‘The word needs to get out there that even though it happened to me in the 60s, it’s still happening.’
Margie was devastated when her son James told her he’d been sexually abused by Brother Anthony at a De La Salle Brothers boys’ home in Queensland. She’d agreed to his placement with the Brothers because of the difficulty she’d had managing his behaviour and she thought he’d be well cared for in a secure environment.
In the late 1990s James was 19 when he rang his mother to tell her that Brother Anthony had sexually abused him during his time in the home seven years earlier.
‘He rang me and he was talking to me about [the home] and he said, “You’ve got to remember Brother Anthony”. I said, “Why?” He said, “Because he has been molesting me”.'
Margie said she went straight to Queensland Police and reported what James had said, but before the police investigation was completed, James died suddenly in a traffic accident.
When Margie later read James’s file that pertained to the four years he’d spent in the boys’ home, she found out he’d reported the sexual abuse to staff while he was resident there.
‘In his file he is complaining of being interfered with’, Margie said. ‘But it’s obvious the Brothers, social workers, staff weren’t listening.'
Margie told the Commissioner that she’d been sexually abused herself as a child when she was a ward of the New South Wales state.
Taken from her violent mother at the age of nine, Margie and her sister were deemed to be neglected and they were placed in a children’s home in Sydney. On arrival they were made to strip, their hair was cut short and they were told to shower while other girls looked on.
Her sister soon returned home to their mother but Margie didn’t; she was instead transferred to a Presbyterian children’s home, where she remained for three years in the mid-1960s.
The woman in charge of the home, Miss Dawkins, punished Margie on the first morning after Margie said she didn’t like porridge. ‘She grabbed my head and just rubbed my head into the porridge, grabbed me out of the chair and threw me across the wall.’
Margie said the punishment occurred in front of other girls in the home. ‘So then the bigger girls they look at you as if they want to bully you. So then these girls must have befriended me and I just broke down my trust a bit, and then they took me into this - asked me did I want to play a game? They took me into this tent where they wanted to play doctors and nurses and they told me to lie down and close my eyes and they were checking my body and then next minute my pants came off and then I could feel someone fumbling down there and next minute I had this cold object go inside my vagina.’
Under threat they’d ‘bash’ Margie, the girls - who were about 15 or 16 - told her not to say anything about what they’d done.
Margie left the home for a foster care placement where she said she was treated as an unpaid domestic servant.
Then at about the age of 12 Margie went back to live with her mother and ‘was a slave there’, looking after her siblings. She was sexually assaulted by her brother-in-law and her sister didn’t believe her when she told her about the attack.
Throughout her childhood Margie went to ‘half a dozen schools’, but said she received no real education. Her mother continued to physically abuse her and after one particularly severe beating Margie was taken away by police who were concerned for her welfare. She was 15 years old and went to a juvenile detention centre for about a year.
Margie said she found it difficult when she was finally on her own and had to look after herself. ‘By the time I’m 17, I’m pregnant’, she said. ‘I’ve had children. I wasn’t even thinking about my own safety or wellbeing, but I knew I was going through depression and my mental health wasn’t stable that I should have been the perfect mother. But at least I had my children, at least I fed my children, at least I looked after my children better than what my mother did with me and made sure that they had a house and made sure they had food, make sure they were clothed and leave myself out of it. But on the way I’ve seen some counsellors - and different counsellors - and just talked about it for a little while, but I never fully talked about the abuse.’
Recently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, Margie said she now had a good counsellor, though still had ‘these bouts of panic’. She thought it important that she ‘learn to forgive’.
‘If I hadn’t of forgiven I think I’d be dead now, ‘cause I did go off the rails and even my kids said I was off the rails a bit and my mentality wasn’t [good].’
‘I’m a survivor and I pray every night. I pray every night and I believe now the reason I’m here is because my son is guiding me.’