Tilda was three when she and her siblings were made wards of the state and put into a Catholic orphanage in regional New South Wales. The children were separated and there was virtually no contact between them.
Tilda was abused emotionally and physically by the nuns, and sexually by some of the other residents. She remembered having to scrub and polish floors for hours, being starved and beaten.
Several years after Tilda came to the orphanage, a few of the girls were allowed out to walk to a nearby golf course. On the way home, an older couple invited them into their house for a cool drink. Once inside the couple attempted to sexually abuse the girls, who managed to get away.
When she told one of the nuns what had happened, Tilda was knocked to the ground and called a liar. As a result, when Tilda was later sexually abused by some older girls, she didn’t report it.
‘As a child you never cried in the home. You just laid there and took it, and watched yourself. You’re above yourself, watching.’
Tilda was also made to feel she was to blame for what the older couple did. ‘We were never allowed to play golf again. And that made it even more, “It’s my fault, it’s my fault”.’
The emotional abuse in the orphanage was savage. One of the nuns would often ask the children, ‘How can you expect God to love you when your own parents don’t love you?’
Tilda remembered telling herself, ‘He has to love me. Somebody has to love me’.
She ended up being in care for 10 years. ‘It really messes you up. You really don’t fit in anywhere.’ And the only reason she left the orphanage was because it closed.
‘They found all the parents that had children in the home and they said, “You need to take these kids”. But the worst part was these people had moved on, they’d made new families; they didn’t want us.’
Tilda and her siblings were sent back to their mother, a violent alcoholic. ‘And nobody checked on us to see if we were okay. So we went from one horrific situation into another.’
After about a year Tilda went to live with her father, but life with him was no better. ‘He was extremely cruel. He would say to me things like, “Make sure you’re good on your back 'cause that’s all you’re good for”.’ Tilda never forgot those words.
She told the Commissioner, ‘I actually thought that was my only value as a woman, and I haven’t been in a relationship for 20 years because of that, because I just thought that’s all I was worth’.
Tilda has also always found it very hard to trust anyone. ‘I sent people away. I had to do it before they did it to me. I couldn’t be abandoned again, so I had to do it.’
And memories of the sexual abuse isolated Tilda even more. ‘Over the years I couldn’t make friendships with women because I hated them so much. Because of the older girls.’
Having children changed Tilda’s life. ‘When I was in the home I remember many times imagining what a good mother would be.
‘It was so hard because all I knew was abuse. I remember the crossroad: you either abuse these children and you do to them what you had done to you, or you work really hard.
‘And they all know that they’re loved unconditionally.’
Through her kids, Tilda saw a childhood she never had. ‘It would fascinate me that they would be in this fantasy world, and laughing. It would just fascinate me, watching them.’
But the abuse she’d tried to suppress for so long was never far away. ‘I think I was in survival mode. I didn’t want my children to see my demons. They were always there, but I couldn’t let my children see how broken I was.’
When her kids finished school and started to live their own lives, Tilda’s demons came back worse than ever before. ‘That was when I broke.’ She started having trouble sleeping and struggled with depression and severe anxiety. ‘I only feel safe in my home. The minute you get me in amongst people, I almost hyperventilate, I’m shaking.’
It got so bad, Tilda had to stop working. ‘I’m useless to anyone. How can you hire someone who sits there and shakes like crazy or starts crying? That’s so new for me, to cry over nothing.’
Tilda has never reported her abuse to the police, and said she wouldn’t believe an apology from the Catholic Church even if one was offered. ‘I don’t think anybody was sorry for what happened to us. Nobody wanted us so why should they care?’
Tilda still feels shame about the abuse. But with the help of her family and professional counselling, she’s trying her hardest to put the demons behind her.
Today Tilda takes enormous pleasure in spending time with her dog and her greatest achievement: her children.