Thank God 2016 Is Over

Posted by on Dec 7, 2016 in choice, desire, faith, goal setting, rebirth, renewal, self esteem | 0 comments


Every year it’s the same thing, nearly everyone says it, “Thank God that year is over. Hopefully, the next one will bring something better.” I was no exception. Every year, no fail, these words would leave my lips. “Thank God that’s over, bring on the next year I’m ready.” In fact, I wasn’t ready. I truly think anyone that says those words won’t be ready for a clean slate new year either. You see, until you change your attitude, thoughts, actions and perceptions of the situations and your current life, nothing will ever change, nothing will ever be better or good enough. Things will always go on the same. Life will constantly present the same issues and problems to you unless you learn to look at them differently and solve your problems once and for all. A new year is not going to make those changes for you. New Year’s Eve is not magic, it is just the movement of a hand on the clock, the sun and moon in the sky. It cannot possibly bring about any change for you.
I know that sometimes life sucks, hell I really do know. I have had just about everything thrown at me over the years, but I’ve learned to change the way I think about things, and that has been only recently. With my new perspective on things, in a way I’m a little sad to see this year leave. I must admit it has been better than most but still filled with sickness, injury, sadness, death, hiccups and the rest of the baggage that I could quite easily drag together and use the words “I’m glad this year is over” on, but I refuse to. Instead, I am turning all of those things into the positive because there really is always something to be grateful for.

Such as: I still have terminal cancer, but my tumour has died. This is great news. Now it means that the only threat is metastatic spread. Yes, it is a threat but never the less it hasn’t happened, so I’m in a good place. My kidney disease hasn’t improved in fact it is slightly worse than it was at the start of the year, but I still have functioning kidneys, no matter how low in function they are, they are still there. So that is a positive. At present I do not need dialysis. My little grandson was born with a feeding disorder, he still has that disorder, but he no longer requires the nasogastric tube, so that is a step in the right direction. I had to have two knee repairs this year which were tough, but I can still walk, with pain, but my legs are still there. I have not hit the big one, won the lotto or anything else, but I have food in my refrigerator, a roof over my head and enough to share with friends and family, I have been blessed. Of course, winning lotto would be wonderful, but it is not a necessity for my happiness. We recently had an issue with our car that could have been devastating to our plans, but we remained positive, and now we have a new car courtesy of the dealer. I have found old friends this year that I have missed a lot, each of them now brings a new perspective to my life which I am grateful for. Our old cat was given six months to live about a year and a half ago. We end this year with her still alive. So all in all, sickness or no, money or no, lotto or no, this year has been a good positive year and is ending well for me.


I look forward to the New Year but will be sad to see this one go. With the sun setting on the 31st of December 2016, it will be another year of my life gone, but this time not a year that has been wished away. I have savoured every day of it. The good and the bad. I am grateful for every sunrise because it means I’ve been given another day. I hope that you too can find this peace so that you never have to wish another year of your life away again. Look for the positives in every situation they are there. I hope you find them. A very merry Christmas to you all and a very happy New Year.


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5 By 5 Rule

Posted by on Oct 4, 2016 in choice, control, despair, manipulation, persistence, respect | 0 comments

5 By 5 Rule

I recently saw a meme on Facebook that said…

“If it’s not going to matter in five years, then don’t give it five minutes of your time now.”

How appropriate.

There are many annoyances in this life, people, places and things. It is how you react to those annoyances that say more about you than it does about them.

Quite simply, take each situation on its own merit. Is it going to affect you five years from now? No, then don’t give it energy, it is not deserving. Yes, it is, then maybe you need to take action, be careful though actions speak louder than words and some actions cannot be reversed.

poor choice

Maybe you need to sit back for a while and take stock. Or, plot your revenge. Whichever is more deserving of your time? Or maybe you just need to see the situation, or the person for how ridiculous they really are. Most individuals who set out to annoy other people are petty, controlling, snot nosed twats.

Getting all eaten up over a petty annoyance is only bad for you. It will cause you sleepless nights, stomach aches, headaches and a whole range of other physical symptoms. If a person has caused you this annoyance, they are not going to care about how you are feeling. All they care about is that they have created a scenario in which they can sit back and watch you squirm. They want you to bite back at them, then they can play the victim card. Narcissism is generally involved with these type of people. Watching you squirm is where they get their satisfaction from. Don’t give it to them.

It is harder to walk away than it is to stand and fight and at the end of the day you will be the bigger person. So, is it going to matter five years from now? I know mine isn’t… it will be lucky to last five more minutes. Have a bright, blessed day.


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You Are Not The Judge

Posted by on Jun 5, 2016 in choice, despair, emotions, lacking, manipulation, open minded, respect, self esteem, suffering, support | 2 comments

You Are Not The Judge

In the last six weeks, I have had quite a lesson. Sadly I learned that I am judgemental. This needs to change because I do not like judgemental people. I was genuinely shocked to learn this about myself, given that I have always prided myself on what I believed was my ability to see past the person and their difficulties and be balanced enough to give chances where required and show the same respect I would afford to anybody, or that I would expect myself.

As a matter of fact, I have been taught to check my judgements at the door and base my opinions simply on what I see in front of me. Who knows what is fact, what is true, what is not right or biased unless you have had that situation arise with the person you are judging.

When people have an opinion they are happy enough to share with you, first of all, you have to remember that it is THEIR opinion and will be coloured by their own personal bias. How they judge, another is entirely different to how you might judge someone. And don’t forget one crucial thing, if they are happy enough to discuss their judgements of others with you, have a think about what they are saying about you to others when you are out of ear’s reach. Everyone deserves a chance and quite simply it makes me sick that people sit in judgement of other’s when they do not know them, have not had any dealings with them and are quite simply just listening to the opinion of someone who quite simply is a gossip and has an agenda.

When you listen to the views of other people and base your judgements on what they say, you could easily judge someone unfairly based on that person’s personal bias. Why should I do that? What right do I have to judge another without first interacting with that person? Doesn’t everyone deserve a chance? Only recently I have been judged unfairly by someone who has no clue who I am, but because of the opinion of someone else who should know better, that person has now lost the opportunity to have a relationship with me that might have ended up as a great acquaintance, a friend or a lifelong friend… we had a lot in common. I can’t say where the relationship might have ended up, but now I say, if they are willing to judge me based simply on the biased opinion of a gossip then so be it, there will never be a relationship. Their loss.

I could possibly have judged another unfairly just recently myself based simply on the person’s background. I am lucky enough that I was not put in that situation, I would hate to think what the consequences would have been, sadly it could have been devastating. We all do it: we all judge other people. Sometimes we judge without knowing their story, their background or their chosen path. Why do we judge?

Very few of us judge based on our own perceptions, we judge on the opinions and the character assassination of others, we judge on the known background of the person, and we judge because it is human to judge.

So next time you meet someone, before you judge them, ask yourself why, why should you? Why are you judging them? Who knows they might turn out to be someone truly special in your life. Just because they didn’t fit the criteria of a more critical person, they might be just right for you. Be unique. Don’t judge.



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It’s Raining

Posted by on Mar 18, 2016 in articulate, choice, control, desire, faith, freedom, goal setting, intelligent, love, persistence, rebirth, renewal, respect, self esteem, Uncategorized | 0 comments

It’s Raining

It’s raining outside. I can remember as a very young child rain meant that I could not go and do the things that I wanted to do. I didn’t like rain much back then; I saw it as a barrier. I could not walk to my friend’s house to play outside, so I saw the rain as not so nice for me at that time. I would sit at the window for hours with my chin firmly planted on the palm of my hands, watching the cars and life go by.

Then as I got a bit older and nobody cared what I did anymore, the rain did not stop me. If it was raining, I went and did what I wanted to do anyway, walked, played, ran… the rain was wet, the rain was fun. It could be pouring outside and I wouldn’t have cared, I was carefree, young and did not understand why other people ran with umbrellas and papers above their heads.

Then as I got older, again rain held me back. I found that I was the one with the umbrella, I was the one shielding myself from getting wet. Not letting the rain touch me. What was I scared of? A little water. I think there is a far deeper meaning behind not wanting to get wet although I haven’t until now been able to put my finger on it. Not the fact that my hairstyle will be ruined, you can fix that again. Or my makeup will run down my face, that’s a three-minute job. No, I think that when rain touches you, it cleanses all that is wrong with you. It washes away what is unnatural, what is not supposed to be there. Hairspray, makeup, perfume, etc. … just to name a few.

And when it rains on your parade, look up rather than down. Without the rain, there would be no rainbow. -Jerry Chin

Tonight it is raining outside, and now I am old. I no longer have to keep my hair in perfect order, or paint my face every day to exist on a level playing field, or iron my clothes so I don’t look out of order if they are crinkly and wet. But in all these years what I have learned about rain is that it brings with it a deep sense of cleansing, so yes, I was right.

Have you every just sat and smelt how fresh the air is after a gentle rain? Have you ever stopped and looked around at how clean the world looks when it is wet. Have you ever thought maybe, just maybe we need to let it rain inside us, just once in a while so that we to can smell fresh and clean.

woman in the rainI’m not talking about cleansing one’s body, although rain just might do that if you feel that needs to be cleaned also. More so just a cleansing of the soul. These days we are so overwhelmed by life and things. STOP! And take a look around you. What do you see? Things everywhere. These things are messing up your life, dirtying your chakras and making it impossible for you to bring in the new. You are holding on too tight to the old. So tight that you do not see the possibilities that lie before you. You can not see the new life that clearing these things would bring. It truly is not about what we own.

After the rain cometh the fair weather. — Aesop

I am undertaking such a clearing this year. As I type, I am sorting through my life bit by bit and removing what no longer serves me, what holds me back with old unwanted memories and what should just be thrown out because it is junk. At the end of this year, I will have very little left, yes my clean out is going to be that drastic. I need to do this for various reasons and I have struggled the last few weeks with my decision, I have been holding myself back with ‘what ifs’. What if I need that later on? Well, I haven’t used it for years, why would I need it now. But it is a possession. It is mine, I own it. Other than that it serves no purpose to me.

Tonight it rained. Tonight I was cleansed yet again and reminded that I am doing this for a greater purpose. I am doing this to save myself. I am doing this to free myself from things. I am doing this so that I might allow the new to enter my life again.

Is it time for a little rain in your life?


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The Fallen Girls – the full story Dianne Dempsey | Bendigo Weekly | 05-Jul-2014

Posted by on Feb 12, 2016 in control, death, despair, emotions, faith, freedom, grieving, manipulation, starvation, suffering, Uncategorized | 3 comments

The Fallen Girls – the full story Dianne Dempsey | Bendigo Weekly | 05-Jul-2014

The Fallen Girls by Dianne Dempsey Bendigo Weekly. Featured photo “Within these walls” by: Allan Doney.

I am choosing to copy and paste this lengthy story to my blog as it is a part of my life and was reported by a very brave journalist/author in Victoria. If it should ever fall from the internet as somethings do, it will be here.

