Brainwashing and Depersonalisation to comply with the "rules" within an Australian Magdalene Laundry
Author Lily Arthur
Brief History of Holy Cross Retreat and Girls Home Woolowin Queensland
Holy Cross Retreat was operated by the order of the Sisters of Mercy. It was established and co-located
with the Magdalene Asylum for unmarried mothers. The retreat was based on the Magdalene asylums of Ireland, the object being
to provide a home for the destitute and needy irrespective of creed or country, to aid and reform the erring, to shelter the
weak minded, and to train the wayward, uncontrollable and erring, to habits of self restraint by necessary instruction and
kind but firm discipline. 
The Retreat also boasted a steam laundry, being well equipped with up-to-date machinery and all labour
saving appliances.  The young unmarried mothers who were placed in the home, worked without
pay in the laundry for the duration of their stay at Holy Cross. Their babies were cared for during the day by other inmates
of the retreat, which included destitute women and women suffering from physical and mental disabilities.
Up until 1959/60, the young mothers cared for and nursed their babies for up to six months and longer before
their babies were finally adopted out. After 1960 the Retreat accommodated young single mothers until they went into labour.
Once having had their baby they were never to be seen again. Their things were packed up and they never came back to tell
what had happened to them or to their babies.
Holy Cross Home was also known as an Industrial School for Girls
The home was established in 1904 as a reformatory and was renamed Holy Cross Home in 1965. It discontinued
accepting State Ward girls in care and control from 1973. The ages of the girls ranged from fourteen through to eighteen and
the length of their stay was dependent on the Department, their reformation, and whether the girls were found work or returned
to parental care.
They were also made to work without pay not only in the laundry but also in the cleaning and maintenance
of the convent and the detention buildings.
My nightmare begins on the night of the 16th February 1967. I went to bed that night falling asleep listening
to my boyfriend quietly practising his guitar in the next room.
Sound asleep, a hand shaking my shoulder awoke me in terror. I realised with horror it was a police officer.
On questioning me and finding out I was pregnant they took me into custody and locked me up in the South Brisbane Watch-house.
I spent the rest of the night traumatised and in a state of fear. The following morning I appeared before the Children's Court
I was a month off the age of seventeen and was over the age of consent. My appearance was that of a very
young person and although I had not committed any crime I was remanded by the Children's Court to Holy Cross Girls Home until
the police could find my parents.
On arrival at Holy Cross I was locked up in the dormitory for four days without any contact with the other
girls until bed time. I hid under the blankets and pretended to be asleep when they came up to bed. I wont talk to them, this
is all part of the dream. If I spoke to them this would make what was happening to me real, I thought to myself.
During the next four days of solitary confinement I suffered severely with morning sickness, and was crying
incessantly. All day I paced the long hallway, my head was splitting, my brain was exploding, my mind telling me there was
an unreality about all of this. I was trying to understand if this was all real, my mind was going around in circles, thinking...
I had gone to bed that night, fallen asleep and now I was here locked up this can't be real... no, this can't be real... You
don't go to bed and then wake up in jail... my mind repeating over and over, soon I will wake up and all this would have been
a bad dream.
Four days later I again appeared before the Children's Court and was then committed to Holy Cross indefinitely.
On my arrival back, Sister Isobel the head nun handed me two straight white shifts and a pair of thongs that I was to wear,
and told me that from now on my name was to be Leanne. I was told not to tell anybody in the home my real name nor was I to
ask them theirs. After cutting my shoulder length hair, I was then taken down to the laundry where I was expected to work
for the duration of the time I was to spend in the home.
A week or so later I was called into the office to sign papers to apply for my marriage to Steve. He had
gone to Sydney to get our parents permission to get married, and over the next few weeks I was living in a state of hope,
every day thinking that this was going to be the day that he would come and we would be married and I would get out of the
Hope and anticipation led to complete despair, followed by the realisation that I was not going to be released
from the home. I can't explain exactly what happened but at some point something snapped inside my head and I went into a
somewhat robotic state and distanced myself from the situation that was happening around me. My brain was receiving messages
that if I was good and behaved myself everything would be okay.
