“That man in the painting is in his 70s and he still sleeps with an axe under his bed because of the abuse he suffered in an orphanage. CLAN, Care Leavers Australasia Network was set up to support these people. I will not stop until they receive justice.” I interviewed Leonie Sheedy, one of the founding members of CLAN, in the temporary home of the Australian Orphanage Museum at 62 McKillop St. Geelong. Leonie was in St Catherine’s Orphanage for Girls from 3 – 16 years of age.
Leonie was pointing out the portraits of the people on the outer edge of the impressive memorial painting, ‘The Raft of the Clan’. It is painted in the style of ‘The Raft of the Medusa’ by a Melbourne born artist, Peter Daverington to acknowledge the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (2012 – 2017) launched by Julia Gillard.
Leonie told me many harrowing stories and a visit to the museum is well-warranted. Care Leavers are also called ‘Homies’ or ‘Wardies’ and used a lot of prison language because that was what it was like.
“We start our CLAN meetings by lighting a candle, we have a black ribbon and people still sob as we hold the minute’s silence to acknowledge all those who have passed without knowing the result of the Redress and Royal Commission.
“In 1992 a woman by the name of Joanna Penglase put an ad in 150 papers throughout NSW asking for the stories of people who had grown up in institutions. It took me days before I could call her. She produced an insightful book, ‘Orphans of the Living’. It was 8 years later that she rang me, we met and were the founding members of CLAN. We called a public meeting where 300 people came. It was October 2000, almost 20 years ago, wow how time flies.
“CLAN – We are here to listen, hear, believe and acknowledge your experiences. To raise awareness about the abuse, neglect and trauma we suffered and the ongoing consequences of our past treatment. To advocate and campaign for justice and redress for all Care Leavers. https://clan.org.au/
“There are so many stories, but here are a couple. There was a man, all he wanted to do was to be able to read his children’s report cards. I found him a tutor. He and his wife went on to foster children and he was able to write his own submission to the Royal Commission.
“The other black and white painting pictured is of 5 children who were taken to an orphanage by their 19-year-old sister. They were torn away from their poor mother, all weeping. To get to the orphanage, they had to travel on several trains then by taxi. On arrival, the older sister was told to leave as ‘they will be looked after here’. They were told almost immediately to go and fetch the wood. Coming from the wharves the younger, feisty girl did not hesitate in replying ‘I’m not fetching that f..ing wood, it’s too f..ing heavy for me’, which led to her having her mouth savagely scrubbed out with soap. That orphanage was eventually closed down and turned in to a home for severely disabled. The three sisters were kept with another three girls as slaves, to attend to the disabled.
“You can find out a lot about your family through www.trove.nla.gov.au which is a site of digitalised newspaper copies. CLAN helps Care Leavers find their families by searching trove.
“Some Care Leavers can’t live in Australia or even the state where their crimes were committed. I think I only managed to speak up because I moved to NSW. Now I am home and I’m a proud Geelong person who loves the Cats.”
If you are interested in seeing the Australian Orphanage Museum at 62 McKillop St Geelong, please ring 0425204747 for opening hours.
Story and photos: Jacqui Bennett