‘I was put under care and protection, but I went to hell.’
Magdalena was born into a very large family, living in a suburb of Brisbane in the early 1960s. Her parents divorced when she was 11 years old and she lived with her mother but when her mother became ill, Magdalena went to live with her older sister for a while and was then placed into a girls’ home.
At the home, the nuns ‘didn’t care’ about the girls. Magdalena said the home was run more like a prison than a welfare home. She never attended school and was drugged several times. She said the older residents were ‘really rough’, she was forced to do ‘what the older girls said’, and she was often beaten up and picked on for her skin colour. She was also treated badly for being different from the other ‘city girls’.
‘I was a country girl; a pigeon thrown in amongst the cats.’
On one occasion, Magdalena was taken to a farm by the nuns. She said one of the priests tried to feel her up, but she bit him before it could go any further. After that incident, she was beaten up by one of the older girls for ‘not obeying the priest’.
She left the home after several months and was then cared for by a foster family for two weeks. The foster father and his friends sexually abused her several times and she recalls the foster mother chastising her for ‘tempting her husband’.
In the mid-1970s, Magdalena was flown to a children’s home in a regional town of Queensland. She recalls being told by her welfare officer that her mother had died and she would remain in care because she was in need of ‘care and control’.
The home was an awful place because of the racial abuse by the workers and children. She was always called a ‘dirty wog’ and a ‘dago’, and was made to sleep on the verandah instead of in the dormitory because of her skin colour. The matron disliked her and forbade any resident to befriend her because of her ethnicity. She also physically abused her and Magdalena still has deep scars from the matron forcibly shaving her body in the shower.
‘She made me strip and stand there naked with my hands in the air. [She got a few] razors and she started to shave under my arms, my pubic area … When she put my arms down she hit me with a cane, the end was sharp. She said that she wanted to see my, “Dirty dago blood go down the drain”. She made me take these orange pills, which made me drowsy, and she made me go to her bed.’
Magdalena was digitally raped by the matron on several occasions. She said after the matron had finished with her, there was blood ‘all over the bed sheets’.
Shortly after, she witnessed a small boy being forced to eat his own faeces by a staff member. She recalled him having gastro and the staff members punished him ‘for not being able to control his bowels’. Haunted by this, Magdalena attempted to disclose her abuse and the small boy’s treatment to a welfare officer. She was then flogged and locked in a cupboard for three days as punishment.
When Magdalena was 14 years old, she was involved in a serious accident that resulted in her being sent to the hospital for treatment. She was then sent to live in a Baptist children’s home in a small town of Queensland but before long she ran away, then ‘gave herself up’ to the police. The police learnt that Magdalena’s mother wasn’t dead, and the two were reunited.
Throughout her late teens and adulthood, Magdalena only managed to secure low-paid jobs because of her poor education. She struggles to work because she suffers from nerve damage. She has nightmares about the matron, suffers from depression and anxiety, has suicidal thoughts and has attempted to kill herself twice. She has difficulty trusting others and expressing her emotions.
In the mid-2000s, Magdalena participated in the Queensland Redress Scheme and received $21,000. She was then able to disclose the details of her abuse for the first time to her partner, who has been supportive. She came to the Royal Commission to tell her story and to speak for those who could not. She wanted to speak on behalf of the little boy she saw at the home and hoped that he was okay.
‘In a way it’s a good thing, just talking to you, talking to you lovely people in the past day or so. It’s just like someone has lifted a brick off my shoulders.’