PAIN: The Royal Commission may bring closure for some, but the sad memories of their time at St Aidan’s will remain.

St Aidan’s Orphanage has been seen historically as a benign, holy and bountiful presence on Bendigo’s skyline. However, its magnificent gates and imposing architecture hide a story of sexual and emotional abuse, suicide, beatings and solitary confinement.

DIANNE DEMPSEY spent three months talking to and researching the stories of nine “fallen girls” who found themselves in the care of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd.

Though many years have passed, the story and memories of their time at St Aidan’s remains all too vivid for those who suffered at the hands of a group of people who had seemingly lost their way.

Crippled by a lack of proper care (May 16, 2014)

KATHLEEN Coughlin, a second cousin of mine, spent her childhood and early adulthood in Bendigo’s St Aidan’s Orphanage.

As a young girl I remember her as a tiny, white-haired creature who lived in her sister’s house somewhere out the back.

When she heard the sound of children’s voices she would painfully make her way to the dark kitchen where the only light came from the glowing wood stove.

She would come in laughing and hopping on her crutches, and then gratefully lower herself onto her chair. Even as a little girl, I thought her story was beyond belief.

Cousin Kathleen and her sister, Nora, were first put into the orphanage when their parents were unable to care for them.

That was the way of it back in the 1920s. There was no social welfare net and the church responded to the call of the government by providing for the care of children who had lost a mother or a father or more rarely, both parents; economic hardship was also a common factor for children being put into orphanages.

Often family members would step in when there was a family crisis, but when they couldn’t, the good sisters of the church provided.

One day in the orphanage young Kathleen became ill. Diagnosed with tuberculosis, which was rampant at the time, she was put to bed. And there she stayed for 13 years – 13 years.

Her bed was on the third floor of the orphanage on a cold and drafty veranda. Nobody apparently thought to give her regular checkups and as the years passed, she became a fixture, like a picture on a wall, a cripple confined to bed.

A doctor happened to pass her by one day and out of sheer curiosity he asked what was wrong with Kathleen.

The Sisters of the Good Shepherd, who ran the orphanage, told him she was a cripple. When the doctor examined cousin Kathleen he found nothing wrong with her; but she had been kept in the bed for so long that her legs had atrophied.

She was in her late 30s, and by the time she came home, had learnt to walk on crutches.

From Left to Right. Natasha, Joanne, Myself and Mary.

From Left to Right. Natasha, Joanne, Myself and Mary.

St Aidan’s is today preserved by the National Trust. Although no longer used as an orphanage it still stands on a hill imposing and majestical.

Everyone in our city is aware of its architectural imprint; that alongside the Sacred Heart Cathedral, St Aidan’s is one the two medieval-inspired buildings constructed by the Catholic church.

The money for both buildings came from the shrewd investments of the Reverend Henry Backhaus. A pioneer priest of the goldfields, Backhaus had a knack of buying and selling – well.

At the request of Bishop Stephen Reville, the Good Shepherd Sisters came to Bendigo in 1904 to set up the orphanage and care for Bendigo’s needy children. It was also the first orphanage of its kind to accommodate young boys.

The sisters modelled St Aidan’s on their Abbotsford convent. They set up the orphanage, a farm and orchard and, more critically, an industrial laundry to sustain the operation.

Also part of their charter was to protect women and girls at risk, commonly referred to as “penitents”.

Maryfields, the red brick building on the left hand side if you are standing at the front gates, was specifically built in 1930 to accommodate girls and women from the age of 16 upwards.

However according to several women interviewed for this article, girls as young as 11 and 12 were also housed there during the time of their stay in the early 1970s.

Historically, St Aidan’s has been seen as a benign, holy and bountiful presence in Bendigo. It is a view confirmed by Martha (who wishes to remain anonymous).

Now in her 80s, Martha, who was in the main part of the orphan- age, told me that the sisters were good and kind women who cared for the children as best they could.

When her mother had died and her father couldn’t look after his children by himself, the local priest told him he had to be realistic and place the children in the orphanage. Martha didn’t know anything about the girls on “the other side” who worked in the laundry.

“I think they were court girls, they had got into trouble,” she said.

She remembers the annual fete, a major fundraiser when the children were dressed up and visitors poured into the grounds.

When I told Martha about my cousin Kathleen, Martha told me she remembered her.

“It was one of our jobs to change her bed every day, she was always out there on the balcony,” she said.

When the convent closed in the early 1980s the Bendigo Advertiser published an obituary of sorts for the institution saying that, ”St Aidan’s will long be remembered for the devoted work done there over the past 75 years”.

But I could never forget Kathleen’s story. Whenever I drove past the imposing building I always thought of my cousin trapped in her bed and my curiosity peaked. What else happened inside that building behind the Gothic arches?

Some of the stories I discovered sound Dickensian in nature.

I interviewed several women who were sent there in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. And I also refer to two published written accounts.

The women say that cruel beatings, solitary confinement, sexual abuse and emotional abuse were not unusual.

Common themes emerge: sadistic nuns, long hours of domestic drudgery, scrubbing floors, a scant education and laundry work.

It is a Gothic horror story, appropriate enough for the building which housed it.

It is the story of an institution, which was for many years deemed beyond reproach.

And it is the story of an order of nuns who turned in on themselves and for a time, lost their way.

Cruel games and physical abuse

IN her memoir Sins of the Mothers written with Amy Willesee (Pan Macmillan 2006) Donna Davis writes about her time at St Aidan’s in the 1950s.

There was a kind nun there, Mother Carmela, who was gentle and affectionate but Donna’s bete noir was another nun, who had as one of her special torments a cruel game of chasey in the dark.

The nun waited until late at night and called for the bed wetters or other girls who had misbehaved.

She would sit on a chair in the courtyard and tell them they must walk right around the entire orchard in the dark.

Donna would run and stop, sweat and cry and wet her pants, again. Bed wetting was not approved of in orphanages.

Donna had to stand in the courtyard in the morning with the wet sheet over her head.

Donna smelled so much be- cause of the bedwetting she had

The nun waited until late at night and called for the bed wetters… To sleep on the veranda where the wind came in through the louvre windows. The same veranda cousin Kathleen slept in.

One night Donna wanted to go to the toilet but was stopped by an older girl who was in charge of the bedwetters.

Before Donna could go past her, she had to masturbate the older girl.

The years pass, Donna is pubescent and gets her first period. It is an experience right up there with the shower scene of Stephen King’s book Carrie.

“One morning I wake up to find that my cold wet sheets are stained with red. There is blood and pee everywhere. I go beserk, crying and yelling, I’m dying! I’m dying!”

A nun rushes up to the distressed girl and gives her a whack with her stick.

She tells Donna that the bleeding is supposed to be a secret and “just the filth of the body working”.

EDITORIAL: A blighted life

THERE may be some Bendigo people, both Catholic and non-Catholic, who will be offended by our feature story of St Aidan’s orphanage. It has long been part of our heritage landscape and an institution associated with the benevolence of the sisters of the Good shepherd.

The orphanage was established in 1905 by the sisters at the request of the Bishop of Sandhurst, Bishop Stephen reville.

It was a time when many Catholic families were struggling, and without the aid of a government welfare system, relied on the generosity of the Catholic church.

The sisters also relied on the wider community who would take care of the children during holiday times and also make a vital contribution to the annual fete.

Our investigation centres around events which occurred during the 1950s, 60s and 70s and it reveals many harrowing stories.

These stories were told in good faith by several women who are now aged in their 40s, 50s and 60s.

The women described a childhood blighted by their time at the orphanage.

Not only were they denied any recognition of the trauma of separation from their families, their treatment sometimes involved harsh and sadistic punishment.

They were treated as pariahs, as being unfit for the company of the community.
One of the women interviewed, Sandi Gamble, was 12-years-old when she was sent to the orphan- age by her mother for being naughty. As the doors of the convent were locked behind her, she was told by a nun it was to protect the “good people of Bendigo” from her. Sandi wasn’t placed in an orphanage dormitory but in the Maryfields section which was supposed to be for “fallen women”, “court girls” or “penitents”.

Maryfields also accommodated mentally ill and disabled women.

Sandi said girls as young as 11 lived there.

And like the older women, the girls were expected to work in the industrial laundry which the sisters ran in order to subsidise the cost of running the orphanage.

The girls worked in the laundry, which was often referred to as a Magdalene Laundry, before school, at lunch time and after school.

Their schooling was done by correspondence. When they weren’t working in the laundry they were often on their hands and knees scrubbing floors and if they were deemed to be slow or recalcitrant some were beaten with a heavy stick or sometimes put into solitary confinement.

Some of our interviewees lived in the orphanage section and one was made to wear a urine-soaked sheet over her head when she wet the bed.

Not all of the sisters were cruel, not all of the children suffered, but importantly, some of them did suffer and they suffered terribly.

We reveal these stories not to be vindictive or seek apology, but in the interests of truth.
Our history – Bendigo’s history – can only be our history if it embraces this truth.

Without the truth we live with illusions and fairy stories rather than history.

We also reveal these stories for the sake of the women who suffered all those years ago.

Many still suffer today. By denying their pain we deny their reality and perpetuate their pain.
The story of St Aidan’s will be running for several more weeks.

Sisters apologise (May 23, 2014)

THE Sisters of the Good Shepherd have apologised to former St Aidan’s residents for their “harsh treatment” while at the orphanage.

The Province Leader of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, Sr Anne Manning, sent the apology to the Bendigo Weekly this week.

“I simply wish to say that the Good Shepherd Sisters have apologised in the past to any former residents who may have unhappy memories of harsh treatment during their time with us,” Sr Manning said. I repeat that apology here.

“We are always open to meet with and listen to any women who wish to talk with us about their experiences.”

To contact the Sisters of the Good Shepherd go to Towards Healing on 03 5023 6790 or email

For immediate support call Lifeline 131 114. For a variety of referrals contact the Royal Commision into Child Sex Abuse, 1800 099 340.
Alternatively call Open Place, 1800 779 379, the Support Service for Forgotten Australians.

Cries of past pain

DIANNE DEMPSEY continues her investigation into the fallen girls of Bendigo’s St Aidan’s Orphanage. Today she tells the story of Sandi Gamble, nee Forster.

broken-cover-webuse-3DbookNEGLECTED by her alcoholic mother and sexually abused by family “friends”, it wasn’t surprising Sandi was naughty at school.
“I had been expelled for truancy. My mother couldn’t cope with me anymore so she decided to send me to St Aidan’s as a boarder,” she said.
Sandi Gamble (nee Forster), 57, was placed in St Aidan’s on September 27, 1969 and left on December 18, 1972.
She has written a self-published memoir, Broken, which is available through

Now living in Queensland, Sandi has been organising re- unions of women who attended the convent, many of whom also worked in the laundry.
Sandi told me her story when she came to Bendigo in March for the third St Aidan’s reunion.
“I was 12 years old and I was picked up in Melbourne by Mother Rita and taken to the orphan- age. I can remember the sound of her keys and doors constantly being unlocked, and then locked behind me,” she said.

