Academic journal article Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society

Life in "The Mag"

Academic journal article Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society

Life in "The Mag"

Article excerpt

At the age of twelve, my grandparents and father took me to Mount Saint Canice, one of the Magdalene Laundries.

The laundry was run by the Order of Good Shepherd Nuns in Hobart, Tasmania. There were a number of these laundries in Australia, as well as in other parts of the world.

I am not sure how or why it came to pass that the nuns took in women and children, but I know that the courts did not hesitate to send adolescent girls there for punishment. It was also common for parents to place their children in these homes when support them or care for them them, or for any number of reasons. It is not my purpose to speculate here as to why the state allowed this and, indeed, there has been an inquiry and subsequent public apology to all of us who were incarcerated in this manner.

It is important for me to write my own record of my experiences so that it can become public knowledge. In doing so, I hope that no child now or in the future ever has to experience the horror I did.

I had been told that I was going to Mount Carmel, a Catholic boarding school in Hobart. My father had been asked to find a school for me as his parents, who were unwell, were no longer able to provide care for me. My father was a sadistic alcoholic, who lied to my grandmother about where I was going. Because the nuns could do no wrong in her mind, my grandmother was pleased with his choice.

***

My first day at Mount Saint Canice began at six a.m. It was pitch black and cold. "My eyes hurt when the nun turned the lights on. A num walked through the dormitory, she called out, "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit". All of the inmates got out of bed and fell to their knees. I learned that this command was to be obeyed immediately upon penalty of losing a mark. I will talk about marks later.

I also got out of bed and dropped to my knees. We said the Lord's Prayer in unison. I was then told by a girl next to me to make my bed, and to get washed and dressed. We lined up at the unlocked door and waited until all were assembled, before filing through the next dormitory and down two flights of stairs.

As I type this, I look back and realize that there were no exit signs and no fire escape in that particular area. Even so, the doors were locked at every turn. We would have been in serious danger had a fire ever broken out.

We walked silently through two more doors, our numbers growing as each group joined us. We ended up in the convent church. We, the girls from the home, had a part for ourselves that had been sectioned off, although some of the older girls sat in the public area. The nuns had their section as well. We had to attend Mass each morning. I was Catholic, so this was not new to me; but many girls were not and, therefore, resented having to attend Mass. I have to admit that I resented this as well, as I did not have a strong belief in God.

We were not allowed to speak at all.

When Mass was over, we filed back in order. Once assembled, we made our way to the refectory for breakfast, which was usually oatmeal with milk, and toast with butter and jam.

After breakfast, we filed out of the refectory. I was escorted to a huge room by Judith, an auxiliary nun, and told that it was the ironing room. There, I was introduced to Mother Marguerite, who was in charge of this area. I had never seen anything like it. There were ten large cloth-covered ironing tables that ran through the middle of the room. These were duplicated down either side of the room, so there were twenty places at which the girls would iron. There were huge steam pressers and steam egg-like implements used for pressing clothes. These ran along either side of the tables. There was also an area that led to the next room, and just nearby, there were many bins of wet clothes waiting to be ironed.

I was shown to a table near Mother Marguerite, who was ironing. …

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