We Were Little Slaves': Child Abuse Survivors Share Stories Ahead of Royal Commission Findings
By Emily Piesse
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
December 13, 2017
|PHOTO: Dallas Phillips with a photograph of herself as a baby with her sister on the family farm in Goomalling.|
Dallas Phillips describes her childhood in Western Australia as akin to slavery.
It began in the Wheatbelt town of Goomalling, where the Noongar woman was beaten by a local priest.
"I still see him in my sleep. He was a really, really bad man," she said.
She acted out against the abuse and was sent to the Benedictine Community of New Norcia, about an hour's drive away.
The New Norcia diocese had the highest number of alleged child sex offenders in the WA Catholic Church between 1950 and 2010.
"I suffered so much," Ms Phillips recalled.
"A lot of those priests were really bad. Really bad. And the nuns, they were really, really hard, nasty women.
"We were just little black kids at New Norcia. We had no schooling. We were little slaves, little sex things when they wanted. They didn't empower us as people, you know?"
|PHOTO: Dallas Phillips as a baby with her family before she was taken to New Norcia.|
The grandmother recalls being put to work in the laundry, packing room, kitchen and chook yard, and receiving a "very limited education".
Ms Phillips said for a long time she blamed herself for the abuse.
"I was ashamed for a lot of years but now I feel empowered to talk out, because these men and women at the time had no skills in looking after little people, let alone little babies," she said.
"The women, so-called nuns, they were very hard. Very strict, you know? No nurturing. No guiding."
Ms Phillips, who still lives in Goomalling, made a message stick for Chrissie Foster after watching her speak on television with her husband Anthony about their family's experience.
Two of the Fosters' three daughters were sexually abused by a Catholic priest.
"I wanted to do something because I felt so sorry and helpless," Ms Phillips told Ms Foster when they met in Melbourne.
Ms Phillips gave evidence at one of the private hearings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
"I feel good when I get it out. That's what our people need to do, is get it out."
'Hell on Earth': Peter's story
The royal commission will hand its final report to the Governor-General tomorrow, after five years of public inquiries.
For Peter, who wants to be known only by his first name, telling his story to the royal commission was transformative.
The 53-year-old truck driver was taken into care with his twin brother as a two-year-old in New South Wales.
The boys were physically and sexually abused as wards of the state in multiple homes, including the notorious Mittagong Training School for Boys, which he described as "hell on Earth".
On one occasion, Peter's nose was broken.
|PHOTO: Peter was abused at various homes in New South Wales while he was a state ward. (ABC News: Manny Tesconi)|
He said he ran away many times and ended up living on the streets of Sydney's Kings Cross, at the age of 15.
"I didn't want to live in Sydney anymore, in Kings Cross, because I was doing things in the Cross where young kids shouldn't be doing, but it was the only way I could survive," he said.
"So I climbed the Harbour Bridge and I decided after sitting up there for three hours to make a choice in life - either move out or die.
"I decided to move to WA and my life just completely did a 100 per cent turnaround."
Apology letter a breakthrough
Peter, who is married and lives in Perth, gave evidence to the royal commission in 2014.
Until then, his two teenage daughters were unaware of the abuse.
He has since received a payout from the NSW Government, which was deemed to have failed in its duty of care.
But he regards a two-page letter of apology from the NSW Department of Community Services as far more significant than the money.
"It doesn't matter what dollar value I got at the end of the day, trust me. That means nothing to me. That letter is gold to me. They've accepted responsibility," he said.
"It doesn't heal anything but it's part of the way to accept and say, look, they made mistakes, what can we learn from these mistakes and go forward."
He said he hoped his decision to tell his story would inspire others to do the same.
"There's a lot of people that haven't come forward yet because they're embarrassed, scared and do not understand the process," he said.
While the royal commission has not brought him closure, Peter says he is thankful for the process.
"The biggest thing I want out of the royal commission is listen to children at the end of the day. They are the future.
"If you don't listen to children, we've not learnt anything."