Sandi (Beverley Forster) and Dottie revisit hell

Sandi (Beverley Forster) and Dottie revisit hell

“Mother Rita said to me the doors were always locked to protect the good people of Bendigo from people like me.
“Even though I was a boarder, my mother paid for me, I was put in the laundry – on the other side, the bad girls’ side.”
Sandi slept in the Maryfields section of the convent, which was supposed to be for girls 16 years and older.
“We were referred to as penitents, fallen girls. And we were with other older women who were mentally and physically disabled in the same dormitory,” she said.
“Some of these women had been in the convent for so long that they were institutionalised. They had nowhere to go, so they simply stayed.
“We were always frightened we would end up like them, that we would never get out. At night time there was always crying and whimpering.”
Sandi worked in the laundry before school, at lunchtime and after school, she scrubbed and polished floors on her hands and knees – for four years.
She now suffers from problems with her knees, and other women have also sustained arthritic problems because of doing hard physical work at such a young age.
It was, she said, slave labour, and far worse than that which was experienced by the girls in the notorious Irish Magdalene laundries, as their Irish counterparts were generally much older.

The first day Sandi worked in the laundry she had to stand on a wooden crate and pull steaming sheets through a huge industrial steam mangle.
She constantly burnt her hands but she was cheered up by another girl who told her calluses would soon form and protect her from further pain.
When she made a mistake one day a nun came up behind her and whacked her on the head with her weapon of choice, a hand broom, which she kept in the folds of her habit.
“The smell of the laundry was sickening,” Sandi said.

“Laundry came from hotels, hospitals and boarding schools from across the state.
“We found all sorts of disgusting things among the linen and were expected to sort it out.
“As well, the heat in the tin building was often over 40 degrees in summer.”
Some of the girls had sisters in the orphanage section but they weren’t allowed to see them.
“They didn’t want us to infect the orphans or the ‘Holy Angels’ as they called them,” Sandi said.
“I used to keep watch out of the laundry door and if someone’s sister went by, I would stamp my foot on the floor so they could see them.”
Sandi said the girls learnt via correspondence.

“Mrs Raeburn was a babysitter rather than a teacher. We filled in these books which were sent off to some mysterious place and then returned back to us with writing on them, which we rarely understood,” she said.

“We were constantly told to repent for our sins, to cleanse ourselves. We were told we were bad and that society didn’t need or want us.”
When Sandi had enough of the emotional and physical abuse she ran away, but terrified and alone she handed herself into the nun who had previously beaten her in the laundry.
“The next morning I was told to stay in my nighty and stay by my bed,” she said.
“The nun came into the dormitory and told me to scrub the showers with my toothbrush. I did what I was told, I spent hours doing it.
“She then came with a lackey, usually an older woman who had been in the orphanage for years. These older women just did what they were told.
“(The nun) pointed out a little spot on a tile that couldn’t be removed. ‘You are 12 years old and hopeless,’ she said to me.
“She beat me on my head and neck and back with her hand broom until I was blue with bruises.
“Then she turned on the cold water of the shower and left it running while I lay there crying.
“Finally, she turned the shower off and left me there. I huddled there for hours in my wet nighty in the shower, too scared to move, freezing. She was a cruel woman,” Sandi said, in what can only be a masterpiece of understatement.

Sandi (Beverley Forster) Debbie and daughter revisit parts of the convent.

Sandi (Beverley Forster) Debbie and daughter revisit parts of the convent.

Not long after Sandi was in the orphanage she became ill.
“I was sexually abused before I came to St Aidan’s,” Sandi said.
“(The same nun) took me to the Bendigo hospital, placed a chair at the end of the bed and watched while they gave me an internal examination.
“This was on the pretext that I needed a chaperone. But she had a good view. It turned out I had gonorrhea.
“When I got back to the orphanage, I was dragged along by my pony tail and she cut it off.”
One of the many jobs Sandi had to do was get down on her hands and knees and scrub and polish the Appian Way.
Named after the legendary Roman road, the Appian Way was a cloister that connected the main buildings.
“I hated that bloody Appian Way,” Sandi said.

“I wasn’t a ward of the state. The convent got money from the laundry, they had money from the government and money from my mother who paid for my board.
“But finally in the early 1970s (the brutal nun) was replaced by a reformist nun, Mother Katherine. She unlocked the gates and unlocked the doors.
“Mother Katherine saved us.

“I don’t know how (the other nun) could be so cruel. I heard that she was cruel to other nuns as well, and she was finally sent away in disgrace to work in a kitchen. I hope the story is true.”

The brutal nun is mentioned more than once in dispatches.

In an interview Maureen Cuskelly gave to the Goodweekend (December 2013) she says she was in St Aidan’s in 1964 when she 12 years old and stayed there until she was 17.
During the brutal nun’s reign solitary confinement was common.

“It was in a toilet locked from the outside,” Maureen said.

“Girls came out broken-spirited. One girl wrote ‘I love Elvis Presley’ on her arm and went in for three days. When the girls came out they were gone. They were cold, isolated, scared and threatened.”

Taking up the cause (May 30, 2014)

DIANNE DEMPSEY continues her investigation into the fallen girls of St Aidan’s Orphanage. Today she tells the story of Bendigo’s Michelle O’Donohue and how the Royal Commission is listening to former residents of the home and noting their claims of abuse.

The current Child Abuse Royal Commission has begun investigating allegations of abuse that occurred at Bendigo’s St Aidan’s Orphanage.
The Bendigo Weekly began investigating the claims about four months ago. The investigation continued during its series The Fallen Girls, which started at the beginning of May.
A Royal Commission spokesperson confirmed it had received sub- missions, and was hearing testimony, about incidents at the orphanage from the 1950s to 1970s.
Sandi Gamble, whose story featured in the Weekly, appeared before the Commission last week.
“I found the experience to be extremely helpful,” she said.
“For years I suffered from terrible depression and was very sick and I have only just started to feel better.
“I feel that after talking to the Royal Commission I have finally been heard.”

Ms Gamble said it was only after contacting the Commission did she realise that her treatment at the orphanage, which she said included emotional and physical abuse, was also considered sexual abuse.
“We had to wash our undies and then show the crotch to the nuns,” she said.
“They supervised us as we dressed and undressed.
“I think if you ask yourself ‘is that the way a mother would treat her own daughter’ then that is a good way to assess whether the abuse was of sexual nature.”
Ms Gamble spoke last week of being watched by a nun as she was treated for gonorrhoea.
“I know many women today who were badly treated,” she said.
“I’ve heard of terrible things that have happened.
“We are not after retribution, but we want recognition of what happened to us.
“The way we were treated should never happen again.”
Ms Gamble said she was helped in the Commission by Care Leavers Australia Network executive officer Leonie Sheedy.
Ms Sheedy said her organisation had received “many” complaints over the years from former St Aidan’s residents.
“That St Aidan’s has been the recipient of complaints may disappoint some people in Bendigo, but it should not surprise them,” she said.
The evidence put forward in the 2004 Senate Report, Forgotten Australians, also demonstrated abuse was rife in institutional home care across Australia.”
The report described convent laundries as prisons for girls forced into “slave labour” with poor living conditions and scant education.
There were eight Magdalene laundries in Australia, all run by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, according to the report.
The “slave labour” was reported as a common way to raise money for the institutions.

Anyone who was sexually abused as a child while in the care of an Australian institution can share their story with the Royal Commission. It doesn’t matter how young or old they are, or how long ago the abuse occurred.
People can register their interest by contacting the Royal Commission:
Call: 1800 099 340
email: Send an email to contact@childabuseroyalcommission.
Write: GPO Box 5283, Sydney, NSW 2001.
CLAN can be contacted on 1800 008 774.

A life without any love at St Aidan’s

DIANNE DEMPSEY continues her investigation into the fallen girls of St Aidan’s Orphanage. Today she tells the story of Bendigo’s Michelle O’Donohue.

“NO one cared,” Bendigo resident Michelle O’Donohue said. “You cried at night, you missed your mother, but nobody cared, you were not loved.”
Michelle and I had arranged to meet for coffee to talk about her experience of being an “orphan” when she was sent to the Abbots- ford convent as an infant and then to St Aidan’s in 1972.
“My impressions of being at the Abbotsford convent are those of feeling totally overwhelmed,” she said.
“I was three years old and completely lost. We were all mixed up in a dormitory together. The eldest girls were 18. There were 20 children to a room and one toilet.
“The younger ones used to tear their sheets up in the morning if they wet the bed, they obviously didn’t want to get caught.
“In the mornings there would be a fight over socks which were all kept in the one basket. I was the youngest. I could never find the elastic to hold up my socks.
“The little ones were lost. We were treated like sheep. No one showed us how to dress, how to eat.”

Michelle looks up from her coffee and cake.
“You don’t know how to do these things unless you are taught. Breakfast was a bowl of stale bread, in milk and sugar. I wouldn’t eat, I’d just sit there,” she said.
“At St Aidan’s I remember walking up stairs and endless corridors, the cold white marble of statues. You had to share everything. You had no private time. We were educated, fed and clothed but that was it, we were not loved.
“We were slaves. We came home from school to endless chores. Slippers were put right under our bed, so we would have to get on our knees and remember to pray.
“I remember one Sister cut off a girl’s hair because she couldn’t find her hair tie, I can still hear the sound of the hacking.
“We were allotted to holiday hosts. I remember waiting, they were late. I must have been agitated.
“I annoyed the Sister so much she slammed a glass on a bench and smashed it to pieces. I thought, ‘gee I’ve done it now.’ I always got extra chores, I was the black sheep.
“The son of the holiday host used to abuse me. You couldn’t speak up in the orphanage, nobody would believe you. You always got the blank stares.
“They implied we know who you are, where you came from, the finger pointed at you.
“My mum ran off when I was little. She was only 18, had three children within three years and wore a caliper on her leg because she suffered from polio.
“Her name was Patricia Florence Evans. Dad couldn’t cope. I don’t think the nuns had any respect or time for families.”
Michelle said the change from the smaller dormitories to residential care was better, but not much better.
“The nuns integrated us into orphan: families who lived in a cream brick building on the grounds,” she said. “We were looked after by couples. I remember one particular family very well. They had a son and a daughter. As well as their own income they were paid to take care of us. They were very well off.
“He was a business manager at the time. The two children were privileged.
“I had to do breakfast, lunches and then prepare dinner when I got home. I was the cleaner as well. The mother would start bossing me around as soon as I got home from school.
“I used to buy her fags for her. When I got caught by her for smoking she went off.
“She said, ‘You’re here because nobody wants you or loves you. She reinforced my inferiority. I was in my first year at St Marys and she was nasty and cruel.
“I was with my two siblings and she discriminated between us, the orphans, and her own children. It was a terrible time. Her children wanted for nothing but we couldn’t get a pair of new shoes.
“It was like a slap in the face every day. She made my position very clear. She was in her 30s, she verbalised my position very clearly.”

