‘The nuns were so evil.’
Viola doesn’t know her parents. In the late 1930s, she was a baby when she and her brother were made wards of the state. Viola was placed in a Catholic children’s home in regional Victoria and her brother was sent to a Catholic boys’ home nearby. She recalls visiting her brother several times during a four year period, however the Sisters then stopped the visits and Viola never saw her brother again.
Viola stayed at the home until she was 18 years old. Her only carers were the nuns in the home. The home had a ‘cruel’ environment where she received no love, and was subjected to hard labour and severe punishments. She recalls being forced to wear her wet underwear on her head if she wet the bed and she was caned several times.
In the mid-1940s when she was seven years old, Viola came into contact with Sister Heather. She was ‘one of the crueller nuns’ and Viola’s main carer for an extended period of time. On one occasion, Sister Heather grabbed Viola by her hair and nose and dragged her to the bathroom to be punished. She can’t recall the reason she was in trouble.
‘Sister Heather pulled out her scrubbing brush and pushed me over the bath, where the water was, put me head under the water to stop me from screaming. She belted the hell out of me. Then she placed me over knee and belt my bottom with the scrubbing brush. She pushed her fingers inside my vagina, and I [bled] … I didn’t even know what it was.’
Viola ran back to her room feeling horribly confused. She remembers the other girls thinking she had her period because she returned with blood dripping down her leg. The abuse happened at least 12 times before Sister Heather suddenly left. Viola believes she was transferred to a different home. After Sister Heather left, Viola tried to tell the head sister, Sister Stephen, but she was beaten and told not to ‘offend God’.
After the abuse, Viola found it difficult to concentrate in school lessons. She was ‘falling behind’ dramatically and didn’t disclose what had happened again because she was scared of the Sisters. During her time at the home, she was never sexually abused again but the beatings continued.
As a teenager, Viola worked in the kitchen. She recalls having to carry large sacks of rice and even on occasions pigs, which were ‘extremely heavy’. The girls were also made to scrub the kitchen floors and they were kicked in the stomach and back to make them work faster. Viola believes she suffers from significant back pains because of this.
In the late 1950s when she was 18, Viola had to fill the bath tub so a nun could punish a small girl for wetting the bed. The girl’s face was held under water and Viola tried to stop the nun from hurting her. She pulled the nun’s veil off her head, and was caned repeatedly and then sent to a convent.
With many other girls and women Viola worked long hours without payment in the industrial laundries at the convent. Viola recalls Mother Samuel, who was in charge of the home, drugging some of the women to keep them working.
After some time, Viola complained to Mother Samuel. As punishment she was sent to a psychiatric asylum and the terrible things she saw nuns do to patients still ‘trouble’ her today. She was sent back to the convent, but ran away when she was in her 20s.
Viola became pregnant in her mid-20s and was moved from her boarding house to a Catholic hospital. After having her baby, she was forced by a nun to sign a piece of paper which she couldn’t read. She recalls a nun trying to take her baby and refusing to let her. Viola was then drugged and when she woke the next day found herself tied to her bed and without her baby. She has never reconnected with her child.
Throughout her teens and adulthood, Viola has struggled to trust people and maintain relationships and friendships. She has never married. She suffers from anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts and other extensive health problems. Her education was never completed and she has had difficulties finding jobs.
In the mid-1990s when she was in her 60s, Viola first disclosed details of the abuse to her local parish priest. She was told to ‘forget about it’. Viola has since complained to several church representatives about the nuns, but nothing was done.
In the mid-2000s, Viola engaged in civil action against the Catholic Church and received $15,000 compensation, which was ‘non-negotiable’. Viola described the legal process as ‘very cold, uncaring and clinical’ and she was unhappy that the Church representatives didn’t apologise. Viola recently engaged a lawyer and was exploring options for further civil action.
‘I complained to the Church about my treatment on several occasions. I complained about never having been paid for all the years of work I had to do. The Church has never listened to me.’