Nadia was born in a migrant camp in Western Australia soon after her family arrived there in the early 1950s. Her father abandoned them when Nadia was 11 months old and her mother took her and her brother to a Catholic orphanage. Initially she stayed at the orphanage in the section for unmarried mothers, but after six months she had to work, and Nadia and her brother were left behind.
When Nadia was about two and half, she was sent to the foundling section. Nadia told the Commissioner there was a woman working there who had come to the home as an unwed mother and stayed on. ‘She was not a friendly person, if you know what I mean,’ she said.
‘She got us all to sit down and she lifted her dress, pulled her pants down, spread herself eagle, then called me up – that’s never left my mind – I had to put my hand in her vagina.’
She quickly fixed herself up when another girl came to call them for tea.
‘Those memories have never left and I never told anyone. When you’re a little child you do not say anything, you don’t know what the heck this is.’
She remembered on a different occasion she was staying in a different room because she was unwell.
‘There was a boy in there … his father came in to see his son and there was a chair in between the beds. He proceeded to look and he smiled and then with his hands he groped us, put his hands down our pants and asked us if we liked it … I had no idea what the heck was going on. And then as soon as he heard the nun coming he just smiled and kissed his son and just walked out, as if nothing.’
Nadia’s mother visited whenever she could but she was working hard to save up for a house. Nadia’s brother was sent to a Christian Brothers home, then another, and he was sexually abused in both. Nadia said this had a terrible effect on him through his life.
At six, Nadia went to the section for older girls. Brutal physical abuse was a daily occurrence at the home, with beatings for even small misdemeanours, such as talking at the wrong time, or smiling at the wrong time.
‘The worst one … her favourite thing was Number 3 bathroom, we called it the torture chamber … You never wore undies, she’d make you pull your dress up, bend over the bath and whack you with the dust brush as hard as she could … One particular time, 49 whacks on the bum I got, for something – I don’t know what.
‘She was just evil this person. A brutal, evil person … and it changed my mind about everything.’
A lot of the girls ran away but the police would bring them back, saying they didn’t believe nuns would do the things they were accused of. Those girls were beaten worse when they arrived back.
Nadia says she heard stories of sexual abuse there, but she never witnessed it.
She left the orphanage at age 13 to go back and live with her mother. Unfortunately her mother’s new partner exposed himself to her and touched her inappropriately a number of times, so she ran away and ended up back in the orphanage. However, she said things had changed by then and the nuns treated her better. She left for the final time at age 16, when her stepfather had left home.
Nadia has been married for over 40 years and has children and grandchildren. She doesn’t like to talk about her past.
‘I just want to get on with life. I don’t want to remember any more. But I had to tell my story because I want to make this the last time … I will not live in that fear again. Never.’
She went through Redress WA, which she described as ‘absolutely horrendous’.
The nuns were dressed in their habits, which she found very intimidating, even saying she thought she was going to get whacked. They gave her ‘a measly amount’ of $6,000, and an apology, which she felt didn’t hold any meaning.
‘All those things that the nuns called us children, I made a point to myself and to God, I will never ever be that. I will not. Tragically some girls and boys couldn’t cope … They said “We’ll break your spirits”, and they did. They broke their spirit.’
But Nadia has fought against the way they made her feel. She said her experience has made her a fighter.
‘The nuns used to say to us, “You will never amount to anything”, and I told them, “No, I’m going to”. I have succeeded, where they thought I wouldn’t.’