Girls tried to escape

Since running the series The Fallen Girls, the Bendigo Weekly has been contacted by many people who have some stories, both positive and sad related to St Aidan’s Orphanage.
One of the most poignant stories came from Dorothy (not her real name) who lives in Flora Hill.
In the mid 1930s, Dorothy’s parents owned a dairy farm which was on the periphery of St Aidan’s.
“In those days St Aidan’s was surrounded by farmland,” she said.
“One day out on the farm my father saw a group of frightened, young girls who cautiously approached him.
“They were crying and scared. They had run away from the laundry and didn’t want to go back.
“‘Please don’t take us back there,’ They were beaten and sometimes sent to bed without food they said to my father.
“They were just young girls and my parents were very shocked and concerned for them.
“I used to hear my father talking to my mother when I was supposed to be in bed. I was only about eight or nine at the time. I think it happened more than the one time. Mum and dad were visibly upset by what the girls had told them. And they were shocked by the sight of the girls.
“It was mainly about their treatment by the nuns. They were beaten and sometimes sent to bed without food.
“They were very frightened. They would say, ‘please don’t take us back. Help us.’ The other farmers may have had that experience but I don’t know that for a fact. My father always took them back, he didn’t know what else to do.
“I think some of them had younger children with them. It was very sad.”

Life in ‘the castle on the hill’

DIANNE DEMPSEY continues her investigation into the fallen girls of Bendigo’s St Aidan’s Orphanage. Today she tells the story of California Gully resident Francine Callanan.

FRANCINE Callanan can still remember her ward of the state number, 11467.
Francine talked to me on the banks of Lake Weeroona on a fine Bendigo autumn day.
With her red hair she’s as Irish as they come; and not afraid to speak the truth, she’s gutsy too.
Francine said when she was first sent to St Aidan’s in 1969, she found it so grand and imposing that she told the children at the local Catholic primary school, St Therese’s, that she “lived in a castle on the hill”.
It was her older sister who later that day disabused her of the illusion.
“We live in an orphanage, stupid, we’re orphans,” she said.
As Francine’s grand illusion crumbled, so too did her defence against the prejudices of the children at St Therese’s and of most people she met. They despised her for her orphan status.
At St Aidan’s, Francine used to get hit by at least one sister.
“She was a big Amazon of a woman who walked around with a ruler all day to whack us with,” she said.
“I think back now and why would you expect these frustrated, childless women to have maternal instincts.
“They gave up everything in life and for a lot of them, I think we were the scapegoats for the disappointment of that sacrifice.”
Francine was eventually sent to a residential house which was in Kangaroo Flat.
“We went through three sets of parents,” she said.
“There were two sinks in the bathroom, one for us and one for the children of the parents. It was them and us. You knew your inferior status, you just sucked it up.
“The cottage system was better than St Aidan’s but I was abused by one of the foster fathers.
“I would listen for him every night. You were taught from a young age not to question anything. That was the way of it. That started in Year 7.
“I told my sister about it years later and she laughed. Her response was, ‘did you think you were special? He did it to all of us.’
“We were always vulnerable, if anyone showed us any affection, we responded to them.”
This series will continue next week.

Boys of St Aidan’s (June 13, 2014)

DIANNE DEMPSEY continues her investigation into Bendigo’s St Aidan’s Orphanage. Today she tells the story of one of the boys who attended the orphanage.

When Robert casually picked up the Bendigo Weekly a few weeks ago and read the stories of St Aidan’s Orphanage he said he started trembling and was filled with anger.
“I threw the paper on the couch and said to my wife, ‘Look at that!’ The anger just welled up,” he said.

Robert (not his real name) went to St Aidan’s in 1949 when he was six and stayed there until he was nine and as he says, these are crucial years in a child’s life. The boys’ section at St Aidan’s was built in 1910.

“I saw terrible things there. So terrible I can’t drive past those gates, I take another route. It just makes me feel sick. The pain of the memories never leave you. I don’t remember any happy times,” he said.

“Mum put my brother and me in there for various reasons. One was that she had to work and there was no such thing as child care or welfare payments in those days.
“I remember the mornings, they were awful. Every morning another boy and I had to open the big gates in the dark and cold. Then I had to do my duties as an altar boy.
“Different priests said mass. One of these priests used to sexually abuse me. I don’t want to give any more details but it was a terrible experience to happen when you are young. Every morning I was scared. Scared of opening the gates in the dark and then scared when I went to the chapel, and the priest, and what waited for me there.
“The boys used to eat in the same section as the girls. I saw some terrible floggings there. One time a girl ran away and they caught her. “One of the nuns gave her a terrible flogging with a leather strap like you would never believe. She was brought into the dining hall by two sisters and made to stand there while she was flogged and flogged. We all felt sick in the stomach to see it. It still makes me sick to think about it.

“It’s not like you push a button and you forget. Sometimes I wish I had amnesia so I could forget. I’d be right then.

“Of a night you weren’t allowed to get a drink once you were in bed, so you wouldn’t wet the bed. On a hot night you would get dehydrated. So I used to get up and drink the toilet water as it was flushing. We were made to wear these strange clothes, made of felt I think, I’m not sure what the material was but it was very uncomfortable. And we were with older boys who had mental disabilities.

“When I got out I didn’t do well in school at all. I had no idea of family. I don’t think the nuns understood family. We had no idea of money, or work, or how to conduct ourselves in the world. We had an institutionalised mentality.

“Previous to reading these articles I was getting support from Open Place. I haven’t talked to many people about what happened. My wife knows but I am going to get more help now.
“Growing up I remember in the 1950s and 60s if you misbehaved the common expression was, ‘We will put you in the orphanage’. There was a reason for that.
“It was a horrible looking place, surrounded by paddocks in those days. It looked scary. It’s still painted that terrible blue colour.
“We knew about the girls in the laundry and we knew it was bad. We kids called it ‘the children over’.

“I know parts of the building burnt down, as far as I am concerned I’d be happy if the whole place had burnt down.

“For those people who complain about running these articles, I would say to them, ‘Did you live there? Did you go through what we went through? If you didn’t then you can keep quiet.

For immediate support call Lifeline 131 114.
Open Place 1800 779 379.
Child Abuse Royal Commission 1800 099 340.

The saddness remains (June 20, 2014)

Since running our Fallen Girls series we have been contacted by several people for whom the series has aroused bad memories of their time in St Aidan’s Orphanage. Here are two of those stories.

“Anne” who was born in 1947, used to sleep on the drafty verandah, that was considered so good for everyone’s health.
“I remember that verandah, I used to sleep there until I was 17 and a half,” Anne said.
“As soon as I saw the pictures I started shaking. I still have nightmares.
“I remember terrible times there. One day I was supposed to take a sick boy some junket to eat, I was 13, and I ate the junket myself.
“For my punishment I was dragged out of bed and taken to the boys’ dormitory where I had to kneel all night in my nightie and pray. If I bent over or fell asleep, I was beaten with a strap by a nun who sat in her chair all night and waited for me to fall over.
“In the morning I had welts all over my body.
“The children who had no one to watch over got all the dirty work. Me, I got a belting from the nuns all the time. I was one of four children and mum didn’t know where we all were.
“I remember that if a child ran away they would be caught and brought back. They would be made to stand in front of everybody and their heads would be shaved. We were made to laugh at them.
“I remember being on my knees all the time at a very young age scrubbing floors. My bones have been permanently affected from working so young.
“I remember standing around naked waiting for a bath. I remember standing in my undies while a nun, with one of the older women, fitted me for a bra.
“One of my more eerie memories was when an old nun died. We had to file past and kiss the nun’s face, it terrified me, I didn’t want to do it.
“I’ve never really spoken about this before but we were ill-equipped for the world.
“When I was 18 I had a baby which was adopted. They wouldn’t even tell me what I had. Many other girls would have been just like me. My first husband was violent. It was hard growing up.
“I think it is terrific that these stories have come out. Someone has to be responsible.”
“Sarah” is another lady for whom the series has brought back bad memories. Now 69, Sarah remembers being taken in the night and put in the back of a ute and driven to the orphanage.
She had no idea where she was going.
Sarah is sad that she can barely read and write.
”I was never taught properly. If you couldn’t learn, they didn’t want to know you,” she said.
“Because I struggled with my work I had to stay out of the classroom and polish the shoes and do other jobs.
“I wanted to learn but they wouldn’t let me. I used to try and teach myself but it was no good.
“I went to work when I was 13 and a half.
“My first husband was cruel and used to bash me.
“I had so many bad experiences I blocked a lot of them out. I remember lying in the dormitory at the orphanage of a night and looking at the picture of Jesus Christ with the Crown of Thorns on his head.
“Those sad eyes.
“I used to stare at him all the time and try to get some comfort from him and pray to him. That’s how I got through.
“It hasn’t been easy. I’ve still got a lot of sadness inside me.”
Next week we follow the story of the Maryfields women and what happened to several after they left St Aidan’s.

A Childhood regained by chance

Once upon a time, in the early 1970s, Francine was a resident of St Aidan’s Orphanage. She wasn’t very happy there but she used to spend her school holidays with Beryl and Jim Monigatti and their family on their rochester farm.

Beryl’s children, Michael and Bernadette, were around the same age and loved having Francince staying with them.
But Francine always felt sad when it was time to return to the orphanage.
“She was a tiny little thing and had red hair. I re- member when we took her back to the orphanage she would sit in the back seat of the car and cry,” Beryl said.
“‘Please don’t take me back, I don’t want to go,’” she would say. “It would break my heart.
“We wanted to adopt her but the nuns said she was moving back with her family,” Beryl said.
“I asked them to tell me if she was returned to the orphanage.”

In fact, after the relationship with her family broke down, Francine was indeed returned to the orphanage.
Unfortunately, the sisters didn’t tell the Rochester family of Francine’s return and rather than grow up on a farm she stayed in the orphanage.
But Francine was never forgotten. Over the years the Monigatti family kept on thinking about her and kept looking for her.
One time Beryl was told that Francine was working at Lansell’s Plaza. “I rushed out there only to be told that she had just left,” Beryl said.
“But then two weeks ago I read the Weekly and saw Francine’s photo. I couldn’t believe it. I cried and cried. We contacted Francine by phone and it turned out that she lived around the corner from me in California Gully. What is more my grandchildren were at Weeroona College while Francine was working there.
“It was a lovely reunion. We cried and hugged. We sat and talked for about three hours, we will never lose her again. I can die happy now. I won’t die wondering what hap- pened to her. She is with us now. She’s beautiful, she’s done so well.”

Francine rang the Weekly a week ago to tell us this extraordinary story.” “Something wonderful has happened,” Francine said.
“I have found a wonderful woman who used to look after me during schools holidays for more than four years. I have a whole new family; Beryl, her husband, their children, and grandchildren Katie and Mikaela and I even have a grand niece Laylah who is five months. It has been so exciting for me. I have been going around feeling warm and fuzzy.”
Such is the nature of a childhood spent in an institution, Francine has blocked out large parts of it. “But now I have my childhood back,” she said.
“I can remember staying on the farm and being chased by a chook which had a go at me.We ate it for tea that night and I thought the chook was being punished.”
While Francine has some blanks in her memory, Beryl is now filling them in for her.

