The first thing Natalie noticed were the sheets hanging up in Father Collier’s room, forming a makeshift studio. It was the 1980s and the 11-year-old had previously mentioned her childhood aspiration to become a model to the ‘touchy-feely’ priest, who often visited her Catholic primary school in regional Queensland.
She told the Commissioner that Father Collier had responded by offering to take some photos of her.
‘The principal pulled me out of class and sent me over to Father Collier in the presbytery next door, and when I walked in I saw these sheets and lights set up. He said, “Look at all this work I’ve done for you” and I thought it must be okay, because the principal had sent me there.’
Despite feeling ‘strange and uneasy’, Natalie started posing for the pictures.
‘He took a few photos, then he asked me to change into a white, see-through shirt. It smelt like him and at first I refused, but he started getting angry and told me if I wanted to be a supermodel, then this is what I had to do. He said “Don’t put any underwear on because you’ll see lines and it’ll ruin the photos”.’
Natalie recalled the priest leaving the room while she put the shirt on.
‘When he came back he asked me to pose like Elle McPherson. He was telling me to stand this way and that way saying “I want to get your face at this angle”, but I knew he was taking photos of my private parts. He was coming over and touching me, my breast. I was shaking the whole time, and then he put his fingers just inside my top and I nearly had a nervous breakdown. I kept crying uncontrollably and begging to go home to my grandma.’
As she left, Natalie recalled the priest warning her he was an important man in the town. She confided the abuse to a school friend the following day.
‘We decided no one would believe us so we shouldn’t tell anyone, we thought we might get expelled. My mother had left when I was three months old and my father was a violent alcoholic, so I was living with my grandma who had Alzheimer’s. I was terrified that if I told her she might blame me, so I had nobody to confide in.’
In the space of the hour spent in the presbytery, Natalie said the course of her life was changed forever.
‘Everything fell apart, I just saw the world in a completely different way after what he did to me. I felt this sense that my only value was sexual, and as I got older I became very promiscuous.’
'I left home at 15, and by 17 I was a prostitute. I’d been a really good girl and for me to do a complete flip, it just didn’t make sense. I wish someone had looked at why I was going off the rails, it wasn’t normal behaviour.’
Natalie told of terminating eight or nine pregnancies, marrying the ‘wrong type of person’ at 19 and ‘always using alcohol’.
Following three years of therapy with a psychologist, Natalie reported the abuse to authorities in the early 2010s.
‘Father Collier is still alive and disclosing to police felt like the beginning of not taking crap in my life anymore. I’ve been beaten by boyfriends, knocked unconscious, but now I’m standing up for myself, my inner strength has seen me through it. You’re very vulnerable when you’re a child out there in the world without any family. I would hate for him to do to another child what he did to me, but I’ve been broken in so many ways, he can’t hurt me anymore.’