Pearl was born as a result of her mother being raped by a group of men in the north of Western Australia in the early 1940s. At birth, Pearl was relinquished by her mother, and grew up in a girls’ orphanage run by the Sisters of Mercy, a place she described as ‘a hellhole’. She still had ‘scars all over my body as to what these people did to me’.
‘I spent 18 years there … I served the sentence of a pack rape. I got 18 years. Where’s my justice?’
At the age of six, Pearl stayed for a short while with a foster family. She attended the local government primary school and during this time she was sexually abused by the school gardener.
When she later accessed her welfare file, Pearl read notes describing a change in her behaviour on dates corresponding with the abuse.
‘I’ve never been able to talk about it, because in the papers – in the community welfare papers – they stated that I was all right. I was a real good behaved kid at school and that, and then all of a sudden I was a child that was wetting herself, that was destructive, and I just couldn’t believe this. Nobody asked.’
For many years, Pearl was given the task of looking after babies and toddlers in the orphanage. The nuns’ violence included regular ‘floggings’ and Pearl once had ‘all the hair pulled out on one side’ of her head. ‘If you cried, you got your face slapped.’
Pearl recalled a day when ‘one of the nuns lost her cool’.
‘She lost her cool with this baby who would have been about five, six months old and she threw him in the cot and when the baby was found dead, the police came but we were warned before the police come: “You know what to say, because you know what’s going to happen if you don’t”.’
‘I just don’t understand why these people got away with what they did’, Pearl said.
When welfare workers came to the orphanage, nuns made excuses for children’s bruises and injuries and no further questions were ever asked.
When she left the orphanage, Pearl had ‘no one to talk to’ and had ‘never boiled water’. As she struggled to cope, she had several admissions to hospital and found staff often didn’t understand her difficulties.
She ‘married a psychopath’ but managed to eventually get herself and her daughter away and build another life, eventually finding ‘peace with myself’.
As an adult, Pearl found out that she had siblings and while she kept in contact with one brother, the others didn’t want to know her. When she found out her mother was dying, Pearl wanted to visit and ‘hold her hand and say, “Don’t worry about it, it’s fine”’, but her sister wouldn’t let her.
In the early 2000s, Pearl participated in the Western Australia Inquiry into Children in Institutional Care, and described herself as ‘a different person’ afterwards.
‘It made a hell of a difference’ to talk for the first time about her experiences in the orphanage. She also participated in the WA redress scheme, something she found ‘very helpful’.
‘Redress, to me, acknowledged that something had happened’, she said. ‘That was very, very important. With me, I found redress understanding. I found the communication was very good.’
She’d also supported others who’d been in institutional care. ‘I feel that it’s great to be able to help people that cannot talk for themselves. I mean, I’ve got the biggest mouth where child abuse is concerned. When you go through it, you know.’
Pearl told the Commissioner, ‘I never cry about the orphanage now. I would have loved to have got some help when I was younger, especially when [my daughter] was younger. That was trying.’