Obviously it has been an emotional time for Francine but she said that during the years of struggle she helped and loved by friends, such as Meryl Hayes.
“It hasn’t been easy talking about my time at St Aidan’s but look what I have gained, this wonderful family.

The sisterhood of pain: what came next (June 27, 2014)

Over the past weeks we have chronicled the experiences of several women who lived at St Aidan’s Orphanage as young girls. Today, Dianne Dempsey tells us what happened to these girls when they left the convent.

Kathleen Couglin (deceased) Originally diagnosed with tuberculosis, my second cousin Kathleen was put to bed on the veranda of St Aidan’s for 13 years. She was in bed for so long that her limbs atrophied.

One day a doctor decided to give her a check up and pronounced her a very fit cripple.
It was decided that Kathleen, now in her late 30s, could go home and live with her sister but before that happened, Kathleen wanted to do one thing very badly.
She wanted to go Melbourne on the train and visit her special friend from the orphanage.
Her family thought the trip would kill her but in this matter she was determined. She went to Melbourne and had the trip of her life.

After Francine Callanan’s story was run in the Bendigo Weekly earlier this month, she gave me a phone call.
“You have no idea what has happened,” she said.
“I have found my second family, the people who cared for me as a little girl.”
But, on first leaving St Aidan’s, Francine dropped out of high school and hung out at the mall.
She was homeless for a while and slept at friends’ houses.
For many years she struggled with depression and worked in dead-end jobs.
She eventually trained to be a teacher’s aide at Bendigo tafe.
She lives with her partner in Bendigo and says of her two children, “I got my childhood back through them. Making play dough, reading and drawing together, cuddling them, giving them kisses, that’s what made me happy, made me whole”.

After being raised by the Sisters of the good Shepherd since she was three, Michelle O’Donohue was sent out into the world to fend for herself when she was 15.
“It was ‘see you later, you’re on your own now’,” she said.
A social worker placed her in a home in the Melbourne suburb of Jacana with a woman who Michelle greatly liked and admired.
“One day she came home and I was playing records too loudly with my friends,” she said.
“I was playing Alice Cooper. She kicked me out. She wouldn’t let me stay, although I begged and begged her. I cried so much I looked like the photo of Alice Cooper on the record cover with long black streaks of mascara running down my face.” Michelle lived a nomadic life working in a variety of jobs for many years.
“I always knew when to leave an abusive relationship,” she tells me proudly.
Settled back in Bendigo, she says she is happy and loves her life – her friends and family.
Michelle currently works in re- tail and is doing a computer course. She has a partner and three children who she loves.
In regard to her children she says, “I always do the opposite to how I was treated. I am a triumph over how I was brought up”.

Beverley Foster was placed in Maryfields as a 12-year-old, on September 27, 1969.

After three years of working in the laundry and harrowing, physical abuse, Beverley left St Aidan’s on June 12, 1972.
Not long after she left the orphanage, aged 16, Beverley had a child. Her boyfriend kept her a prisoner in her own home.
We were never cuddled, we had no affection.
When she was in hospital with her new baby he came to the hospital and beat her up there.
“The hospital staff had to keep him away,” she said.
Out in the world, Beverley said most of her St Aidan’s friends had problems building relationships with their own children.
“We were never cuddled, we had no affection. We didn’t know how to be good parents ourselves,” she said.
“And we were told never to speak about what happened, this stopped a lot of us from complaining about our past. I think they knew, the nuns, they knew what happened to us was wrong.”

“We had to find out for ourselves how to love,” Dot Foster-Hyndeman, 57, said.

“My sister who was in the children’s part of the convent committed suicide.
“We know quite a few girls who committed suicide. It was a loss of love.
“We just had to feel our way through life. We had no life skills. We had no idea of how to get on a bus or apply for a job.
“Most of us still suffer from clinical depression. Our childhood still upsets all of us.”

Cheryl, 56, who wishes to remain anonymous, said that when the orphanage was shut the girls tried to keep in touch with each other.

“We had no other family. But we have each other today,” she said.
That is their consolation, that they have each other, their unique allegiance – their sisterhood of pain.

We hear you (July 4, 2014)

The Royal Commission into Sexual Abuse is coming to Bendigo on July 23.
A spokesperson for the commission said they have so far received 21 reports of child sexual abuse.

These incidents are not necessarily confined to institutions within the City of Greater Bendigo.
The commission declined to say which institutions were involved. Two former residents of St Aidan’s told the Weekly they welcomed the commission saying that it would be invaluable help towards the healing process.
The visit will consist of two distinct parts. One will be a community forum to be held at the Bendigo Town hall on Wednesday, July 23 between 6pm and 8pm.
During the forum, the Royal Commissioner Justice Jennifer Coate will provide an overview of the work of the Royal Commission and answer questions from the community.
Royal Commission chief executive officer Philip Reed said the community forum was open to any members of the public who have an interest in the Royal Commission and encouraged people affected by child sexual abuse while in the care of an institution to attend.

“You will not be required to discuss your personal story at the community forum, it is a chance to find out more about the work of the Royal Commission and how you can be involved,” he said.
In addition to the community forum, private sessions will also be held on the following day,“ Mr Reed said.
“Due to demand, private sessions in Bendigo have been fully allocated, but we anticipate further private sessions will be held in the region in the future.”
Over the past eight weeks, the Bendigo Weekly has highlighted a number of instances of gross mistreatment, including sexual abuse, which occurred at St Aidan’s Orphan- age from 1948 to the late 1970s.

When contacted in March of this year, the Royal Commission said is was “aware of St Aidan’s Orphanage and the allegations of abuse which occurred there from the 1950s to the 1970s. At that stage no public hearing had been scheduled in Bendigo.

Sandi Gamble whose story was featured in the Bendigo Weekly, went to St Aidan’s in the early 1970s. Now living in Queensland, Sandi recently attended a private session in Queensland which was organised by the Royal Commission.

After years of people reacting in disbelief to her story and saying that the nuns were incapable of cruelty, Sandi at last felt vindicated.
“I felt I had been heard for the first time,” she said. “The private sessions are beneficial and worthwhile, cathartic and healing” she said.
The Royal Commission community forum will be hosted together with the Centre Against Sexual Assault – Loddon Campaspe. Executive Officer of CASA, Michael Beaumont-Connop said there has also been an engagement of young people with the agency.

“Sexual assault still continues across a number of institutions; it is not confined to the past but it still continues today.”
Because of the numbers of assaults which occurred both in the past, and which continue to occur, Mr Beaumont- Connop said he had been working with the Royal Commission for the past three months, encouraging them to come to Bendigo.

“Former prime minister, Julia Gillard, said that the commission should wrap up at end of 2015 but such is the ever increasing pressure on the commission, I can’t see it finishing before 2016,” Mr Beaumont-Connop said.

The women of Marylands

The residential, Maryfields section of St Aidan’s had different names over the years, some colloquial, others formal.

The Sisters of the Good Shepherd first referred to the women who lived in Maryfields and worked in the Magdalene laundry as penitents – they were there to do penance for their sins.
They were also called the fallen girls; sent to the convent on court orders and considered to be in moral danger.
Some of the girls and women were physically and/or mentally disabled.
Some were as young as 11; others remained in Maryfields until they were old women and died.
Two of the women I interviewed for this series said as young girls they were terrified that they would never be allowed to leave Maryfields; that they too, would grow old and die within St Aidan’s walls.

In the orphanage side of the convent they called the Maryfields girls, “the children over”.
According to former Centa-Care director Paul Fogarty, who was also Maryfields chairman from 1999 to 2006, the care within St Aidan’s had been for two groups.
One group accommodated girls and boys aged six to 16; and the second section, Maryfields, housed girls and women from about 16.
That there is a discrepancy between the official position regarding the age of the girls who lived in Maryfields and the first-hand accounts of witnesses has been a reoccurring observation during the research for this series.

When St Aidan’s finally shut its doors in 1984, Mr Fogarty said there were 25 women left in the Maryfields centre.

Most were aged in their 40s to 60s and had been at St Aidan’s since they were infants or young children.
Nine of the Maryfields women were considered to be able to live independently.
Sixteen others were recognised as needing some intensive sup- port and supervision.
The Sisters of Good Shepherd provided support to enable the women to adapt to their new lifestyle in a secure way.
They gave this new activity the name of the Maryfields Centre, according to Mr Fogarty.
Centa-Care took over the work of Maryfields in 1988 and became responsible through a committee of management for the supportive welfare and care of the 16 women who were previously cared for by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in group homes in Bendigo.

At that time, funding was also secured from the Department of human Services to employ a support worker to co-ordinate the care needed for the ladies.
Prior to this time, these women had few decisions to make in St Aidan’s.

The sisters had ensured they received a basic schooling, but after this, many had jobs in the laundry and in the kitchen.
A few were given jobs outside St Aidan’s. All had been institutionalised to the detriment of their relationships with the broader community and their own independent capacities.
Seldom were there discussions held by them later in life about their experiences within institutional living.
According to Catholic Sandhurst Diocese Monsignor Frank Marriot, several of the women were extremely holy, having modelled their life on that of the sisters.
The Maryfields ladies were accommodated in homes or units within the Catholic parish boundaries of Kennington.
Some members of St Therese’s Catholic Parish Kennington became the ongoing members of the Maryfields board of management and each had a personal interest in the ladies and a deep sense of ministry for the wellbeing of the ladies.

Mr Fogarty said the lives of the women touched many who knew them.
”All they wanted was to be accepted individually as themselves,” he said.
“Without awareness they taught other people about compassion, patience and generosity.”
The last of the Maryfields women died in 2013.

So what’s changed now?

IN a week where failures in childcare still make the news, Dianne Dempsey charts the lives of ‘the children over’ at St Aidan’s.

A counsellor and a former resident of Allambi’s Children’s home in the 1970s, Evelyn Chittleborough said that in another 20 years she didn’t want to see another Royal Commission and another apology made to the victims of government policy. “There still isn’t an answer to how we care for children in out of home care,” she said.
“Children who are vulnerable… Will continue to suffer”

“For years the government passed this responsibility onto the religious orders and then they failed to audit those organisations to see how the children were being cared for.”
This is a view that is in part supported by one of Australia’s leading experts in childhood trauma, Gregory Nicolau. The CEO of the Australian Childhood Trauma Group, Mr Nicolau said we have not made a lot of progress since the Forgotten Australians senate report of 2004.

He added that recommendations from inquiries are often not followed through. But he says it’s too easy to blame governments.

“Certainly Royal Commissions put the issue of abuse in out of home care on the front pages but you don’t see a lot of community concern for what happens to children. I’m hoping the current government and the community as well will stand up and say we have to get it right this time.

