The first time I witnessed child abuse I was seven years old. I remember it clearly as that was the year of my First Communion. I still have the photo somewhere of my little self and my friends, all wearing virginal white dresses and veils. The thing that strikes me most about that photo now is that I am the only one still alive.


It was also the year that, in my little village, girls were called on to become ‘altar boys’ as there were not enough boys available. I didn’t understand until a little later why the boys were so reluctant.


I don’t remember the name of the priest, or his successor. I deliberately chose to forget their names and now I can’t recall them. But I do remember exactly what they looked like. I remember how high the altar was- high enough so that only the kids heads and part of their shoulders was visible when they were standing up. And I remember the looks on the boy’s faces when they came out from being behind the altar with the priest. Their eyes were scared, their backs rigid as they knelt and faced the image of the bloke on the cross on the front wall. We girls were never called in there. It was as if we were the decorations out the front, maintaining a distraction I guess.


The priest, and the subsequent ones who also engaged in this behaviour, could never remember our names. It was always ‘you – stand over here. You- with the yellow hair, you stand here.’ It has never been any wonder that the Weinsteins and Pells of the world conveniently ‘can’t recall’ what happened. When you see humans as disposable, you’re inclined to be gestalt and ‘enjoy’ the moment, with no thought of, or interest in, future consequences for the victims.


And then there was the sacristy. Where boys went in as little kids and came out as future domestic abusers or broken human beings. It was awful. We kids all knew though we didn’t talk about it much. One boy tried to tell his parents and was thrashed with his father’s leather belt for ‘telling lies’. He took to pinching his Dad’s smokes – rollies back in those days, and sharing them with his mates. Their awful secret bound them together, not much else did in that tiny village. Another father caught them one day and their punishment was to smoke willow sticks- which made them so ill that most of them gave up smoking on the spot. Punishment for being abused- it was always so!


To those who conclude it couldn’t happen because circumstances would not allow it. It did- in plain view! The High Court got it very wrong!


A year later my Mum’s boss also showed his colours, and parts of his anatomy we kids did not want to know about. He was one of those ‘popular’ characters. You know, the ones who played with the kids, and took them swimming, and the parents all thought he was ‘so good with the young ones’. After school we would go to his office for ‘tutoring’. I well remember him testing us on ‘mental maths’ which I loved as a kid. It started off being fun. And then one day my hand was guided down to something warm and soft. It felt squishy but started to grow, and for the first time I felt, not scared, as this was someone I trusted, but very uncomfortable. I remember saying ‘I don’t like that’, to which his response, and it is as clear 60 years later as it was that day was ‘ok we’ll try again tomorrow. I made excuses for a week to not go back but my maths had been improving so much my Mum kind of made me. My only defense was to pull my hand away, and later to laugh. I’ve been laughing at how pathetic pedophiles are ever since. He eventually suicided- only a few years ago.


At twelve years old I was sent away to boarding school. The only other schooling option in my tiny village at that time was ‘distance learning’ which was very rudimentary and only available to Year 10. The year before I had encountered a teacher who had unleashed an excitement about learning that I have never lost. Brilliant man, Mr Bruce. I remember him well. His passion was science and he believed that learning is not confined to schools. He too would take us out at odd hours. We climbed the mountain behind my house at midnight to learn astronomy. We went out into the bush and found an entire opalised tree. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I’m not sure whatever happened to that.


Boarding school was a dystopian nightmare for the first two years. There were kids as young as 6 there who cried every night for their parents. We slept in dormitories with curtains around our bed and locker. We showered once a week and washed our hair once a month (or under the freezing garden tap). One of the nuns took a particular interest in one of the young kids. After lights out she would come around and close all the curtains. This particular 10 year old girl had her bed directly opposite mine. The nun always seemed to spend a lot more time with her than with others and I would often hear crying after she left. It took six months for my friend Bernie and I to get her to talk about what was happening to her. She was being groped and raped on a nightly basis, poor kid. We were the only ones she told, and to not break her trust we took it on ourselves to effectively set up protection for her. When the nun would tell us to go to our own beds we would say no, we were staying with her as she was upset. When the nun- and I remember that pale, angelic face and the way she used to push her glasses back onto her nose, tried to make us, we told her if she ever touched x again, we would tell Reverend Mother (who terrified us). She stopped, but my punishment was meted out at every opportunity, particularly whenever she was in the refectory.


