‘I was home alone. He would have been aware of that ‘cause my grandfather worked as well, and he would come to the house. I can’t remember how many times at home … I could hear [my neighbour] calling out to him one day, “She’s home! She’s home!”, ‘cause he’d come down the road, and he always got the cook to make a cake, make something for us, and that would be his excuse to get into the house, and I can still remember sitting in the corner looking out this window just wishing she’d shut up, because I’d started to lock the house up when I came home from school.’
After her mother died, Margret went with her father to live with his parents in Queensland. Then the death in the mid-1960s of Margret’s grandmother coincided with an increased and active interest shown by Marist priest, Father Bernie Edgeworth in Margret’s welfare. He sexually abused 10-year-old Margret in her home, the monastery and in the church confessional, threatening her constantly that she wasn’t to tell anyone.
‘If I ever struggled, a couple of times he threw me to a table and I had marks on my head so then I had to make up a story to my father as to what those marks were and he used to say I was quite clumsy, but I struggled as much as a nine-year-old child could.
‘But the sad thing was he controlled me by telling me I would be sent back to an orphanage if anyone found out what I was doing, then my father would be deemed to be a bad parent because I was obviously this horrible child and I’d be taken away from Dad. As a child you assume - you trust - that’s what’s going to happen and somewhere deep down there’s still that respect because I’m the child and he’s the adult.’
Margret told the Commissioner that she’d been honest about the abuse in later years, telling her husband, children and a few trusted people. At one stage she asked the principal at her son’s Catholic school to ensure children weren’t separated and taken for private interview by the parish priest. In the process of making the request, Margret disclosed to the principal that she’d been abused as a child.
Looking back, Margret thought the principal had then told other staff about her disclosure. As a consequence, rather than it leading to increased safety for her son, John, she believed it made him more vulnerable. When John was an adult, Margret found out that a teacher had started to sexually abuse him at the same time as she’d made the disclosure, and that the teacher had said to John, ‘If you tell your mother, she will die because you’ve done the same thing she did’.
‘The more I think about it the more I sort of feel that it could have been my fault’, Margret said. ‘I know it’s not my fault, you know like, was I the cause of, did I give him that way in to my son? Because you can imagine what I was like with my children. I was so open to them about abuse.’
Margret told the Commissioner that she had become increasingly aware of the triggers of her own abuse as her children were growing. ‘You talk about impacts. You get to your life and think, I’m okay, I’ve done well. I’ve got a great family, I’m a good person, I’ve never hurt anybody, but the effects it has on you like, I think having my daughter last, that triggered a lot of emotions in me, a lot of emotions of protection. I had a lot of difficulty cleaning her, touching her … It took so much strength to overcome those fears that I could have some sort of meaningful relationship with this little girl ... You’re their mother. You’re the carer. You have to do these things and it was really, really hard.’
Margret said John’s response to being sexually abused as a child was to over-achieve. ‘There was never a moment where he would just relax’, she said. In his 20s, John completed two university degrees and another professional qualification. At 30 however, he experienced a severe grief reaction to the accidental death of someone for whom he felt responsibility, and he took his own life.
‘I just get so frustrated that my son’s lost his life, and this man just gets to carry on like he’s done nothing wrong’, Margret said. ‘I would love to confront the man. That’s what John only ever said he wanted, for him just to say he was sorry for what he did. That’s all John said he ever wanted and he never had the strength at the time.’
More than a decade before John died, Margret had reported to the Marist Fathers that she’d been abused by Edgeworth. The priest was dead by then but no one contested her account nor requested further investigation, which led her to believe similar accounts had been made before about Edgeworth. At the end of their process, Margret signed a non-disclosure statement and received $35,000 in payment.
Margret said she considered herself lucky that she had a loving husband and children. She still maintained faith in God. ‘I’ve probably been given gifts that a lot of people don’t have’, she said. However, she thought there was still a lot of work to be done to increase people’s understanding of child sexual abuse.
‘It does happen and people find it difficult to talk about, and … also too kids need protecting, you know they just need to be protected. If we can’t do it for them, who can, you know? It’s just not right. I said, if nothing else my kids will always be safe you know, and it didn’t work out that way. As a parent you can cope with things yourself and I think that’s what John, he used to say to me, “How did you manage?” And I think, well I don’t know, I got through it … Somehow I managed to push it behind.’