Although we were not actually verbally threatened by the nuns, there was always an underlying fear of being
sent to Karalla, a maximum security home. This deterred me from mixing with any of the state wards who were likely to cause
trouble, the ones who were always sneaking around smoking, tattooing each other, fighting and sexually abusing the younger
more vulnerable girls in the home.
There were quite a number of break outs whilst I was there, and the girls who had run away were always
caught and brought back to the home or were transferred to Karalla. There were also girls who had been to Karalla who were
sent back to Holy Cross who told of their treatment there, horrific tales of sleeping on the bare cell floor, with nothing
but a bucket in the cell, and food so rotten that it was inedible.
I constantly had thoughts of climbing over the three high fences and running away but the thought of falling
off them and hurting my baby scared me. One girl who tried going over the fences broke her leg and was in plaster for months
after, so that was enough to deter me.
For the next seven months I did exactly what I was told. I cleaned, I worked five days a week in the laundry
and I went to school. I wanted to show the nuns that I was a good girl and that I was going to make a good mother for my baby.
As my stomach got bigger and my pregnancy became more pronounced, my mind was receiving confusing messages.
Here I was at seventeen locked up in this place and there were unmarried mothers about who resided at the rear of the home
and were younger than myself. I became resentful and angry that they were allowed to come and go, rest if they were sick,
and were allowed to have visitors etc. and yet the reason I was locked up was because I was pregnant.
The idea of discipline from the nuns was not so much to inflict individual punishment. If a number of girls
were misbehaving then the whole group of girls were punished. Visitors would not be allowed and they would make us go to mass
every day for weeks on end. The nuns seemed to be hovering around us, their long black habits and white headdress reminding
me of circling vultures, engaging in little conversation, unless to give orders, always praying, the long rosary beads constantly
being fed through their fingers.
We in fact became each others jailers, watching over each other, and if there was any misbehaviour the
small rewards we received like the thirty cent pocket money to buy sweets on Friday afternoon or the movie that night was
cancelled. A swimming pool in the rear of the home was there to taunt us. Only on special occasions were we allowed to swim
in it to escape the hot Queensland weather.
Anyone who played up and deprived us of these things or upset anyone was dealt with in the dormitory late
at night. I was a model prisoner older than all the girls and pregnant so I was not exactly sought out or felt like I fitted
Anything that was a reference to sex was taboo, even the love scenes in the movies we watched were dealt
with by a hand being placed over the lens until it was over. I was conveniently put out of sight when the young boys from
the local high school came to give dancing lessons to the girls on a Saturday afternoon making me feel dirty about my pregnant
stomach, I being the only state ward that was pregnant.
Apart from working all day in the laundry the days were made even longer by being woken up at five in the
morning to go to mass most days of the week. The long hours working with no rest through the day made me very tired and depressed.
The only rest I had was when I was told to sit and fold pillow cases instead of standing all day folding sheets.
I was doing what I could to prepare myself for my baby. On the rare occasion I received a visitor, I was
given luxuries like shampoo and talcum powder. These were saved for my baby in my locker on the back verandah. I had accumulated
a little store of treasures for my baby and a work friend crocheted a little white matinee jacket and bonnet for the impending
arrival. Every now and again I would look at it and imagine my little one wearing it.
It must have been a couple of weeks before I went in to labour when I discovered that my locker had been
broken into and my treasured possessions were gone. I was devastated. Even though the other girls knew who had stolen my things
they would not tell me. The code of silence was never broken not even by my friends.
During the seven months of my incarceration no one from the Children's Service Department or the nuns spoke
to me about my baby. I was treated as if I wasn't even pregnant. In the last three months leading up to the birth there were
no visitors, or letters. I felt as though the world had forgotten me. I was to learn later that my sister was not allowed
to visit me for nearly three months before and more than a month after the birth of my child.
