming and going. She’d also disappear for weeks at a time leaving Madison to look after her younger siblings.

Interspersed with life in the family home, Madison spent years in residential care as a ward of the state. She was in a Catholic orphanage in regional New South Wales between the ages of four and eight and was sexually abused during one holiday placement by a man who, together with his wife, had taken her in for Christmas.

‘I remember him continually picking me up and putting me on his knee, which I wasn’t used to’, Madison said. ‘But then he started fondling me [and] that I didn’t understand. I remember crying and the lady – his wife, I assume she was – I cried to her and said that I didn’t like him touching me and could she please ask him not to do it anymore.

‘I wasn’t backward in saying that to them; this is the personality that I have. I asked her to please get him to stop. I didn’t stay for Christmas then. They took me back to the home and I got into big trouble off the nuns for being ungrateful.’

Madison told the Commissioner that she was often in trouble and as a bed-wetter her underwear was displayed for others to laugh at. An older girl, who was meant to help at bath time, often made Madison sit on a bench until she urinated and then enjoyed watching her be punished. Girls were stripped and caned on their bare buttocks and from a young age they scrubbed the courtyard with a toothbrush and Ajax. ‘Even as a little girl I used to get teased about my hands being cracked and bleeding’, Madison said.

One of the Sisters of Mercy in the home supervised showering. She’d sit in a dry corner in the communal area and girls had to face her and weren’t allowed to turn their backs or look at their own bodies. ‘There was always some sort of weapon in her hand. And if you turned around or if you looked down, you copped it there in front of her.’

One of the residents’ jobs was to set up the chapel for church services and it was common knowledge among the girls that to be alone with the priest would mean that you were sexually assaulted. For Madison this abuse started in 1973 when she was aged 10 and it continued for two years.

‘You were just tall enough to come up to what to do: the oral sex, because I was just probably at that good height. I’m saying it very matter-of-factly because it is very matter-of-fact. You had to do it until the white stuff came out, which now I know what it is but then [I didn’t].’ When Madison ‘used teeth’ and didn’t do ‘it properly’, the priest got a nun to forcibly hold her while he ‘rechristened’ her.

Despite conditions in the home, Madison determined to do well and worked hard at the school she attended in town. She was voted school captain for her final primary year but the nuns decided a ‘home girl’ couldn’t assume the role and instead she was offered a prefect’s role. She told the nun to ‘fuck off’.

‘I didn’t want to be like a home girl’, she said. ‘I’m really ashamed to say that, [but] home girls were scabs. They used to call us scabs all the time, and they used to put it on the milk sheds. I went back years and years later and it was still on the sheds – the graffiti. I just never wanted to be a scabby home girl and the other girls would go through the bin to get the food because they were starving – you know, the big 44-gallon drums near the incinerator. But I gave my lunch away. I would never do anything like that because I just wanted to rise above it, because they’d say you were born in the gutter. But I used to think it’s only one step up, and that’s what I want to do, you know, to get on that footpath.’

At 12, Madison had a brief unsuccessful few months with her mother. After she asked her welfare officer to return her to the orphanage, an arrangement was made for placement in an Anglican girls’ home. She was the only ‘home girl’ and spent weekends and holidays alone while boarders returned to their families. She liked it at first but then the deaconess in charge became cruel and bizarre by disallowing visitors, forcing Madison to eat her own vomit, and each day stripping and upending the room that Madison had left tidy before leaving for school.

Madison told the Commissioner that she began to act up but no one really asked what was wrong. She left state care and married at 18 because she ‘wanted to belong to a family’. The marriage didn’t work out but she had two children of whom she was proud.

After she found out one day that the deaconess was still working with children, Madison rang the canon of the Anglican Church to report what she’d been through. The canon didn’t believe her and subsequent emails to the Church hierarchy went unanswered.

Madison recommended better screening of people caring for children in order to prevent abuse. ‘It’s not just men that do it; it’s women too. The couple should have counselling on their own relationship first and it’s really good to have the man and the woman looking after children, but interview their children, observe their children. See how their children have grown up, if they’re grown up. Ask about personal things like their sex life. I know people go, “That’s personal, intrusive”, but that’s how you get to know people …

‘I’ve never understood why priests can’t get married or nuns can’t married. Then they would at least be halfway there to having a fulfilling relationship. I know paedophiles get married – don’t get me wrong – but it would maybe eliminate some of this bullshit that’s not normal.’

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