“It is true that there are simply not enough resources to go around but if society continues to buy the line that we should individually pay less taxes, then those children who are vulnerable through no fault of their own will continue to suffer.

“It is still not uncommon to see run down residential units across Australia,” Mr Nicolau said. “Things are broken, and the processes and protocols lead to delays if not years in some cases for things to be repaired. The residential carer may take the view that if the children have broken furniture they just have to live with it. As well some children are in foster homes where the care is not optimum.

“Having said that there are some heroic people working in group homes, residential units and as foster parents.”
Mr Nicolau said the essence to understanding how to best care for children lies in understanding the impact of childhood trauma and attachment disruptions.
“At times I feel desperate that the community does not understand the impact of trauma and broken attachments on children,” Mr Nicolau said.
“There is plenty of research out here that tells us that children suffer psychological, physiological, emotional and spiritual damage when they experience separation from their parents, even as babies. This trauma is compounded when they then witness family disruptions such as domestic violence.
“The brain itself suffers neurological damage. A baby relies on its own actions to get attention, to be fed and held, it cries.
“In older children and adults if that stress is not resolved, it becomes toxic. The brain goes into survival mode.
“The imperative for a young person is safety and if they don’t feel safe, they will act out or become disruptive.
“Children show their wounds through their behaviour. They are saying I’m scared, lost confused, ashamed etc. Make me safe. Help me.

“Carers need to respond by helping to regulating the child’s emotional state and strengthen connections. When kids become disruptive they need to put water on the fire rather than fuel the fire.”

Mr Nicolau said he has worked with out of home care agencies for more than 20 years and time and time again he sees staff given blunt tools to do microsurgery.
“These traumatised children need people who are highly qualified experts. This means that a lot of money has to be spent, and if that’s the case then so be it. I often use the analogy that you wouldn’t put a nurse with a Cert IV qualification into an ICU unit. And if I were to continue the analogy of nursing with the development of out of home care, then the starting date would be about 1910. We are still in the dark ages as far treating traumatised children are concerned.”

EDITORIAL: Lives changes

When the Weekly first began its Fallen Women series in May, there was an initial outcry of indignation.
Many people in the Bendigo community were in denial.

How could the sisters of the Good Shepherd be capable of harming their charges, the vulnerable orphans and the “fallen women” who were in their care?

If the public response was not one of disbelief it was along the lines of “these things occurred in the past why bring them up now?”

Jack Thompson, the actor who was adopted as a young boy, is worth quoting on this point.“If we do not recognise the fundamental inhumanity and cruelty… Awfulness carried out in the name of God and goodness, then we will ignore the fact that it didn’t happen in the last century, it happened in this century and in many parts of our society continues to happen. Let us look at this thing in the face; let us deal with it.”

We were soon vindicated for running the series as each week former residents of St Aidan’s came forward with their harrowing stories.

Encouraged to discover they were not alone in their experiences, the numbers of people who contacted us exponentially increased as the series continued.
These people not only talked to the Weekly but we believe several former residents will be attending the Child Abuse Royal Commission which will be coming to Bendigo later this month.
Another outcome of the series was a letter of apology which was sent to us by the Province Leader of the sisters of the Good shepherd.

It reads in part, ”The Good Shepherd sisters have apologised in the past to any former residents who may have unhappy memories of harsh treatment during their time with us. I repeat that apology here”.

Finally the series logically lead us to examine, in this issue, the state of out of home care in Australia today.

According to our research the problem is still not fixed. Children continue to suffer today and young people will also be among those approaching the Royal Commission when it comes to Bendigo.
Over the past few months we have sometimes felt we were running a welfare agency instead of a newspaper. We have been mindful of listening to people in a responsible and caring way and made sure they were aware of the agencies available to help them such as the Care Leavers Australia Network who assist people who are attending the Royal Commission (1800 008 774).
The last words on St Aidan’s belong to the two women who most recently contacted us.

Michelle Callanan said that it was important for the people of Bendigo that they realised what happened to literally hundreds of children in their midst.

While Michelle gave graphic details of physical beatings, a nun once kicked her in the head with her boot, she said the psychological damage was on-lasting. “It affects you completely throughout your whole life. You lose your childhood, you blank entire periods out. You don’t develop,” she said.

And there was Linda Newton’s testimonial. Linda, from Golden square, said that she hadn’t spoken to anyone before about her St Aidan’s experiences, but after seeing the stories, felt encouraged to come forward.

Linda too was beaten, pushed under the bath water; made to stand with a wet sheet on her head and drag her wet mattress around behind her. She had her hair cut off and was locked in a dark cellar for long periods of time.

“I’m still afraid of the dark to this day,” she said. It sounds too cruel to be true, but sadly Linda’s testimony is consistent with many other stories we have been told.
When asked if she wished to remain anonymous, Linda replied that she wanted to use her own name. “I made a close friend in the orphanage, it was in the 1950s, and I still think of her,” she said. “Her name was Rhonda, perhaps she will read this article and get in touch with me.”

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Why Do I Write About Me? – I’m Glad You Asked!

Posted by on Feb 9, 2016 in choice, desire, emotions, intelligent, love, open minded, renewal, respect, self esteem, Uncategorized | 2 comments

Why Do I Write About Me? – I’m Glad You Asked!

Why do I write about me? Am I famous, no! Am I exciting, not really! Am I worth following, I do not know, am I? Ever since I can remember I’ve always wanted to write; to write my life story, in the hope that I can help others to believe in hope. Did I do that? Yes, I did. In spectacular fashion, warts and all I told the entire uncensored story, no holds barred. Was I embarrassed? Too late for that, what is done is done. I cannot change who I was, in fact, I do not want to because I was not that bad. Did it cause upsets? Yes indeed, many. Some won’t believe what I wrote in my book and have called me a liar. I am not a liar. They were not there; they did not see and if they did see then shame on them.

I heard a beautiful quote, “It takes a village to raise a child, it also takes a village to abuse a child.”

Am I showing off? No! Am I making a spectacle of myself? Does it affect you if I do? Am I hoping to be noticed and made famous, no! What I am hoping is that my life story will inspire others to take a look at their lives and if necessary carry out the necessary adjustments to free themselves from whatever problems or blame that they carry around with them every day, so that they might try to live a whole life instead of being constantly burdened and sad. Am I bad for that? I do not think so.

Since publishing my book, I have been contacted by two mothers, neither know each other, both had suspected something was not right in their house, but erred on the side of caution and just let it go. It is hard to report sexual abuse when the abuser is a family member. There are more hurdles to jump through as family members attack you and try to shut you up. However, after reading my book both questioned their daughters to find out that they had been sexually abused. Both were young girls. In both cases, justice has now been done, and both perpetrators are currently serving time in jail as they should. Those young girls will carry with them a life sentence thanks to two men who could not keep their hands to themselves. Those two brave mothers have shown fortitude of the highest order standing up to family members who wish to tear their lives apart because they do not believe them. Sounds familiar to me. Sadly we all have those types of people in our lives. I have learned in my lifetime that if a person truly loves you, that they will always love you regardless of personal innuendo or opinion.

broken-cover-webuse-3DbookSo ok, I published a memoir, but I still continue to write about my life now. Of course, I have so much more to share, my story is not finished. It will not be finished until I take my final breath, and even then I am not sure it will be done. I may not have lived a wonderful life, but I have indeed lived a full life, I have overcome many trials and much adversity, and I am still standing here strong, near the finish line, waiting for what comes next. There is just so much more to me than what is in my book.

I am blessed to have had one of the most gorgeous men on earth by my side for the last 37 years of my journey.

The God’s were kind that day, they smiled down at me and said, “Enough, it is time to give her a good one, she deserves nothing but goodness now.”

Shaun smallHe is an angel. Literally… I have trouble tucking his wings into his pants sometimes before he heads off to work each day. I have however hidden his pitchfork, which sometimes comes out when he is in playful mode. And believe me that is quite often, if you know Shaun you will certainly agree. We bounce off each other, we love each other. Shaun has been a miracle to me; he has taught me many things that I would never have learned if not for him.

I had suffered many fools in my life, except for two men before Shaun, who showed me love, respect, and happiness, though each of them brought with them a lesson for me to learn in my life, a lesson that I needed to learn so I thank them also. That would be the Reason, Season, Lifetime Quote‘. One, in particular, taught me that self-respect is the most important thing that you can have for yourself. Thank you if do you read this. He did this by demonstrating moral fiber – (The inner strength to do what one believes to be right; often an ability to make difficult decisions). If not for his lesson, I would not have been ready to enter such a fulfilling relationship with Shaun. No matter how strong our relationship is, it still may have crumpled without that lesson. I have a lot to be grateful for. Shaun is hoping to meet him and his wife soon and is looking very forward to it.

So I share parts of my life with Shaun because it shows others that you can have a great relationship with someone if you do it without trying to control them, by using controversy, upset and arguments all the time to try and make them feel bad for hurting you, when they actually haven’t. When you love each other, you trust each other, honour each other and most important of all you cherish each other no matter what. You do not make accusations about their behaviour because you have not opened your ears and listened to what they have said.

IMG_4533I have not been a well person since the day I met Shaun, well, a little before that as I had the accident, and that right there, pretty much stuffed my future. When I met Shaun I was learning to walk again, so I couldn’t run away he often jokes, not that I ever would have. We were married for two years before we tried for a baby, we wanted to make sure that our relationship was rock solid before bringing a little number three into it and then a little number 4. However, before long, numbers 1 and 2 joined us also. There are not many men out there who would take on another man’s children and love them as his own. Well, Shaun did that. In fact, Shaun took the biological father to court and was given custody of the children. The first stepfather in Victoria to be given custody, care and control of children whom he did not father. A precedence the judge called it. Moreover, he deserved it; he has always taken his role as their father seriously, he has been a wonderful father to all of the children.

IMG_4866During my pregnancy, I was diagnosed with a chronic renal disease that has pretty much plagued my entire adult life. Yes those big things pictured are my kidneys under a scan. Not that it stopped me from doing anything. I worked full time forever, travelled the world, did repelling into caves and just had fun. I always have a smile on my face. Just recently though I have been looking into the face of renal failure, dialysis and kidney transplant, a very scary thought but a health hurdle I accepted many years ago. Then six months ago I was diagnosed with a rare form of melanoma that has no cure. So now, there is no transplant for me. A transplant would quite literally kill me, because the drugs I would need to take to stop me rejecting a donor organ, would allow cancer to spread unimpeded throughout my body. So I am sentenced to be on dialysis until I pass away. I know, I know, what karma is this.

daffodilThe next lesson is, don’t roll over and die when you are given a diagnosis, I am one of the lucky ones, so I have been told. (I have time” ~ Robyn Crago – Cancer survivor). I have time to say goodbye; many are denied that chance. So again, the lesson is that we need to be grateful for small gifts. Even if they do not look like blessings, maybe they are.

