Another first person account.
In the late 1950s, I spent the best part of a year in the Diamatina Receiving Depot in the Brisbane suburb of Wooloowin, otherwise known as Warilda. It was a Queensland Government crisis-care facility with never more than about 3-4 boys, in which I had been placed following a failed foster placement. Separated from siblings and parents, it was a lonely place, except for one thing.
On Friday nights, it was the practice to screen a movie in the main reception/dining area. This was provided by the owner of the local cinema. We would sit on rugs on the floor to watch the show. It was really cool, mainly because of what preceded it.
Adjacent to Warilda was a facility known as the Holy Cross Laundry. Teenage girls who lived there, and the staff, came over for the movie showing. Before the movie, the girls would pay a lot of attention to me. I can recall a nurse from my facility warning me not to pester them too much because they worked very hard and this was their night off.
Nevertheless, pester them I did. They taught me to sing along with the radio “Hit-Parade”, encouraged me to read and took an interest in my school work. This happened while the room was cleared of furniture and the projector and screen were being set up etc. Usually, I fell asleep somewhere during the movie.
Many years later, as an adult researching the “Homes” issue, I found out the true nature of the Holy Cross Laundry. It was a Home for unmarried teenage mothers-to-be. However, the babies were forcibly taken away for adoption. As if this wasn’t bad enough, the girls were used as slave labour. Recently, attention has been given to the notorious Magdalene Laundry (pictured above) in Ireland which, under the supervision of nuns, and with the collusion of government, did the same.
The girls who had been so kind to me (the only kindness I can remember from 11 years in various “Homes”) were about to be scarred for life. Besides the forced labour and forced adoption, there was a third evil perpetrated by those who ran the Laundry. This was the effect on their children. The system of forced adoptions, ably recounted elsewhere, continued into the 1980s.
Earlier in the week, the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader delivered an apology to the women and their children for the forced adoption policy. Critically, the event was marred by two things. The Opposition Leader used an unfortunate choice of words. Then the event was overshadowed by the machinations in the federal Labor Party over the PM’s position. An opportunity to have the issue front and centre before the public was greatly diminished.
It has taken much longer for the public to get the message about these Homes than for other types of Homes. Media people, professionals and the like eventually could understand about orphanages, State-ward Children’s Homes and even juvenile detention centers. However, they could not understand about the forced adoption centers. Their eyes would glaze over when the attempt was made to enlighten them about the issue. Perhaps they did not believe such an evil could occur. Eventually, I had to give up trying, which has engendered a feeling of guilt in me for years. Finally, and fortunately for my conscience, the women themselves, sometimes with the support of their long-lost children, have raised public consciousness of the issue to the point of formal apology.
There is still a long fight ahead of them. Some organisations, notably the St. Vincent de Paul Society, have yet to acknowledge what they did and deliver a suitable apology. Further, they have resisted calls for compensation and continue to hide behind their lawyers. Here, compensation has, rightly, focused initially on the actual forced adoption. There then remains the issue of compensation for the forced labour. The Irish Magdalene Laundry case should provide ammunition for activists in Australia.
While this account normally must concentrate on the Royal Commission’s restriction to matters involving child sexual abuse, it is valid to consider the forced adoptions issue as an indication of prevailing attitudes in the second half of the twentieth century.
Priests were molesting children. Nuns were oppressing young women. The female clergy has tended to escape scrutiny of their own forms of institutionalised evil. The people who ran and supported facilities like the Holy Cross Laundry ran a slave-labour racket. They also ran a baby-trafficking racket. There can be few greater assaults on civilised society.
And they both claimed to be the guardians of Christian values.
Read more here:
TOMORROW: Background to the NSW Government enquiry
That’s all I can say
Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)