Neridah was more interested in talking about the story of her recovery than the details of the abuse she experienced as a child. ‘I’ve told my story so many thousands of times’, she said, ‘I’m sort of over it really’.
She gave the Commissioner only a brief overview of how her parents, determined to see her get a good education, sent her to a Queensland Catholic primary school from age five; how she was then sexually abused by two priests at that school and two more priests during her time at a Catholic high school.
With those matters out of the way, Neridah went on to explain why she never mentioned the abuse to her parents at the time. ‘I never wanted my mother to know because I never wanted her to be in so much pain. She scrubbed floors all her life to send me to that school.’
So Neridah suffered alone. By the time she reached Year 11 in the late 1970s, her grades had dropped from top to average; she felt miserable, was hospitalised several times and started swallowing packets of Panadol to ‘escape’.
‘It really ruined me as a child, but I guess because of my family strength, and I suppose my own strength, I didn’t let it destroy me. I mean it did send me into a spiral of addiction for a while.’
Neridah’s journey of recovery began in the late 1980s when she was about 30 years old. She got off the drugs and then commenced weekly psychiatric therapy sessions that she continues to this day. In the mid-1990s she started another journey, one that was intertwined with her personal healing but went far beyond it.
‘There was a story in a magazine about a priest that had been jailed. I read it and thought, “Wow, I didn’t realise you could put priests in jail for something that happened a long time ago”. So at the bottom of the story it said, “If this has happened to you, ring Broken Rites”.’
Neridah rang the number and gave them the name of the worst abuser, Father Monaghan. Broken Rites then told her that Father Monaghan was already under investigation by the police and encouraged her to come forward and make a statement.
‘I said sure because I was absolutely certain that I should do it.’ So Neridah went down to the station. ‘My naivety was that it would take an hour or two to tell this story. It took a couple of days. It was the first time in my life when the police were nice to me. It was very rare if you’re Indigenous for a copper to be nice to you.’
A year later Monaghan was convicted of multiple offences and sent to jail. After such an unequivocal declaration of Monaghan’s guilt, Neridah expected the Catholic Church to reach out to her, if not to apologise at least to see how she was doing. So she waited. And waited. A year went by and she heard nothing so she sought them out.
Neridah spoke to bishops and archbishops, not asking for anything, simply getting under their noses to make sure they knew about Monaghan and others like him. Their response was always the same, even from men who had known her family for years: ‘I hate that these things have happened but it’s important to protect the Church’.
After several meetings Neridah had had enough, and she would have let the matter rest there if the Church had not suddenly launched a publicity campaign that was too hypocritical for her to ignore.
‘It was the decade of reconciliation and the archbishop was going around publicly talking about reconciling with Aboriginal people, and I got really wild with him. I thought, “You liar. You don’t even want to say sorry to me, and there’s Robert Monaghan in jail”. So I thought, nup, I’m going to give it to the bastards.’
She arranged a meeting with her local bishop. The first thing he said when she walked through the door was, ‘We’re not going to give you anything’. He was wrong. In the end most of Neridah’s demands were met. One of these was to have the bishop apologise to her mother in person, which he did. Another was to have the Church publicly apologise to her, which they did.
Neridah also met Monaghan in person. It was a disappointing experience. When she told him about the damage he’d done to her life his reaction was ‘just nothing. As if there was no feeling, no emotion. As if he didn’t care what he’d done’.
Neridah went on to describe the overwhelming grief her mother felt upon learning of the abuse, and this was the only time that Monaghan spoke.
‘He said, “I’m very sorry that your mother was caused so much grief by my actions. I remember your mother very well and I’m sorry that I caused her so much pain”. But he never apologised to me.’
It seemed that the truth had never sunk in for Monaghan. And the Church wasn’t much different. When Monaghan got out of jail they let him work as a priest until Neridah pointed out how dangerous this was. Then the Church gave him a job working with disabled children and would have left him there if Neridah had not intervened again.
Despite the sense that she’s banging her head against a brick wall, Neridah keeps striving to make the Church accountable. As for her personal journey she said, ‘I’m much recovered from it. That was the point of going through my life journey was to recover from the abuse. And the best revenge is living well’.