So those are just some of the reasons that I choose to share my life with total strangers. I have a lot to give. I have had many life lessons that I am willing to share, and while those lessons are mine and mine alone, I could not bear to think that I am the only person in the world who can learn from those experiences. What an awful waste it would be if I took the fortitude to overcome these things with me to my grave.



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That Fateful Day ~ Australia Day Weekend ~ 1979

Posted by on Jan 28, 2016 in choice, death, despair, emotions, grieving, suffering, Uncategorized | 1 comment

That Fateful Day ~ Australia Day Weekend ~ 1979

For Yvonne and Karen. rose_large

Monday, 29 January 1979, the last day of the Australia Day long weekend was a day unlike any other in my life. I had been home visiting family in Melbourne for the weekend, particularly my children Tammy and Jason. Having hitch-hiked from Sydney with friends, which was not something I usually did. I was due to return to Sydney that day the same way. My mother was worried. I was happy to be going, I’d long given up any life that I had in Melbourne and fled to Sydney the day after my home was burned down by my ex-husband and his associates. I was not really in a great headspace at the time, a lot was going on in my life.

The three of us met at the railway station with its dingy little shed and made our way by train to Keon Park in Melbourne, where we walked the distance together towards the Hume Highway, only a few kilometers from there. We hoped to pick up a lift with a truck. I don’t know why but we were just more comfortable with a truck. We had been walking for quite some time when a man stopped in a car and asked if we would like a lift. He took us to the Seymour turn off. I was on high alert the entire trip, being the oldest I felt somehow personally responsible for the welfare of the two girls traveling with me. We lost sight of him as he drove off in the direction of town, I can’t say that I wasn’t pleased, and so we started walking again. Another car picked us up and took us to the Shepparton turn off. Our shoes were not made for trekking and our feet were quite sore. (See wooden thongs in picture attached).

After a few more kilometers, another car stopped. This one had four Airmen from the Wagga RAAF Airbase. They offered us a lift, but I politely refused as there was not enough room inside the car and there were more of them than us. One of the girls traveling with me, however, jumped in and said, “My feet are sore I’m going with them.” So we all piled in. I believe this was fate’s intervention in our lives. The car was very full, and shortly afterward they turned off the main highway and headed down a lesser known road. I was frightened and questioned them as to where they were taking us. “To a waterhole for a swim,” one responded. They all seemed quite pleased when we reached the water, they ran and jumped in, I was relieved. They had a great time while we sat in the hot sun and watched them. It was a hot summer’s day, so I suppose the swim was warranted. When we were all back inside the sedan and it was heading even further away from the highway, I asked when we might return to the highway as we needed to catch a truck to get to Sydney. They assured us that their way was quicker and would get us into Wagga by nightfall. We didn’t want to go to Wagga, but one of the girls wanted to stay with them, so we stayed. Besides, if anything happened, we knew where to find them as we had made them show us their RAAF IDs.

RAAF_Base_WaggaAs promised, we arrived at RAAF Airbase Wagga safely by dusk. They let us out at the front gate and wished us well. Advising us that if we crossed the road, we would catch a truck back to the highway and most likely back to Sydney. So we did. Darkness had closed in on us and the three of us stood near the bushes by the side of the road and waited. It was scary, things scurried around in the bush around us. None of us wanted to walk, it made sense that if we walked we wouldn’t get far before a lift came along anyway, so why bother hurting our feet when we could ride. So we waited and waited. No trucks, not one went past us for nearly an hour. A few cars but none stopped to pick us up.

IMG_3180And then we saw it, a fully loaded semi topped the rise so we jumped up and down to get his attention in the dark. He pulled over for us, he was worried about leaving us on the side of the road so he said, “Climb in”. There is much more to this part of the story but I will continue without revealing that. The three of us were safely up in the cabin of the U.D flat nosed prime mover, and it wasn’t long before both of the other girls fell asleep. The truck drivers name was Frank. I conversed with him along the route but noted that he was driving a little faster than he should have been. The truck slowed as we turned out onto the Hume Highway. I sighed, I was relieved… this part of the journey I knew. Frank was not very talkative. About an hour into our trip we topped the rise at Sylvia’s Cutting, a very well known and treacherous part of the highway back then. I saw flashing lights in the valley below as if there had been an accident. I mentioned to Frank that there was an incident ahead but he didn’t respond. I noticed that he was staring straight ahead as if in a daze. And later found out that he had been affected by what truckies call, ‘White Line Fever,’ a truckers worse nightmare. Today we call them micro naps.

TruckThe truck gathered speed down the hill pushed along by its huge load of potatos, gathering momentum as it rushed toward the lights, faster and faster it went. I screamed at Frank to “Stop.” He didn’t! Within seconds, the truck we were traveling in hit the back end of the other truck, which had stopped because of a flat right hand steering tyre. It was still in the middle of the road where it had broken down as there was nowhere to move off to the side. (see photo of the exact spot the accident happened). Frank had jumped from the truck just before impact, but the three of us girls were crushed and molded into the steel of the truck, where we stayed for another three hours until rescue crews could release us. Needless to say, our injuries were horrendous. So horrific, I am not going to cover them here. Let’s just say, we never made it home, not for a very long time.

Each of us spent nearly six months in the hospital, and even longer in rehab, learning to walk again. The mental strain placed on us by what we went through took its toll. Our lives have been completely different since that fateful day and of course, the physical injuries sustained by us all have left their damage as well. If you want to know more, it is covered in my book Broken. Our lives have been permanently affected and not in a good way, today we hardly know each other but we are all aware that it has been a long road back from there.

This is a song that will always mean the world to me. Thank you Jim “DJ, TT’s nightclub Kings Cross Sydney. I’m Alive ~ ELO

Make sure to kiss those you love goodbye every time they walk out the door. Be grateful for the fact you have them in your life no matter how upset with them you might be. So many never come home

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One of The Best Things You Will Read All Year

Posted by on Jan 21, 2016 in choice, desire, despair, freedom, goal setting, heart, intelligent, love, rebirth, renewal, respect, self esteem, trusting, Uncategorized | 0 comments

I have had this article in my files since somewhere way back in the 1990s just after the birth of the internet. Until today, I had no idea who the author was but the document itself is timeless regardless of when it was written. The author is Sonny Carroll, who passed away in the late 1990s. I am glad that he left this as part of his legacy. It has certainly helped me to
put life into perspective and I know it has helped many others. I have seen the transformation in people after they have read it. So kudos to Sonny Carroll and thank you.

The Awakening

A time comes in your life when you finally get it…. When in the midst of all your fears and insanity, you stop dead in your tracks and somewhere, the voice inside your head cries out – ENOUGH! Enough fighting and crying, or struggling to hold on. And, like a child quieting down after a blind tantrum, your sobs begin to subside, you shudder once or twice, you blink back your tears and through a mantle of wet lashes, you begin to look at the world through new eyes.

This is your awakening…

sonny 3You realise that it’s time to stop hoping and waiting for something to happen, or for happiness, safety and security to come galloping over the next horizon. You come to terms with the fact that he is not Prince Charming and she is not Cinderella and that in the real world, there aren’t always fairytale endings (or beginnings for that matter) and that any guarantee of “happily ever after” must begin with you. In the process, a sense of serenity is born of acceptance.

You awaken to the fact that you are not perfect and that not everyone will always love, appreciate or approve of who or what you are…. and that’s OK. They are entitled to their own views and opinions. And you learn the importance of loving and championing yourself. In the process, a sense of new found confidence is born of self-approval.

You stop bitching and blaming other people for the things they did to you (or didn’t do for you) and you learn that the only thing you can really count on is the unexpected. You learn that people don’t always say what they mean, or mean what they say, and that not everyone will always be there for you and that it’s not always about you. So, you learn to stand on your own and to take care of yourself. In the process, a sense of safety and security is born of self-reliance.

You stop judging and pointing fingers and you begin to accept people as they are and to overlook their shortcomings and human frailties. In the process, a sense of peace and contentment is born of forgiveness.

You realise that much of the way you view yourself and the world around you, is a result of all the messages and opinions that have been ingrained into your psyche.
You begin to sift through all the crap you’ve been fed about how you should behave, how you should look and how much you should weigh, what you should wear and where you should shop and what you should drive, how and where you should live and what you should do for a living, who you should marry and what you should expect of a marriage, the importance of having and raising children or what you owe your parents.

You learn to open up to new worlds and different points of view.

You begin reassessing and redefining who you are and what you really stand for. You learn the difference between wanting and needing, and you begin to discard the doctrines and values you’ve outgrown, or should never have bought into to begin with. In the process, you learn to go with your instincts.

You learn that it is truly in giving that we receive and that there is power and glory in creating and contributing and you stop maneuvering through life merely as a “consumer” looking for your next fix.

You learn that principles such as honesty and integrity are not the outdated ideals of a bygone era, but the mortar that holds together the foundation upon which you must build a life.

You learn that you don’t know everything, it’s not your job to save the world and that you can’t teach a pig to sing. You learn to distinguish between guilt and responsibility and the importance of setting boundaries and learning to say NO. You learn that the only cross to bear is the one you choose to carry and that martyrs get burned at the stake.

red-heartThen you learn about love. Romantic love and familial love. How to love, how much to give in love, when to stop giving and when to walk away. You learn not to project your needs or your feelings onto a relationship. You learn that you will not be more beautiful, more intelligent, more lovable or important because of the man on your arm, the woman at your side, or the child that bears your name. You learn to look at relationships as they really are and not as you would have them be. You stop trying to control people, situations and outcomes. You learn that just as people grow and change, so it is with love. You learn that you don’t have the right to demand love on your terms, just to make you happy.

You learn that alone does not mean lonely. You look in the mirror and come to terms with the fact that you will never be a size 8 or a perfect 10 and have perfect abs. You stop trying to compete with the image inside your head and agonising over how you “stack up”.

sonny 4You also stop working so hard at putting your feelings aside, smoothing things over and ignoring your needs. You learn that feelings of entitlement are perfectly OK and that it is your right, to want things and to ask for the things that you want. Sometimes it is necessary to make demands.

You come to the realisation that you deserve to be treated with love, kindness, sensitivity and respect and you won’t settle for less. You allow only the hands of a lover who cherishes you, to glorify you with his or her touch and in the process, you internalise the meaning of self-respect. You learn that your body really is your temple. You begin to care for it and treat it with respect. You begin eating a balanced diet, drinking more water and taking more time to exercise. You learn that fatigue diminishes the spirit and can create doubt and fear. So you take more time to rest. Just as food fuels the body, laughter fuels our soul, so you take more time to laugh and to play.

You learn that in life, you get what you believe you deserve and that your life truly is a self-fulfilling prophecy. You learn that anything worth achieving is worth working for and that wishing for something to happen is different from working toward and making it happen. More importantly, you learn that in order to achieve success, you need direction, discipline and perseverance.

You also learn that no one can do it all alone and that it’s OK to risk asking for help.

You learn that the only thing you must truly fear is the great robber baron of all time, FEAR itself. You learn to step right into and through your fears because you know that whatever happens, you can handle it. You learn that to give in to fear, is to give away the right to live life on your terms.

