HEARTBREAKING EVIDENCE: David Owen gives his testimony in the Royal Commission hearing into Neerkol Orphanage.
HEARTBREAKING EVIDENCE: David Owen gives his testimony in the Royal Commission hearing into Neerkol Orphanage. Contributed

Neerkol victim fulfils mum’s dying wish

IT WAS hard to obtain justice when the priest of Neerkol Orphanage, Father John Anderson, was friends with the State Children's Department inspector, a Mr Paterson.

That's what former resident David Owen alleged in yesterday's Royal Commission hearing into child sex abuse at Neerkol Orphanage.

But justice, and a promise made to his mother Catherine Pearl Owen, was finally served when David Owen told his story.

Catherine gave birth to David at Kidston in north Queensland. She was just 13 years of age.

The commission heard a police officer of the town, who David knew only as Constable 3322, raped his mother when she was 12.

It was Catherine's job each week to attend the Kidston Police Station to collect Constable 3322's dirty laundry and take it back to her grandmother's wash house.

David's maternal grandmother and her partner agreed that Catherine would live with them. However, Catherine's father Billy Owen made an application for David to be placed in state care without the consent or knowledge of his mother.

Eventually he was moved to Neerkol Orphanage by train, in January 1939, when he was five months old.

He lived there until January 1954. He was discharged from the state's care in July 1956. When he was released, he was sent to work on a couple of farms.

Later in life he found his mother in Newcastle, New South Wales. He moved there and got to know his mother, who died in October 1993. On her death bed, she made David promise he would pursue justice for the suffering he endured at Neerkol.

David said he regularly suffered physical abuse from nuns and others who were residents at the institution.

This included beatings with instruments such as the cat-of-nine-tails, stock whips, machine belts, bamboo canes, belts, straps, lantana branches and fists.

He also claimed nuns would also frequently stand on his feet with the heels of their shoes.

If David wet the bed, the soiled sheet was rubbed over him and he was forced to stand naked in the view of other residents with the dirty sheet on his head.

This was accompanied by a flogging and a cold shower, the commission was told.

David's alleged assailants were Tom Pattle, Mr Kelly, Sisters Assumpta Lonergan, Aquinas Delaney, Chanel Steer, Ignacious, James, Amelian, Borger and Anslem McHugh.

He alleged Fr John Anderson sexually abused him regularly.

The first person he discussed his experiences with was a farmer he simply knew as Mr Hanrahan, who he was sent to stay with after leaving the orphanage.

David said he had been mustering cattle on a certain day. When he got back to the yard, he climbed off his horse and Mr Hanrahan saw blood all over his pants.

When Mr Hanrahan asked what had happened, David said he told him about the abuse by Fr Anderson.

David was about 15 or 16 years old at the time.

"When I told Mr Hanrahan he took me to the State Children's Department where we met with Mr Paterson," he said.

"Mr Paterson was the inspector for the State Children's Department who would come to Neerkol.

"Before being sent out to Mr Hanrahan's farm I was sent to see Mr Paterson when he visited Neerkol.

"He (Paterson) told me I was a good worker but I couldn't go out to service until I stopped bleeding from the backside. He said he knew Fr Anderson was abusing me but I wasn't to tell anyone, and that if I was caught bleeding I was to say that it was piles.

"Mr Paterson and Fr Anderson were friends... he would have dinner at the presbytery with Fr Anderson when he came to see the children at Neerkol, and this was around once every three months."

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