3rd February 2019 | Claire Moodie | ABC News
They call themselves the "Joey Girls", a group of women linked by a horrific childhood and— decades on — a new fight for recognition.
They rarely talk about what happened at St Joseph's Orphanage in the Perth suburb of Subiaco — it's too painful. But these women, who still meet today for companionship and support, know they share the same scars.
Philomena Hall and Patricia Wenman were shipped out from the UK as child migrants. They now have to wear hearing aids in their left ears as a result, they say, of the standard punishment meted out by the Sisters of Mercy for sins such as answering back or talking in church.
"You could feel a bloody big pop when they did it, it just sent you flying," Patricia Wenman says.
"If you didn't get a slap across the ear, you got a big cane like this.
"Five on each hand. You couldn't write the next day, your hands were so sore."
It's not only the physical abuse that haunts Patricia's older sister, Rose Kruger, who was sent over from an orphanage in Scotland as a nine-year-old, two years before her younger sibling.
It was the basic lack of humanity.
On arrival in Western Australia in 1947, she was issued with clothes with the number 92 marked on them. Everyone had a number at St Joseph's.
"There might have been 20 nuns there … I'd say four treated us like human beings," Ms Kruger recalls.
"In the evening … we had to sit on buckets to use the toilet before we went to bed, with the nuns standing and older girls standing, just watching us.
'That was dreadful, even for a little kid … to sit on a bucket and have an audience."
Girls were 'being punished by God'
Ms Kruger didn't brush her teeth until she was 16, and not out of choice.
There were no toothbrushes at St Joseph's at that time and only one shower a week was allowed.
She says when the girls got their periods, the sisters told them they were being "punished by God".
Education was minimal. As Rose Kruger puts it:
"They taught us how to work and they taught us how to pray."
When she got her first job in the outside world at 16, she had to give all her wages to the orphanage where she still lived and never saw the money again.
A double betrayal
Like many other graduates of WA's children's homes, Ms Kruger, now aged 80, has suffered from periods of anxiety and depression.
But, she is also a battler, working full-time until the age of 76.
She now lives on the pension and rents a small state housing unit in an inner city suburb of Perth.
But, it's is a more recent betrayal of trust that these women are fighting to expose.
They are part of a new push to revisit the West Australian redress scheme.
The scheme was approved by the Carpenter Labor government in 2007 with $90.2 million set aside for ex-gratia payments for people who suffered historical child abuse in state care.
But, there was outrage in 2009 when the incoming Barnett Liberal government halved the promised payments to thousands of survivors.
Victims were promised up to $80,000 as a maximum payment for the most severe abuse, but when modelling suggested there were more applicants than expected, the government dropped the payment levels to meet demand.
A betrayal 'as bad as it gets'
Philippa White, who runs Fremantle-based support service Tuart Place, says the maximum payment of $80,000 dropped to $45,000 and the minimum of $10,000 was reduced to $5000.
"As a betrayal of trust, it was as bad as it gets," Dr White says.
"Everyone had their payment approximately halved and everyone was told their abuse meant half as much.
"Some ended up owing lawyers more than they got in their final payment.
"Shortly after, the Optus Stadium was announced as a new development so there are plenty of people who call that stadium 'Redress Stadium' because they feel their money was taken to build that structure in particular."
Call for surplus to right a wrong
As a look back at Hansard records from that time shows, Labor — then in opposition — joined in the protests, urging the government to find the estimated $80 million needed to honour the original payments.
Ben Wyatt, now the WA Treasurer, told Parliament that to "change the rules in midstream" was "completely and utterly unacceptable".
Other Labor MPs called it a "second betrayal", saying the care leavers had been "dudded again".
Former party leader Eric Ripper summed it up by saying: "I can assure members that the previous Labor government would have found that $80 million."
A decade on, Tuart Place and other organisations representing former child migrants and Australian-born care leavers, about half of whom are Aboriginal, are calling on the McGowan Labor Government to use its projected budget surplus to do just that.
"Ten years have passed but that moral wrong has not changed — it's still unfinished business," Dr White said
"We're calling on the Labor Government, now back in power, now with a surplus, to make redress right … to reinstate the original payment level or to enter into discussions about whatever financial model could be put in place to make right the wrong that people feel."
For victims, it's not about the money
WA Child Protection Minister Simone McGurk has apologised to the victims in Parliament for the redress debacle.
But she declined to comment on the latest push to "make redress right".
A spokeswoman from her office said that the issue would be "considered in the upcoming budget".
Ms Kruger, like thousands of others, is not eligible for the new National Redress Scheme currently underway because the abuse she suffered was physical and emotional, not sexual.
She did receive $28,000 from Redress WA, about half what she was hoping for.
Forced to make ends meet on the pension, she says any extra funds would come in handy. But, she says her motivation is not about the money.
"The [state] Liberal government did the wrong thing by us. I think Labor should honour it for everybody that was in care."
In 1997, the Sisters of Mercy paid for Ms Kruger and other child migrants to fly back to the UK on a trip called "The sentimental journey".
In a statement to the ABC, the Institute of Sisters of Mercy Australia said it was committed to creating and maintaining an environment that was safe, supportive, caring and nurturing for all children and vulnerable people.
It encouraged anyone who may have been harmed or adversely affected in any of its current or former facilities to contact the institute.
"All allegations of abuse and harm are taken very seriously and we have comprehensive procedures in place to assist claimants," the statement said.
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