There was never any thought of not being with my baby and as the months passed the little person growing
inside me was my only connection to my sanity. My baby was the only thing in this place that was real, and right up until
I gave birth I suffered severe heartburn and stomach upsets from the food we were given. There was no medication given to
me to ease the constant burning pain. Somehow the pain became my friend and I manage to put up with the pain. Looking back,
I see that the pain was a reminder that my baby and I were together.
On the 1st of September 1967 at 6 am I had a show in mass that morning. I was promptly packed off by ambulance
to the hospital where I was admitted to the labour ward. After lying in the ward for a number of hours without any labour
pains a nurse came in and broke my water. I felt humiliated that my body was being invaded by metal objects. I was terrified
that they were going to put something up inside of me and pull the baby out. It wasn't long after that the pains started.
I was in abject fear. No one came in to see what was happening to me. I lay there watching the hands on
the clock go round and around. As the hours passed and the pains were getting stronger I went into a state of sheer terror
as I lay on the bed alone in the labour ward. Not a word from a nurse or doctor to tell me what I was to go through. Throughout
the whole of my pregnancy I was not given a piece of paper, booklet or any instruction of what the labour process involved.
A terrified seventeen year old going through the traumatic sixteen hour labour process with no idea of what was to happen.
At the point of delivery I was treated like a piece of meat throughout the whole ordeal, not spoken to
unless being given orders by the nurse. I was tied to the side of the bed during the birth of my son. My left leg tied up
in a stirrup and my right leg pulled behind me until it felt as though they were breaking my back. The sweet sickly smell
of the gas and the rubber mask shoved in my face was making me gag, and my reality drifted into a flashing, numbing, conscious,
blacking out unreality.
At 9.59 pm my son was born and as I tried to turn over to see what was happening, the nurse pinned my shoulder
to the mattress holding me down until my baby was removed from the room. Struggling to see what was happening I managed to
catch a glimpse of a group of people leaving the room. God! Were they watching me giving birth, looking at my body? I felt
as though I had been pack raped! When I asked what I had, I was later told that I had given birth to a son.
Due to the external and internal damage I had I suffered giving birth, I had to have stitches and as the
doctor sewed me up, he was jokingly remarking on his herringbone stitch and comparing his work to another doctor in the hospital.
During this procedure not one word was said to me, it was as though I was not even in the room. I, a bag of garbage which
was not worth acknowledging.
For the next seven days I hardly remember anything. All I can remember is the urgency to contact Steve
and let him know that I had the baby. He came to the hospital to see me twice and the whole thing is a blur. A flash comes
of Steve, me and his friend looking through the nursery window trying to work out which one of the babies was mine. Through
strained short-sighted eyes I was repeatedly searching the rows of cribs trying to see which one of the un-named babies was
mine. Steve pointed to a black haired baby, "that must be him", we agreed. I was to find out later that my baby had blond
Looking back, my memories of the eight days spent in the hospital were mostly of myself hiding under the
I still had not been shown my baby and on the eighth day a woman from the department came and threatened
and coerced me into signing the adoption papers for my son.
Immediately on signing the papers she asked me if I would like to see my baby and gave me a card to hold
up at the nursery window. I was shown a baby but do not remember what it looked like. When I have flashbacks I just see myself
standing at the window in a daze. I know now I was drugged and that was the reason for my dissociation.
As soon as I had seen the baby I was told to pack my things and was sent straight back to the home. On
arrival it was as though I had never been away, not a mention of the baby. I was then told by the nun that I was to go down
to the laundry where I was to do some work until it was time for tea.
The next six weeks I spent in a dream like trance. I had not had any visitors for almost four months nor
did I hear from my family. It was as though I had been forgotten by the world and I was going to stay in the home forever.
Not long after my return to the home I was rewarded. By not having the big stomach anymore I was sent up
to the convent to do the house work and clean up after the nuns. Mother Liam commending me in front of the girls at morning
prayers saying, that I cleaned the bathrooms better than anyone who had cleaned there before.
Six weeks after the birth of my baby I was told by the nun that I was being sent back to my mother in Sydney.
