When Nellie’s mother left the family, Nellie and her siblings were sent to a children’s home in regional Queensland run by the Sisters of Mercy. It was the late 1940s and Nellie was three years old.
The culture of the home was one of brutality. The nuns were violent towards the children. Nellie recalls being starving most of the time and searching the nuns’ scraps for food. She had a speech impediment and wore glasses, so was also picked on. Nellie was once locked in a storeroom under the stairs and forgotten about for an entire weekend. She recalls once being force-fed as a punishment, then made to eat her own vomit. On another occasion Nellie was beaten so hard she was hospitalised for two weeks. On yet another occasion, a nun pulled her pants down and caned her bare bottom until she bled, in front of the other boys and girls.
Nellie has a black spot in her memory when she tries to remember all that went on. She does recall, however, that when the girls started to develop breasts, the nuns would bind their chests, ‘like a straight-jacket’, to make their breasts smaller. The nuns fondled Nellie’s breasts during some of these episodes. ‘Then Father put his arms around me … ‘cause we had big boobs and no bras on … Put his hands in and play with us.’
Nellie specifically recalls the first time her brother, Gordon, was abused by Father Fraser. Nellie was 10 and Gordon was seven. She saw blood running down Gordon’s legs. She asked him what had happened and he said ‘Fraser hurt me. Fraser hurt me’. The abuse against her brother became frequent and ongoing. Gordon told Nellie that Fraser raped him every Friday when he visited the home. A nun would take him into a room and tie him to a bed.
‘Every Friday - he used to dread it - five o’clock every Friday afternoon, Father Fraser’s black car would drive up and the kids would be scared stiff for their Latin lessons. And Gordon was one of them … I knew that was happening every Friday … Their Latin lessons were an excuse for abusing.’
Nellie left the orphanage at the age of 17 and became a governess. During that year she attempted suicide for the first time. She has continued to have mental health problems all her life and, many years ago, had some violent tendencies.
Gordon got into drugs and alcohol and was in and out of prison. He is now deceased.
Nellie married and had children. She is still with her husband who is a great support in her life. She received a modest compensation sum through the Queensland redress scheme but thinks it would be too traumatic to pursue further action. However, she helped several family members go through the redress scheme and receive the basic payout of $7,000.
Nellie has been very active in the community over many years. She finds keeping busy keeps her mind off the past. ‘The way I’ve coped is thinking of the good times.’