Waiting for Apology
FOR Bendigo resident Veronica, next Monday will be a special day.
She will be one of thousands of men and women raised in institutions travelling to Canberra to hear Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s Forgotten Australians apology.
Veronica was raised in Abbotsford Convent in Melbourne and St Aidan’s Orphanage in Bendigo, both run by the Good Shepherd nuns.
She was subject to humiliation, brutality, was forced to work long hours in a commercial laundry and felt abandoned, but she doesn’t blame those who were directly responsible.
Veronica, was one of 500,000 Australians who suffered abuse and neglect while in out-of-home care last century.
Veronica, then aged three, and some of her siblings were put in care in 1957 because their mother suffered from a mental illness and their father couldn’t cope with their six children.
“If you were removed from your parents, under the system children were charged with being in need of care and made wards of the state,” she said.
Veronica and some of her siblings were in and out of the Abbotsford Convent for the next six years.
Her mother fought the system and regained custody, albeit for a short time.
“The state government had a policy of moving all deserted wives to country areas,” she said.
“They built Hillside and Bradfield estates in Kangaroo Flat as a response. That is how we ended up here.”
From the age of 12 to 15, Veronica and her three sisters were taken to St Aidan’s Orphanage, also run by the Good Shepherds.
The two older siblings were separated from the young ones and forced to work in the orphanage’s commercial laundry. They only met up for a couple of hours a week.
While in care in both places, Veronica was subject to tough conditions.
“At Abbotsford, all we did was clean. There were no toys, no playgrounds, no green grass, so what do you do with a lot of little children, you work them,” she said.
“If I wet the bed I had to stand in the corner with my wet sheet over my head. The tough thing was there were no toilets upstairs where we slept.
“I was hungry a lot of the time. If we were sick we had to stay in the infirmary all day by ourself.
“Most of the brutality was done at night by the older girls, because we were alone in the dorms.
“You were at the mercy of whoever was there. It was horrifying, but you didn’t know any different.
“That was just the way life was. You didn’t know life could be any different.”
At St Aidans, Veronica and one of her sisters were forced to work long hours in the laundry.
“When we weren’t in school we were working in the laundry,” she said.
“St Aidan’s ran a linen service. We did work for all the churches, the robes for the nuns, for St Mary’s boarding school, St Vincent’s and all the motels.
“They employed a couple of men who worked the large washing machines. We would spend hours working there.
“The reason I have so many problems with my bones is because I did so much work in the laundry.”
Despite such a tough childhood, Veronica was not keen to point blame, at pains to urge people not to see her as a victim, or her childhood as brutal.
“The girls were cruel but they didn’t know any different,” she said.
“You can’t blame them because when they were younger the older girls did the same thing.
“I also often feel sorry for the nuns. Why would you give custody of all those little children to a group of institutionalised nuns who had no experience rearing children?
“The nuns did the best they could. They thought they were doing a great job.”
Veronica’s blame is levelled at the state and federal governments, which is what makes Monday’s apology, four years after the state government’s apology, so significant.
“The shame associated with being in an orphanage is really quite profound for some people,” she said.
“We don’t feel ashamed, but the state and federal government should be ashamed because they abandoned all those children.
“They placed us in these places with no systems in place to check we were being cared for.
“Once you were placed in there, I felt the government thought they had no more responsibility.”
Veronica said being raised in an orphanage often had long-term affects on children.
“Being raised in an orphanage is difficult because you don’t have any life skills when you leave,” she said.
“You can’t do things others take for granted, including little thinks like cooking or catching a bus.
“All of a sudden you had to make decisions but you couldn’t cope because someone else had always made decisions for you.”