In 1954, two-year-old Samilya was abandoned by her migrant parents and placed in St Joseph’s Home, known as Neerkol Orphanage, outside of Rockhampton. After suffering years of insidious abuse at the hands of the Catholic nuns and priests, at age 10, Samilya is returned to her mother’s care where the trauma continued.
Not Forgotten: They called me Number 10 at Neerkol Orphanage, as told to Samilya’s friend, psychologist Anne Moorhouse, lays bare the lifelong effects of horrific childhood abuse and neglect. A psychological overview places Samilya’s trauma in developmental context, and explains Samilya’s mental health diagnosis, dissociative identity disorder.
Samilya is one of 500,000 so-called “Forgotten Australians” who were placed into childhood institutions from 1920–1970. Not Forgotten follows her marathon fight for elusive justice from the 1999 Forde Inquiry through to the 2013 Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
Each day Samilya fights to survive, to work, to have a home, to be a good partner and a loving mother. All Samilya has ever hoped for is an ordinary life.
Eight long, long years ago we started writingNot Forgotten: They called me Number 10 at Neerkol orphanage. Now I can reveal that Not Forgotten is the biography of Samilya Bjelic, who is referred to in past posts as Ms Forgotten Australian. We had to do this as there were current legal matters which meant we could not disclose her identity. We were silenced for two years. I swore and ranted against this suppression, yet the legal team assured me it was in Samilya’s best interest. For the first time, I felt my voice silenced by the Catholic church, for Samilya it was a repeat experience. Endured multiple times throughout her life.
Yet now here we are, free from legal constraints and tantalisingly close to having the book in our hands. This week, Covid-19 lockdowns permitting, Samilya and I will pick up our first copies.
So let me introduce you to Samilya Bjelic. She is an extraordinary woman who has endured more than most in her lifetime. She is a Forgotten Australian, volunteer, activist, mother, grandmother, friend. You will only really know and understand why she is my hero after you read Not Forgotten: They called me Number 10 at Neerkol Orphanage.
My friend is terrified of lifts so we climbed up the dingy stairwell to the third floor, only to find our exit door locked. After pointlessly pulling at the securely locked door a few times, we turned and scurried back down the stairs, to find the door we’d entered through also locked. Anxiety slowly rose in my throat. What if we’re stuck in the stairwell for eternity?
Frantically, we descended further flinging open the lower ground floor door to the street, bursting out into the bright sunshine. We re-entered the building, now no option remained but to brave the lift. My friend scooted into the back corner, her body firmly pressed against the walls, arms folded against her chest. Her eyes startled with fear and yet also relieved that we were the only ones locked in the confined, windowless space that she hates so much.
The long hallway to the inner city psychiatrist’s office was bland and soulless, terracotta tiled floor, cream walls and mission brown fixtures – a flashback to the ’70s.
Waiting outside the psychiatrist’s office
The psychiatrist, unknown to my friend or me, greeted her warmly, even though we were 10 minutes early. The psychiatrist had received a myriad of documents and clearly knew that this appointment was going to be distressing for my friend. Despite the kindliness of the psychiatrist, my friend looked pleadingly at me as she slowly followed her to the psychiatrist’s office. She Continue reading →
Survivors of child sexual abuse, who courageously gave evidence toThe Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, are now torn between applying for compensation through the Redress Scheme and/or launching legal proceedings against the perpetrating organisations. Neither pathway is easy and neither has a guaranteed outcome. Historical child sexual abuse cases are notoriously difficult to win given the passage of time, lack of witnesses and the legal requirement for detailed information. Survivors and solicitors embarking on the marathon journey into the world of trauma and legal processes need to be well prepared.
Acknowledge the legal process will trigger trauma symptoms
Applying to the Redress Scheme or undertaking legal action is likely to be distressing. Revisiting the abuse, providing statements, and arguing your case may trigger flashbacks, nightmares and other trauma symptoms. During this time be proactive in care for yourself.
Gather a support team
Invite someone, other than the solicitor, to join you on the journey and be your support person. Ask them to accompany you to appointments, read information, discuss the case with you and retain the focus in appointments when you are distressed. Give consideration to who you would ask. Another trauma survivor may also be triggered by the process. Perhaps there could be more than one person to assist you.
Inform your family and friends that the legal process is likely to be stressful and lengthy. Try and be clear about what you need e.g. “After appointments, I may be distressed, can you spend some time with me?” “Can you come for a walk sometimes to help me manage the stress?” “I may just need a hug or my handheld, will you be able to do that for me?”
Access support through a psychologist, counsellor, social worker, or caseworker and schedule regular appointments in advance.
Commit to a rigorous self-care plan
Legal cases may go on for years and are stressful. They are indeed a marathon and not a sprint. Continue reading →
A parent abuses a child, yet that same parent is also responsible for feeding and sheltering the child. Fear of retribution deftly silences the child. No adults are seen as safe.
Condemnation and punishment await an unruly and antisocial boy, who has no words to describe his chaotic emotional world or the abuse he is experiencing. Opportunities for disclosure are lost.
A teenage girl internalises her shame, silenced by the myth of the perfect family. No one would believe what happens in her family. The self-inflicted slashes on her thighs scream her pain, but no one hears. Continue reading →