Child told ‘massive adoption lie’ before being placed in Australian orphanage

A child moved to the other side of the world after a “massive lie” gave her hope she would find a better life there, an inquiry has been told.

A witness told the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry (SCAI) of her upset when she arrived in Australia at the age of 14 to find she was being placed in an orphanage run by nuns, contrary to her expectation that she might be adopted by a family.

In the institution, she was not allowed to continue her schooling, was made to carry out heavy work in the kitchen and was “knocked around” by a nun, the probe was told.

The woman, now aged 85, gave evidence to the hearing in Edinburgh via a video link from western Australia on Monday.

The witness, who was in care in Scotland before leaving on a ship for Australia in the 1940s after the Second World War, told how the issue of moving countries was raised at her school in Edinburgh.

“A gentleman and a lady said ‘who would like to go to Australia?’ I didn’t know where Australia was, but I thought it must be better than what I had so far, so I put my hand up.”

The woman, who cannot be identified, added: “We were told it was going to be a much better life. We were very disappointed to know we were going into an orphanage. That really upset me, I didn’t think it was going to be like that.”

Referring to a previous statement by the witness, senior counsel to the inquiry Colin MacAulay QC said: “You realised you’d been told a massive lie.”

Agreeing, the witness added: “It was something we didn’t believe, that we were going to another home. That wasn’t explained to us, that we were going to an orphanage especially.”

The woman told how she arrived at St Joseph’s orphanage in Perth, run by the Sisters of Mercy religious order, with a suitcase of clothes, jewellery and presents, but they were taken from her and she was only allowed to wear shoes and socks when visitors came round.

She said: “I was hoping to go back to school but they put me into the kitchen. There were other girls who were 14 who were allowed to go to school, which upset me a bit … It was very hard (work).”

She described an occasion in which she got into trouble with a nun after someone locked the witness in a workshop and she could not be found.

“I got knocked around,” she said.

“She slapped me across the face, back and forth, which was pretty horrible.

“We had another nun, you’d have to line up for meals and she had a stick and if you got out of line or talked, she’d poke you in the arm with this. They were quite cruel.”

She told of a lack of emotional support and preparation for the outside world at the institution.

“That was the worst time, when I left the orphanage. I was very depressed because I was on my own.

“I didn’t know how to use a telephone or anything like that.”

The inquiry heard the witness left the institution in the early 1950s and returned to Scotland for a visit in the mid-1970s, where she saw her parents again.

“I didn’t have any feelings at all for either of them,” she said.

“I was hoping that I would feel something, but there wasn’t anything there at all.”

The SCAI heard how the child had spells at Nazareth House in Kilmarnock, East Ayrshire, and the Good Shepherd home in Colinton, Edinburgh, before moving to Australia.

She described her experience at Nazareth House as “not very good”, adding: “I was very scared all the time.”

The inquiry, before Lady Smith, continues on Tuesday.

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