Valda grew up in a troubled family in Sydney in the 1950s. When she was 10, Valda’s uncle arranged for her to be placed in a Catholic children’s home. ‘I was a vulnerable child. I was sent there to be cared for. My family were absolutely struggling and they thought it would be for my benefit … That was hell on earth. That was absolutely …’
Father Dougal MacBride said mass at the school and lived in the presbytery. Valda took his breakfast tray to his room in the mornings. Father MacBride began grooming Valda from the first week she was there. He treated her well, and would give her cake as a treat. Within a month, Valda was summoned to the sacristy, where MacBride sexually abused her for the first time. The abuse continued for about two years, and included making Valda sit on his lap while he digitally penetrated her.
Valda has blocked out much of the abuse, but memories are gradually returning. ‘Something happened at [the children’s home] where he was lying on top of me, and then I can’t breathe, ‘cause I … and that was sort of in the choir area, and even thinking about it I get so upset, but there’s a part of me that goes, “I need to know”, because I’m getting stronger and stronger, and I need to know.’
Valda told a young nun what was happening and thinks she may have believed her because ‘she said “I’ll tell Mother Superior”, or “I’ll pass it on” or something … So there was a glimmer of hope that something was going to be done and the next thing, this one from hell, I get called into her office and I wasn’t exactly expecting that to happen’.
‘Instead of helping me … I was punished by having my pants pulled down, laid across a desk and flogged on my bare bottom with a leather strap, forced to drink castor oil and then clean the floor. I vomited up the castor oil … Being branded a liar was a further humiliation.’
‘To this day, if I tell someone something and I think they don’t believe me my instant emotional reaction, sometimes uncontrolled, is a little 10-year-old girl who wanted to scream and yell that they have to believe me.’
When Valda lived with her family she took on responsibilities beyond her years. ‘I was protecting everyone … I’ve never been a child. I actually haven’t. And that could make me cry.’ As a result of her troubled childhood, Valda has always had a heightened sense of justice. ‘But the thing is as well … I didn’t stand up for myself. I stood up for everybody else. And it’s only in the last few years, where I’ve gone “You know what? That’s actually not good enough for me. Me”.’
Valda experiences anxiety and panic attacks, but has become adept at concealing these. This has led to disbelief from others about her childhood sexual abuse. ‘That is unbelievable, that I am still saying to someone, “My gut churns. I feel like I’m going to get diarrhoea. I’m going to faint … I’m having these major panic attacks and they go, “No, you’re never like that” … So regardless of what you tell them, people don’t believe you … if you’re really good at hiding things.’
Friends often tell Valda that they don’t want to know the details of her sexual abuse because it would be too upsetting for them. ‘I feel like my mouth wants to go, “You selfish cow. It’s actually not about you. It’s about people like me and what’s happened and unless you understand, it will still keep happening because people won’t believe it”.’ Valda told the Commissioner that she is worried others might think, ‘Oh, well if it happens it’s alright. Look at her. She’s okay. Big deal. She’s alright’.
‘I don’t want to feel bad anymore. Ever. Because I had no control over it. Whereas I used to think that I did. I used to think something I was doing was wrong, that these things were happening, so somehow it must have been my fault.’
Valda told the Commissioner that ‘these priests and nuns, they’re up there and they always, they’re so good at picking the kids who are most vulnerable and the ones they know’ll keep quiet’.
Father MacBride was charged and sentenced to jail for sexually abusing a number of children. ‘When I found out that nuns were used as defence witnesses, I said that I wanted to rip their heads off.’ These nuns, who weren’t even present at the time, told the court, falsely, that girls would never have been allowed to take the breakfast trays into the priests’ rooms.
Valda believed ‘the emotional abuse is actually the worst … because like, a physical wound heals but when your brain is attacked … the thing that defines who you are, it controls everything’.
‘It’s absolutely a thing of power and absolute abuse towards children … You just get these dregs of society who want this power and glory.’
Valda told the Commissioner, ‘They still have that thing of, “Oh, I’m a priest. I’m fabulous”. It’s almost, “I’m better than everybody else”. That’s one thing to me, I think … they should be forced to actually get rid of them … so that … people’s lives. I mean, my life is not the way it would have been if I hadn’t been to [the children’s home]’.