The boarding school I was at was, at the time, a novitiate and an infirmary. It meant we had the whole gamut of nuns from 16 year old postulants to 100 year old demented women. There were some good ones and I remember them with great fondness. But as a 12 year old I distinctly remember deciding the church had nothing to offer me and I made a vow to myself to survive and do whatever I could to show my disdain for the institution. I had to be careful not to get thrown out as I was always conscious of the financial strain on my parents in sending me there. I’ve always been grateful for that. So, Bernie and I did things like spiking the altar wine with the home made vodka we found in one of the nuns rooms, getting the college cat drunk and letting it loose in 6am chapel. When we moved from the dormitory into rooms of two, Bernie and I would barricade our door and refuse to get up for morning mass. One of us was always ‘sick’. Later, we would get one of the postulants to take the college car, an old holden sedan, and we’d sneak out to go to the drivein with her. There were so many antics they would, and probably should, fill a book and we never got caught. The series ‘Brides of Christ’ had nothing on what really happened. But gradually, strangely, the postulants and then the novices disappeared into the real world! One married a priest- which was lovely, one became a ‘lady of the night’, one got married and had six kids. Even the school Principal, who had taken her final vows ‘resigned’. I imagine the High Court would say all of those things were impossible too!


In Year 11, through a series of unfortunate events, I found myself at the end of Term 1 with no teacher. I was the only girl who had really, really wanted to study science (Mr Bruce again) and although the nuns tried everything to push me into doing ‘humanities, as that’s what girls study’, my parents, and bless them for this as they didn’t really understand it, held out for me to follow science. I was given a personal tutor. An 85 year old nun who had taught my Mum when she was at the school. And she was amazing. We did all our classes in a parlour full of magnificent antique furniture. Science experiments were done on amazing oak tables (covered in newspapers for protection). I loved it. Until the end of Term 1 when I was summoned to Rev Mother’s office. She simply announced ‘Mother Geralidine has died and you have a lot of work to catch up on when you rejoin your classes. You will need to work hard so you don’t fail.’ I was distraught.


In relating this to one of the Brothers from the local boys school at a footy match where my brother was playing and he was the coach, he simply said ‘we’ll see about that’. Next thing I knew I was back in Rev Mother’s office, with said Brother standing over her. He said ‘Rev Mother and I have decided the best thing for you is to ride your bike down and do your classes, except for RI (religious instruction) at the college (boys school). And that was how I did year 11 and 12. I was the first, I understand, co-ed student in the state, and possibly the country, though two other girls joined me for maths classes in Year 12. I never did Religious Instruction again. I often wonder if I’m the only kid to get through years 11 and 12 at Catholic school to achieve that.


In those two years that Brother was my protector and, as everyone was terrified of him, I have never felt so safe. To get to classrooms if it was raining I would have to walk, escorted, from my personal parlour where I was the only person allowed to invite people in, though the boys dormitories and there were often kids sick in bed. Once as I was walking through I saw one of the Brothers with a boy in the ‘room’ the Brother slept in, in the middle of the dormitory. My protector Brother, a big strong, incredibly fit former AFL footballer, saw it too. The next day we kids were told that Brother x had ‘had an accident and was in hospital’. We never saw him again.


There is much more to tell.


In 1998 Dr Gerardine Taylor, who has made this her life’s work, provided this study to the church. That’s how long, at least, they have been publicly aware of the problem.

Her conclusion is worth reading.


These people who prey on kids seem to have the same level of selective memory and lack of caring of the impact on their behaviour on others as many others including those who are financially corrupt. They don’t care. They are immature in their thinking and behaviour. They think they can get away with it, because they usually do. They think the law does not apply to them, because they have clever lawyers who can find legal loopholes. They are attentive to their own wants, regardless of how despicable those may be, and care – less of the impact of their behaviour on anyone who they see as ‘lesser’ than themselves.


To glorify these people is despicable. To believe them over their victims is despicable. To write newspaper headlines about how they have flouted the law is despicable.


Kids and women used to be seen as chattels. That mindset is still very much alive in the less than human among us.