‘We were down the street pinching people’s money. Didn’t want to go to school. Just wanted to go to the fun parlour and have some fun because Mum was always out partying and she never give us money, never bought us clothes or anything … And then we got put into [the children’s home].’
After her parents separated in the late 1960s, Veronica was placed into care in Victoria. The older girls at the children’s home, ‘picked on me and another girl … They wanted me to suck on [their] breasts and if I didn’t, we’d get bashed for it’.
The abuse from the older girls went on for some time before Veronica and the other girl ran away. ‘I just had enough there after what they were doing to me and her.’
The two girls hitchhiked into the city and spent some time begging for cigarettes and for money to catch the train home. Veronica told the Commissioner she had started smoking when she was 10. ‘People were just buying us drinks and food, and I told ‘em that I was supposed to be on the train with me mother … Then the next thing, the police showed up.’
Veronica didn’t tell the police what the older girls had been doing to them. She ‘just broke down crying, telling them I didn’t want to go back’. This didn’t stop the police taking the girls back to the home, and when they did, ‘Boy, did we cop it’.
After they returned, the older girls ‘were trying to push us a little bit again, but in the end I just wouldn’t do it anymore. They wanted to bash me. I preferred to cop that and then the staff would see the marks. So … yeah. Just said to my friend, “We gotta stand up to ‘em”. So we just chose not to do what they wanted anymore’.
When she was about 12, Veronica was sent to an orphanage in regional Victoria. The orphanage wasn’t too bad whenever Sister Frances was there. ‘[She] was so cute and tiny you know. You could just squeeze her and not want to let her go.’
After Frances left, her place was taken by Sister Angela. ‘I hated her. She bashed me to a pulp until I wee’d myself in front of everyone when I come home after leave.’ Angela had forbidden her to go on leave to see her family. ‘I can’t even think why she stopped me, what I had done for her to stop me. I thought, “Bugger you, bitch. I’m going” … and I run down the road.’
After Veronica had run away a couple of times, she was told that if she ran away again she would be sent back to the first children’s home, so ‘I just stayed put then’.
On her first day in the orphanage, Veronica met Father Johns. ‘We had to get up for mass and he was the visiting priest from the primary school.’
Veronica told the Commissioner that she ‘wanted to make my holy communion, for my dad to be proud’. Because there was no paperwork to show that Veronica had been baptised, one of the nuns from the school took her to the church one day during school hours, so that Johns could baptise her.
Before Veronica returned to the school with her teacher, Johns called her back. He told the nun that he just wanted to have a word with Veronica. ‘I thought he was going to talk about what I had to do to prepare for the holy communion, and it wasn’t that at all.’
This was the first time that Johns sexually abused Veronica. The abuse continued for about a year. ‘He just put his hand up my uniform and he just touched me with his fingers and that.’ On another occasion, Johns called Veronica into ‘the painting room’ at the orphanage. ‘That’s where he got me again.’
Veronica believes that Johns was abusing other girls because, years later, when she was doing some research about her time in the orphanage, she spoke to other women and they asked her, ‘Did Father Johns ever touch you?’
When she was in the orphanage Veronica was sent to see a psychiatrist because one of her friends told the nuns that she wasn’t eating. ‘I never used to eat much at home because Mum never had the food anyway … and they reckoned there was more things wrong with me than just an eating problem.’
Veronica doesn’t remember telling the psychiatrist about the sexual abuse. She didn’t think she could tell anyone about it, even her school friend from the orphanage. ‘We used to sit there a lot and we’d talk, but I couldn’t even say it to her.’
Veronica has had a turbulent life since leaving the orphanage. ‘It led me to becoming an alcoholic.’ She experienced domestic violence, but left her abusive partner. ‘Sometimes I don’t know if I did the right thing by leaving him because my kids ended up in care … That topped it off, taking my kids. All I wanted to do was just blow the police to hell.’
After contacting a support service, Open Place, Veronica began working with a counsellor. ‘He’s terrific, but I still think a lot of things are inside me … I’ve still got so much hatred.’
Veronica doesn’t know if Johns is still alive, but if he is, she would like to see him brought to justice. She would also ‘like to hit him’.