All I can remember is getting angry. I expected to be locked up until I turned 18, five months later. Two days before my release,
I was sitting on the verandah after finishing work in the convent when Sister Isobel came along and ordered me to go into
the laundry and finish the rest of the day working in there.
All I can remember was telling her to "get lost", my first act of defiance in nine months. She started
whipping my leg with a feather duster as I ran along the verandah and into the laundry. I didn't care if they kept me locked
up forever; there was nothing left for me in the outside world again.
A few months after leaving the home whilst working in a lighting factory, a woman with whom I had become
friendly announced she was leaving the next day as she was adopting a baby. I became very upset and the birth of my son and
his loss came flooding back to me. I don't know why but I went home and got the matinee jacket and bonnet and gave it to her,
it was as though I was giving it to her for my own baby, the last physical connection with my baby was gone
I spent the next thirty years living in a dream. Although I knew that I had had this experience, my memory
of it was very hazy as though it had happened to someone else and not to me. I never spoke of it to anyone, nor did I tell
my daughter about it or the fact that she had a brother until she turned nineteen some twenty three years after the event.
When I finally found my son, I went through a period of happiness, depression, mood swings and flashbacks,
trying to put together a picture in my mind that I could not understand. I felt as though I was going to lose the plot entirely,
my mind was in a state of utter turmoil with flashbacks, intense anger, depression, etc. I went to a psychologist and was
told to see a psychiatrist. I then went to my GP who referred me to one. My mind is still in a state of confusion and anger.
I am still trying to come to terms with my imprisonment and the premeditated theft of my only son.
I have been undergoing hypnotherapy and when taken back I see myself as Leanne pacing the verandah of Holy
Cross. It is as though she is frozen in time. My mind seeing her in the cell, seeing the arrest, the court, the labour ward,
the smell of the gas still so vivid in my mind that I feel nauseous. I hear the words of the social worker, the images are
flashing so fast my mind cannot grab onto what is happening. The psychiatrist asks Leanne to leave the home but she is unable
to get out of the place where she has had the last contact with her baby.
I see her pacing in the dormitory and her head is exploding. After being isolated for days she comes to
terms with being locked up and looks forward to going down with the other girls she sees from the window playing netball after
During my going back hypnotherapy I am frozen stiff in the psychiatrist's chair, Leanne takes over and
weeps incessantly and is hardly able to communicate. My mind sees her standing still as though she is in a vortex and when
the psychiatrist asks her to tell what is happening she is unable to speak. During these sessions she gets such intense pains
in her head, and my head feels this as well and feels as though her head and my head is about to explode. I come out of therapy
unable to comprehend exactly what has gone on, unable to connect with my surroundings.
Looking back, I now see the effect of the solitary confinement, not only the imprisonment but the deliberate
breaking of ties with Steve, my sister Jenny and my family and how this was used to make me compliant. The depersonalisation
of myself by taking my name and clothes and my hair away, so that I lost my sense of identity, security and history in order
that I could be subjugated to do whatever I was told.
On my release from Holy Cross and out in the world, I was once again made to take on the personality of
Lily. My carefree sixteen year old self was lost.
Nine months was taken out of my life and lived by someone who was called Leanne. I feel as though she was
the one who lost my baby. My psychiatrist is trying to integrate her into my life and to make her experience part of my experience.
I will never be the same person who was incarcerated; Lily the sixteen year old carefree girl was lost.
I emerged from Holy Cross split in half, two personalities who have never fitted together, two halves who had to merge into
a person who lived in a fugue state in order to survive.
This is mine and Leanne's legacy of the conspiracy and brainwashing of a Magdalene Laundry run by the church
I grew up in, and the theft of my only son by my guardian, the State of Queensland.
- The Brisbane Centenary official historical souvenir, 1921 on page 265
- History of Holy Cross Oxley Library Brisbane
- Missing Links, information to assist former residents of children s institutions to access records. The
State of Queensland (Dept of Families) publication 2001