Twin sisters Rella and Royce were the youngest of the children their parents had before they separated. Their father was 21, their mother was 20 and an alcoholic. When the twins were two, they were put into a Catholic residential home in western Sydney. Their older siblings were also placed in care.
Rella and Royce don’t have many clear memories of the three years they spent at the home in the early 1960s. However, they vividly recall incidents of sexual abuse by one of the Brothers, along with widespread physical abuse.
In Rella’s mind the abuse became mixed up with what the Brothers told her about Jesus. ‘I remember as a child thinking that Jesus was inside because he told me Jesus was inside him – and I remember thinking his penis was Jesus, because Jesus went back inside him’, she explained.
The twins were also being molested by their father. They recalled that when he visited the home, he would take them to the toilet and make them touch his penis in exchange for lollies. So the abuse they suffered from the Brother wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.
‘To me it was almost like a normal thing’, Rella said. ‘I didn’t see anything wrong with it.’
When they were five, the twins and their siblings were returned to their father. He had remarried, and went on to have eight more children with his new wife.
In the years that followed, the girls were brutally victimised by their father and stepmother. ‘We’d hear our stepmother when he came home – “If you don’t belt those twins I’m leaving you”’, Rella recalled.
The girls regularly arrived at their local Catholic school with marks from the beatings, but no questions were ever asked. ‘They knew what was going on but no one did anything’, Royce said. They also told their parish priest but he took no action either.
A few years ago Royce and Rella found papers which showed their father believed the girls were not actually his children. At the time his relentless persecution of them was a mystery. The daily physical and sexual abuse was so extreme that when they were 14, they decided to murder him.
‘We couldn’t take the beatings and the sexual abuse any more’, Rella said.
They devised a plan to poison him, but it went wrong and they were discovered. Their father reported them to the police, the girls were charged and had to appear in court. They had no legal representation. At no point did anyone ask them why they’d tried to kill their father. ’We were just told, “People who do what we did go straight to jail”’, Rella said.
They were given the opportunity to speak in court, and Royce gave evidence in the hope that they’d be asked about their behaviour. They weren’t, and Royce didn’t feel able to initiate it. ‘Being 14, you don’t know how to say to the judge, “Can you ask me some questions?”’, she said.
A succession of placements in hostels and other facilities followed. In each one, the girls were sexually abused. At one facility, they were terrorised by the husband of the house manager. ‘It was almost like he could smell flesh’, Royce recalled.
‘If you were in your cossies he was around. If you were in the shower he was around. It just didn’t matter. There was no privacy.’
One Saturday morning he attacked Royce. ‘I woke up with a hand around my mouth. I was lying on my stomach; he pulled my pants down and he just raped me – he said “If you scream or anything I’m snapping your neck … I‘ll put your body somewhere no one will ever find it and they’ll think you’ve just run away”.’
Royce told Rella about the rape and with some other girls they organised never to be alone at the facility again. However, she didn’t report it. ‘I just found it hard to talk to anyone about it in the home. I shut up shop’, she said. The incident caused her to try to take her own life. She was taken to hospital but, again, no questions were asked. ‘They just patched me up and sent me home’, Royce told the Commissioner.
As adults, both women have seen counsellors and psychiatrists to help deal with their experiences. Rella said that as well as the abuse she suffered, an affair she had as a 15-year-old with a much older man working at one of the facilities was very difficult to recover from. Royce is still terrified of the dark and of silence, the legacy of a night spent in a pitch-black basement with a dirt floor and rats and cockroaches – punishment for calling a supervisor a ‘lezzo’ after she’d been assaulted by her.
Rella still doesn’t trust men, and doesn’t want to be in a relationship. ‘I just wanted children. I had to have sex to do it. As soon as I knew I was pregnant I was off, it was finished.’ Both she and Royce have several adult children.
The sisters have now found faith in a different Church, and told the Commissioner it’s this that has kept them afloat. ‘God makes a big difference in my life’, Royce said.
‘It taught me how to live’, said Rella. Through the Church she learned how to cook and clean – skills she’d never had before – and how to be a parent. ‘[The Church] has been my godsend.’
The women received victim’s compensation for the abuse they suffered from their father but have not sought compensation from the government or the Catholic Church for their treatment in care. ‘I just thought it was our lot’, Rella said.
For many years Royce has had a job working with children. She told the Commissioner she can’t believe the absence of checks on the staff in facilities like the ones she and Rella were in. ‘Were any qualifications required?’, she asked.
‘I’m glad there’s no homes any more. Because it opened the door for paedophiles or anyone who thought “These kids have no parents” – it gave them permission, in their heads, to do whatever they wanted. And that was wrong.’