In the mid-1950s, Wendy was eight years old when her mother died and her father started drinking heavily.
Wendy and her siblings were left to fend for themselves, surviving largely on a diet of bread and cereal. To make money, Wendy cleaned a house each week for a few shillings. Then she and her younger brother started stealing. They stole flowers from people’s gardens to sell at a market, and milk from front verandahs and food from shops.
When Wendy was 12, she and her brother were caught by Father Julian stealing money from the church poor box. ‘He sent my brother home and said as punishment I had to go and tidy the books in the choir loft. I heard him lock the church back doors and the side door. Then he came up and that’s where he raped me.’
Wendy told the Commissioner that Father Julian threatened that if she told anyone about the abuse she’d be punished even further. The abuse coincided with another traumatic event in Wendy’s life, in which she’d witnessed a woman die. She thought that Father Julian’s abuse of her was linked to the family’s situation and her vulnerability.
‘There were so many things going on. We were hungry. He knew and he took the opportunity.’
Several months later, Wendy saw Father Julian at the local swimming pool. She was in the pool hanging on to the side because she was frightened and couldn’t swim. Father Julian got in the water and told her he was going to teach her to swim.
‘He grabbed hold of me and he stuck his finger inside me and he was jumping me up and down and I couldn’t get away, he was holding me too tight.’
From then on, Wendy ran whenever she saw Father Julian. ‘I lived in fear of him, especially that he might come to our house. He held power. He used to go door to door and visit people. One time he did come and I hid under the bed.’
In the early 2010s, Wendy disclosed the sexual abuse for the first time. A nun she knew asked directly if Wendy had ever experienced sexual abuse, and Wendy told her she had. Previously, she’d never felt able to tell anyone about the abuse. Her way of coping over the years had been through gambling, particularly poker machines.
‘When the wheels are going around, I don’t have to think. I’m in zombie mode. I’d do money till it hurt, and then all I’d have to worry about was how I was going to pay the bills or where I was going to find money. If I had that to think about, I didn’t have to think about anything else.’
Wendy said the Royal Commission was her chance to release the sadness that she’d carried for nearly six decades. She said Father Julian died many years ago, but she hoped to see a safe place created where people could go and reflect on the past abuses of children and to ‘let everyone know that personal stories cause change’.