You learn to fight for your life and not to squander it living under a cloud of impending doom. You learn that life isn’t always fair, you don’t always get what you think you deserve and that sometimes bad things happen to unsuspecting, good people. On these occasions, you learn not to personalise things. You learn that God isn’t punishing you or failing to answer your prayers, it’s just life happening.

You learn to deal with evil in it’s most primal state, the ego. You learn that negative feelings such as anger, envy and resentment must be understood and redirected, or they will suffocate the life out of you and poison the universe that surrounds you. You learn to admit when you are wrong and to build bridges instead of walls.

sonny 2You learn to be thankful and to take comfort in many of the simple things we take for granted, things that millions of people upon the earth can only dream about: a full refrigerator, clean running water, a soft warm bed, a long hot shower. Slowly, you begin to take responsibility for yourself, by yourself and you make yourself a promise to never betray yourself and to never ever settle for less than your heart’s desire. You hang a wind chime outside your window so you can listen to the wind, and you make it a point to keep smiling, to keep trusting and to stay open to every wonderful possibility.

Finally, with courage in your heart, you take a stand, you take a deep breath and you begin to design the life you want to live. This is the art of living deliberately.

Stay safe until next time.


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Body Image and Your Attitude To It

Posted by on Jan 20, 2016 in choice, control, desire, emotions, freedom, intelligent, love, self esteem, talent, Uncategorized | 2 comments

Body Image and Your Attitude To It

I was totally blessed to be the offspring of a genetically perfect, gorgeously attractive mother, who quickly passed her genetic identity and beauty onto my also very gorgeous sister. See me to the left.

As luck would have it, I ended up with the genetic scraps, everything that is wrong with my family genes. I was dumpy… you know those larger upper legs, big butt and hippy hips, “good child bearing hips” I was once told. I had freckles, a hidden upper lip, painful for applying lipstick when you are trying to look drop dead gorgeous, knock knees were a given and did I mention my pigeon toes. My hair was mousey brown and untameable with curls, so every time I heard the phrase “eat up all your crusts because it will make your hair go curly”, I wanted to go ape on someone’s ass and throw those same crusts at the person who made the statement. That was until there was no bread and then when I got a crust I usually ate it. Oh, and did I mention the nose that just did not seem to fit my face when I was a teenager. Oh my God, I never realised how big it was until I saw pictures of me standing sideways.


My skin is fair and would cook as soon as I walked out the door of the house, even in winter… it still does. I loved to swim and back in the day we didn’t have sunscreen. I would look like a lobster within minutes only to peel a few days later and any hope of a tan that I had held would be lost. You know the old idea of ‘tanned skin gives you a healthy glow’ yeah right, check out your local cancer ward. And all of that was if I even dared to venture into the sun. Looking back now that I actually have Melanoma, it’s probably a good thing I never developed a taste for tanning. I did not see that I had any beauty what so ever. I would look in the mirror and see UGLY. I would look at the friends who were around me and I would think I’m UGLY in comparison. I had a severe self-esteem and attitude problem. Can you see a pattern emerging here, a pattern of self-degradation, self hate.

What I didn’t realise was that over the years, from say birth to twenty-one the body undergoes a transformation, a process called growing up. During this process the body will change shape, get taller, maybe smaller in size, colours will appear or disappear, etc., and sometimes your perception of yourself as the ugly duckling remains. Some of us have been tortured by ugly people with ugly words over a decade or more and in some cases find it hard to realise that we have changed.

The ugly duckling you once saw when you looked in the mirror; the one with all the imperfections has turned into a beautiful swan and you just can’t see it.

A wise man once told me, “Life is attitude, life is attitude, life is attitude,” actually I heard that at an Amway convention, but those words had a monumental effect on my life.

It matters who you see when you look in the mirror, you are your own judge.

Me youngTruth be known when I was in my early twenties I was as attractive as my mother, I just couldn’t see it. I did not see my real self when I looked in the mirror I saw a young girl who had been tormented about being ugly. It was my attitude that robbed me of the self-esteem I should have had. I look back now and ask why I never saw it, and as for the genetic lottery… I think I have it in the bag. I will be sixty this year and I do not look a day over forty-five, well fifty at most and I have no grey hair.

So, no matter how good or bad you feel you look, you are right. Stand tall, eat well, take care of your skin and drink lots of water and have a beautiful (just like you) future with no self-doubt.


Stay safe until next time.


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2015 What a Year

Posted by on Jan 6, 2016 in choice, control, emotions, grieving, persistence | 0 comments

2015 What a Year

2015 was a roller coaster ride for me. It started with a bang after I enrolled to complete a Bachelor of Arts at University in Creative Writing and Literature. The upside to that is my blog should be great. At that point, the only thing I prayed for was that my kidney function would hold out long enough to complete the degree full time. I had been told over and over again in my life that I would never amount to anything, couldn’t possibly achieve something, I was laughed at for never finishing anything, etc., I was very close to believing it all. I will admit that I had tried a lot of things and never finished them; apparently, they were not meant for me. And hey, if you don’t try, you will never know.

I learned that it doesn’t matter what others think, let them. They are the narrow-minded bigots, not you.

Nobody could ever say that I lacked on trying things out, I was on a mission, and all I wanted to do was to find ‘me’.

University was a way for me to prove to myself that I wasn’t all those things and that I was smart, not dumb. That I could commit, and the ultimate goal of standing in a robe on a podium receiving my much wished for degree was obtainable. To start with Shaun thought that I wanted to go to uni to prove something to everyone else. Then after he sat down and actively listened to me, he realised that this was something I wanted and needed to do for myself. He agreed I should do it and as always with Shaun he has supported me through the year in Shaun style.

Ash and me at uni

The week before uni started I caught a cold. Bad for me, every cold brings pneumonia with it, even though I’ve been vaccinated. My son decided to start university with me and together we arrived on our first day and sat at the coffee shop, as uni students do, sipping on our ‘mocha lattes’, no seriously, we had a cappuccino and tried desperately to figure out what buildings we were supposed to be in for Orientation. EXTREMELY large campus! Time for a quick selfie…

I have learned so much this year. I do not regret my decision to attend Uni one little bit. It has opened up my world and my eyes. I thought that I was a very liberal person who could truly understand other people, Uni has taught me I had tunnel vision, and I really was not who I believed I was. They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. They have taught me. I am a changed person.

Week one flew by, lectures every day followed by tutorials, I’m telling you for someone with Grade 5 education and a 42 year gap year under their belt and not a skerrick of self-discipline, it was new territory. Unlike the Diplomas I had completed at TAFE and Advanced Diplomas, University was a whole new world. Oh my, I am so going to love this, repeated over and over in my head, so much so I’m not sure I heard what the Professor said throughout the entire lecture.

Sociology straight up. Queue… “A whole new world”.

Week one saw me attend a doctor’s appointment early on a Monday morning; it overlapped my Sociology lecture but after the appointment, I still made it to the lecture. I sat in the specialist’s room while I listened to him tell me that I likely had Ocular Cancer. The big C… the bogeyman. OK, so this is something else I will need to deal with. Then I went back to my lecture and coughed up a lung for half of the semester. Another bout of pneumonia. Every lecture capture caught my coughing fits. People avoided me. And at the sixth week I was starting to feel bad as I saw others walking around with red noses and piles of tissues in their hands. Anyway, I digress. It was decided that radiation therapy should happen and a biopsy to determine what type of cancer they were dealing with. I asked to see the semester out, and it was agreed that it would take place in a month or so. I tried to enjoy what was left of the semester with all of the fun having been taken out of it by what was coming.

broken foot
My pneumonia cleared up about eight weeks into the semester, just when I was feeling great again I broke my foot and spent the rest of the semester hobbling around campus without a boot or crutches.

End of semester exams, last minute final assignments and essays, Harvard referencing and just pulling it altogether saw me exhausted and asking “why have I taken this on at my age”. It would have been so easy to walk away from it all, right there, right then, but I remembered why I was doing it, and the world was all good again. Over mid-year break, my foot healed and by the start of the next semester, I found myself ready to take the world on again.

Semester two started, and I was the first out of the box, I am eager, I’m all over this. Excited to be continuing I threw myself into each subject. I was happy.

me in hospital

ashley in hospital with me

shaun in hospital with me

The day for the operation came along all too quickly, two weeks into the new semester, my tutors and Profs wished me luck and off to the hospital, I went. The radiation plaque was placed into my eye, and I spent three days in solitary confinement. Only receiving visitors once a day for five minutes no more. They each had to be entirely lead lined to come into my room.
I took the weekend off and my three days in hospital then returned to uni. I thought that would be enough time to allow my eye to heal not realising the extent of healing it had to do. Two operations in three days, each time cutting the eye open to insert and remove radiation beads, then there was the biopsy to the back of the eye. I found myself having to drop two subjects to continue uni; they were heavy reading, and I just couldn’t do it.

The appointment for results came around, and we headed off to see my ophthalmology oncologist. I sat quietly in his room as he explained to me that I had Choroidal Melanoma with Uveal Melanoma Monosomy 3, a rare and deadly cancer of the eye, but only if it metastasizes which apparently is highly likely. The mortality rate is 2 – 5 years. Given I had authorised a biopsy of the tumour, I had also unleashed an uncertainty about metastasis. I cried ‘a tear’ and in real Sandi style walked out of the surgery with my head held high and went straight back to uni.

The end of the semester came around again too fast. Suprisingly my results to date have been excellent, two High Distinctions, three Distinctions and one Credit. I was invited into the ACES Society for Academically Excellent Students, and I deserve it. I worked hard, took everything thrown at me in my stride and didn’t miss a day except for the three I was locked up for during radiation therapy. I never asked for any special consideration throughout my Cancer treatment either. And I won’t.

Besides what was happening to me, we had a mountain of stuff going on at home also. It is way too personal to share in this forum and is not mine to share, let me just say it did not add any comfort to the level of my sadness and despair and saw me fall into the pits of depression again. They made an appointment for me to have a PET/MRI to see if the cancer was active in any other area of my body and the result was NO! “No Evidence of Active Disease”, a phrase every cancer patient wants to hear. So that is the outcome I wish to get every six months when I am scanned. If I get any other, it’s all over for me. There is no treatment for this cancer.

Sadly, I can no longer have a transplant. If I were to receive a kidney the drugs required to keep the kidney healthy would kill my immune system allowing the cancer to spread unimpeded. Now that I have my head around that I have accepted my fate. I will make the best of every day as it is presented to me.

So the point to this blog, is that it doesn’t matter what life throws at you if you keep a great attitude you can and most likely will get through it.

Uni starts again at the end of February, my subjects are picked, tutorials are booked, and I have a full four subject load again. I will beat this cancer and kidney failure and stand on that podium. I won’t have it any other way; I deserve this.

If you believe you are beaten, you are. So just don’t go there! It’s up to you. Life is what you make it.

sandi after surgery


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