When Netty was five her parents separated. She remembers a welfare officer turning up to her home in central New South Wales, collecting her and her brothers, and depositing them at an orphanage in a town further south.
Netty remembers how cruel the nuns were at the orphanage.
‘I used to wet the bed and they used to rub my nose in it and lock me under the staircase with no clothes and no shoes on.’
Netty had to go back to the orphanage when she was nine. There was an odd-jobs man there who Netty remembered from when she was five. He did nice things, like hand out lollies to the kids and draw hopscotch lines on the ground for them. They called him Father, even though he didn’t wear priest’s clothes.
Netty was playing outside one day and wandered into a shed that held bits of lumber. The odd-jobs man came in after her. He started patting Netty’s hair and offering her sweets.
‘Then he picked me up and … put his penis into me. I was screaming in pain, screaming and crying and no one would help … When it was over he just said I couldn’t tell anyone, that I would get into trouble and be punished.’
But Netty went to the Mother of the home and told her what had happened. She did nothing.
‘She said that I’d hurt myself in the playground. So I was cleaned up and there was nothing done.’
So the man stayed on. He raped Netty five or six more times.
After she’d left the orphanage, Netty told her father about him. Her dad went to the orphanage and confronted them. The police eventually put the man who abused Netty in jail but didn’t ever interview her.
After a stint back at home Netty was sent away to a girls’ home in a completely different town, where she toiled away in the laundry.
The staff told Netty, who’s Aboriginal, that she’d never amount to anything. ‘Black people never go anywhere’, they told her. But Netty asserts that the staff treated the white girls just as badly.
At 15, she went to work with her dad in a small town in the NSW tablelands. When she got into trouble with the police she was sent under court order to her third and final institution.
‘Where do I start about the hellhole?’ Netty says about it. ‘Evil place.’
She was frightened from the moment she walked in there. Two girls kept grabbing her breast and flipping her skirt up. Then Netty was digitally raped by a bigger girl in the showers.
It happened ‘mostly every day’ from then on.
Netty asked to see the superintendent. This wasn’t allowed so she reported the abuse to a senior officer.
She was a trouble maker, he said. Netty spent the next four days in solitary confinement and was given tablets that made her feel woozy.
The same senior officer touched her up and picked on her continually.
‘I called him a racist. And he punched me in the back of the neck and I fell to the ground. I was kicked in the stomach. I crawled up and he just punched me in the mouth … There were two ladies there and they didn’t do anything.’
They also ignored the abuse she was suffering in the showers. Netty’s not sure if the staff encouraged the girls to abuse each other but the girl who had assaulted her apologised later.
‘She said to me, “I’m so sorry, I didn’t want to do it”.’
Netty got married soon after she left. ‘I didn’t want to go back to no more homes.’
Although her husband was violent she stayed with him so that her kids wouldn’t have to endure what she went through. She was too ashamed to tell him she’d been abused.
‘I just wanted to be like everybody else … to try and block it from your head and think you’re just as good as everybody else. But you know you’re not as good.’
Netty suffers from depression and anxiety and has attempted suicide.
She lives on her own now in a cottage on a rural property, working in the garden or on her art. She doesn’t get counselling and deals with the bad memories her own way.
‘When I went to Towards Healing [the Catholic Church’s redress process] … I have never been so humiliated and felt so terrible as they made me feel, in my life.’
She walked out of the meeting with the nuns. They’d offered her a second-hand car because she lived on a dirt road and might need it. They then offered her money, which she accepted. Netty also received a victims of crime payment.
Her daughter comes to see Netty every day and she has lots of grandchildren, whom she loves dearly.
‘I don’t want this to ever, ever happen to another child, ever,’ Netty told the Commissioner. ‘I never ever want to see it in my lifetime.’
‘If I talk to you and you make the recommendations, it might never happen again.’