THE Hunter woman who will probably be the oldest abuse survivor at Monday’s national apology has already warned her daughter to bring tissues.
“Emotional? Definitely. I told my daughter I’ll be blubbering. All these things stir up memories. It never fades,” said Mary*, 96, who was six years old when her parents abandoned her and her four siblings in 1927 and she was sent to live in a Catholic orphanage with her sister.
She is one of a number of Hunter survivors who will be among 800 people in the Great Hall of Parliament in Canberra on Monday to hear the apology by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, after a ballot of thousands of survivors who wanted to attend.
“I think this is very important for everybody. At last we’re being believed. That’s a very big thing to us,” Mary said.
She has not been to Parliament House before. Having the prime minister say sorry on behalf of Australians was significant because “he’s coming down to our level in understanding us on our level”, Mary said.
The Sisters of St Joseph in 2009 confirmed Mary and her sister were admitted to the St Josephs Girls Home at Gore Hill on January 19, 1928 and didn’t leave until two days before Christmas, 1933, when they travelled to Newcastle to live with their mother.
She applied for compensation under the National Redress Scheme on July 15 and was advised this week that her matter could not progress until the Sisters of St Joseph signed on to the scheme.
Mary would like to remind everyone that she is 96.
“If the Sisters of St Joseph don’t put money in then we don’t get it, and I’m in a bit of a hurry,” she said.
A spokesperson for the order said the Sisters of St Joseph are “committed to signing up for the National Redress Scheme. We are in communication with the National Redress office in relation to meeting the requirements of the scheme”.
Mary has found reports this week about the welfare of asylum seeker children on Naura distressing. She believes all adults are responsible – their parents and government authorities.
“I feel for the children. I put myself in the same position. You’re helpless. You’re depending on adults to take care of you and they don’t. Parents put their children there but the government should care for the children. They should put the children’s welfare first. It’s the children’s right to expect it of the government,” Mary said.
The abuse she suffered at the orphanage – where children were “hiding in plain sight” – was too easily triggered by reports of children suffering on Nauru.
“We were silenced and powerless. We have never forgotten what happened to us as children and it’s the same for them. It’ll be a scar on them for life,” Mary said.
“I feel a lot of grief that I missed my childhood.”
*Mary is a name chosen by the Hunter woman for this article.