Neerkol - Closed children's home west of Rockhampton. The Morning Bulletin
Neerkol - Closed children's home west of Rockhampton. The Morning Bulletin

EXCLUSIVE: Legislation loophole sees abuse case reopened

"THEY can rip the flesh from your bones, but never let them break your spirit."

Those are the 15 words which helped a Rockhampton woman survive seven years of alleged child sex abuse at Neerkol Orphanage on the outskirts of Rockhampton.

A loophole in Queensland legislation has led to the re-launch of police investigations into an alleged historical Neerkol Orphanage child abuse case.

Principal of Kernaghan & Associates Lawyers, Aaron Kernaghan, who represented many Neerkol victims at the Royal Commission in Rockhampton last year, discovered the loophole which prompted the re-launch.

The female victim involved, who cannot be identified due to legal reasons, bravely shared her story exclusively with The Morning Bulletin.

Following the death of her father in 1960, the woman said she and her six siblings were sent to Neerkol.

"In 1960, my dad died. Not long after that my mum had a massive breakdown due to his death and was taken to a mental hospital," the victim, who now lives in south-east Queensland, said.

"Mum had only just given birth to my little brother when it happened. I had five brothers and a sister and we were all sent to Neerkol in the early 1960s.

"We had a grandma who could have taken us but they said a black woman couldn't look after white kids. My grandma was at Neerkol too, she was a part of the stolen generation, and she knew how bad it was going to be."

While the victim did not want to re-live the horror of her abuse by detailing the alleged extent of it, she said it started as soon as she arrived at Neerkol as a 10-year-old.

"I arrived at Neerkol in the early 1960s and I was there until nearly the 1970s. I was sexually abused on and off for seven years," the victim said.

"I had a problem when I was a kid, I had a mouth. For that reason I was in and out of Neerkol between detention centres and mental hospitals. I was moved 30 times in the time I was there but I always ran away and ended up back at Neerkol."

The victim said the only thing that got her through the horrific abuse was the protective instincts she had for her siblings and words of advice from her grandmother.

"I knew I had to be at Neerkol because I had to look out for my brothers and sisters. At the home, we were never close. You couldn't really mix with your family. The boys were in a different dorm. We didn't have a childhood together," she said.

"Every second weekend our grandma came out and saw us. She told me something I will never forget, it got me through my time at Neerkol 'They can rip the flesh from your bones but never let them break your spirit'.

"She also taught me how to disassociate and go to my 'happy place' when I was being abused."

The victim said on top of the lack of contact with her siblings and family, she felt further isolated as for many years she thought she was the only abuse victim.

"None of us (the girls at the orphanage) knew what was going on until another girl, Faye Hicks (author of St Joseph's Home Neerkol), had a haemorrhage one day.

"We all thought we were the only ones being abused. We didn't realise all of us were," she said. "We were brainwashed, bribed and threatened. We were too scared to tell anyone because we were scared of what was going to happen."

When the victim was 17, she said she had the chance to escape the abuse and while her living circumstances weren't the best, she never looked back.

"When I was 17 they sent me to work on a farm out at Biloela and as soon as I turned 18, I ran away," she said. "They wanted to try and keep me at Neerkol until I was 21.

"I lived under the Fitzroy River Bridge for five months and it was the happiest time of my life because I was finally free.

"I had nothing so I borrowed a set of clothes off a clothesline and a pair of shoes from another house.

"I used to sleep in the boat shed which used to be near the bridge. There was a gap just big enough for a skinny kid to fit through. I'd always be out before anyone came to open the shed.

"After five months I got a job at St John's Hospital and I lived in the nurses' quarters. I had a big comfy bed and three meals a day.

"As soon as I got my first pay-cheque I returned the clothes and shoes I had borrowed."

Nearly 50 years after her escape from horror, the victim is still recovering from the abuse and fighting for justice so she can live the rest of her life free of fear.

"I've been fighting for justice for five and a half decades. All I have ever wanted from all of this is justice," she said.

"It would be nice to be able to come back to Rockhampton because my parents and grandparents are all buried there. But I can't come home while he (the alleged abuser) is alive or walking free.

"I have never consumed alcohol in my life but the day he dies or is sent to prison, I will got out and buy the biggest bottle of champagne I can find and drink it all myself to celebrate.

"I'd be able to start to have a life. I want a life beyond this. I don't want to live in fear anymore."

The Morning Bulletin yesterday confirmed with Queensland Police the victim's complaints were being investigated, but were awaiting further comment at time of publication.

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