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The Order of the Sisters of Mercy are a religious congregation of women within the Catholic Church. In 1846, the Sisters of Mercy arrived in Australia.
On 11 November 1867, the Sisters of Mercy established and opened St Vincent’s Orphanage Nudgee, QLD (previously known as New Farm St Vincent’s), situated on Queens Road, Nudgee, QLD. St Vincent’s Orphanage Nudgee was commonly known as ‘Nudgee Orphanage’.
The institution changed its name in 1935 to St Vincent’s Children’s Home and operated under that name until its closure in 1971.
The 1999 report of the Commission of Inquiry into Abuse of Children in Queensland Institutions provided the reasoning behind the government’s decision to provide funding to St Vincent’s Orphanage in 1867. There had been an economic collapse in 1866, with the result that the government-run institution, the Diamantina Orphanage, was “bursting at the seams with destitute children”. Providing funding to a denominational institution was a cheaper alternative for the Queensland government than to wholly finance a new institution.
St Vincent’s Orphanage Nudgee has become infamous for the ill-treatment of many of the children who were placed at the orphanage over the years.
The establishment of St Vincent’s Orphanage Nudgee was based on the Christian belief of helping the unfortunate, however, as the Forde Commission of Inquiry into Abuse of Children in Queensland in 1991 found, the opposite typically occurred.
St Vincent’s Orphanage Nudgee was run by the Sisters of Mercy and other lay staff who were largely untrained in childcare work and who built a regime of obedience and commanded by severe discipline and punishment. For example, children who ran away from St Vincent’s Orphanage Nudgee were usually beaten on return, and children were caned for making mistakes during learning activities.
Sexual abuse was also prevalent in St Vincent’s Orphanage Nudgee due to children being left in the power of untrained lay staff such as older boys who became employees at the orphanage and who were largely given the run of the orphanage, with little or no control by the Sisters of Mercy.
A survivor, Keith Davies, wrote an online article on 2 October 2019 outlining his horrible experiences whilst placed at St Vincent’s Orphanage Nudgee, with some of the details as follows:
Beatings: I received a lot of them. Open-handed, closed fists, belts, razor strops. Some of the Sisters were very angry people and they took their frustrations out on me, and others. And what was I at the time when it all started? A defenceless five year old.
The food: It was awful. The best that can be said about it is that it kept you alive. It was contaminated and sub-standard. Because I was so thin and malnourished I was forced, once the regular meal was finished, to sit on a bench at a special table, the skinny kids’ table, and forced to consume a second meal of cerevita porridge under the staring gaze of all… The bloat of stomach pain lingers in my memory. The open-handed slaps to the side of my head from the Sisters when I could not finish the second meal lingers in my memory. The taunts stuck. Not only did the Sisters not stop them, they doubled-down and reinforced them with their stinging slaps.
Oral Rape: I was five/six years old. I was dragged into a closed room in the dormitory and assaulted by an adult male. The feeling of being smothered has never left me. He covered my nostrils with his hand and he gagged my mouth with his penis. I couldn’t breathe. I was terrified. When he finished he punched me, closed fist, and promised more of the same if I said anything…The assault happened in a Nun’s bedroom…
Anal Rape: I was hauled before a Head Nun because my serge shorts, special shorts that we got to wear to mass on Sunday, were soiled on the rear. She physically beat me with a razor strop for soiling the shorts and would not listen to anything I tried to say. The beating was body-wide and it totally demolished me. And why were the shorts soiled? They were soiled with leakage from my rectum. Semen, excreta, and blood. I was an Alter Boy, and I had been anally raped by the Priest who had visited to say Mass. There was no grooming involved, it was a sudden and brutal attack. Where were my protectors, the Sisters of Mercy, the Archdiocese, and the State? Raped, and then viciously beaten…
Mental cruelty: That was a way of life. Any expression of individuality was met with a beating, a thumping…
We are specialist abuse lawyers and can help you receive acknowledgement, meaningful apology and financial resolution from those institutions and systems of power that failed to protect you from harm. If you would like advice in relation to a childhood or adult sexual, physical and/or psychological/emotional abuse claim in any jurisdiction in Australia, please reach out to the author, Emily Wright, at Littles Lawyers today.
Further Abuse Law information written by our Emily Wright can be found on our website.