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Anne Frandi-Coory – Short Life Stories

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Anne Frandi-Coory

I resisted the fear and stood up to racial abuse…but should I have?

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Last Tuesday 14 April I was sitting on a train bound for Melbourne’s CBD at about 11am. All around me were voices in various stages of peaceful conversation, when suddenly a very loud male voice disrupted the calm. At first I thought it was a one sided phone conversation, so I turned to see who this inconsiderate person was. About four seats behind me across the aisle sat a well dressed young man wearing sunglasses looking straight at the window opposite his seat. In seats beside him but facing the rear of the carriage sat an Indian couple; I could only see the backs of their heads at this stage. The young man began to yell and scream obscenities obviously referring to the couple which alerted me to what this was all about:

Speak English you f…… c…. you f…… dogs why don’t you go back to your own f…… country you c…. I have to sit here listening to you f…… dogs talking in another language no-one can understand you f…… c….

 This tirade continued in an atmosphere of complete stillness. I was feeling flushed and angry while looking around for an emergency button. Then, the abusive man began to punch with his fist, the window right beside the woman’s head. How is it that window didn’t smash with punches reverberating throughout the carriage? Enough! I stood up and asked:

Does anyone know where the emergency button is?

 A young man right behind my seat pulled out his earplugs and said as he pointed to a spot behind me:

There is one beside that door.

It was an intercom so I pressed the button and a lady answered:

Can I help you?

Could you please send someone down to this carriage, there is a racist abusing a coloured couple and he is banging the window beside them with his fists. It’s becoming violent.

She asked again if I needed help and I replied in a strong voice:

Immediately, please!

 I sat down again. Still no response from other passengers, none of whom was looking anywhere in particular.

The abuser continued yelling: 

 Go on call the cops I don’t f…… care, you f…… dogs ….you f…… c….

Then he stood up threw his backpack over his shoulder and looking straight ahead, walked past me down the aisle muttering to himself, until he heard the click of my phone camera. He turned his head slightly in my direction and shouted

Go on take photos you f…… dogs Call the f…… police  you f…… c….

He then walked through to the next carriage. I watched him through the doors, standing facing his former carriage, his mouth still working.

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The photos are not very clear as my hands were shaking and I was not brave enough to take a photo lest I should provoke this maniac further while he was in full violence mode. The backpack was quite distinctive though, with a bright blue pattern and he was of medium height and solid build.

At the next stop a young woman with a pram who had been sitting in front of me said as she passed by:

Thank you for what you did.

The Indian woman turned and explained in her very soft voice:

We were speaking very quietly, it’s not as if we were speaking very loudly….

I stood up and replied:

You are free to speak your own language anywhere you please.

As the young mother exited the train the young man behind me suddenly lept up and ran out of the train as two policemen walked past the windows. Just before the door closed I heard him describing the abuser to the policemen.

I wonder why not one other person stood up with me on that train. I know we have to be careful, the man may have been armed, but do we just sit there and allow a woman to be verbally abused and maybe have her head smashed in? This man was angry, and that anger was palpable in the carriage, as was the other passengers’ fear. I wonder too, if anyone would have come to my aid if the abuser had turned his attention to me.  But then I have pale skin. Perhaps my anger was visible and audible too?

As my train journey continued, I wondered if we were all a bunch of cowardly hypocrites. Oh yes, we all share our outrage on social media (in safety) at the injustice of racism, but when it comes down to it, should we just pretend nothing is happening or should we stand up and say ‘enough’! Is there safety in numbers? I certainly don’t have all the answers.

I don’t know what the outcome of this racist attack was, or if cctv was used by police to identify the man, but I do think it was a very serious incident and I can only imagine how terrified that couple was.

Copyright To Anne Frandi-Coory 16 April 2015 All Rights Reserved

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Father Kevin O'Donnell

Paedophile Father Kevin O’Donnell

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In my blog post dated 2 July 2013 How Catholic Dogma Aided Paedophile Priests’ I wrote about Chrissie and Anthony Foster’s book in which they describe how two of their daughters’ lives were destroyed when they were repeatedly raped from the age of five, by Catholic paedophile priest, Father Kevin O’Donnell.

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Hell on way to heaven

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During the long battle to save their oldest daughter Emma, from more attempts at suicide by drug overdose and self-harm, she was admitted to one psychiatric unit / detox. clinic after another, over the years. Emma struggled, with some success, along with the loving help of her family, to overcome her addictions. It was a one-step-forward and a two-steps-back progress. Try as she might, Emma could not erase from her memory, what Father Kevin O’Donnell had done to her.

Emma was fast running out of psychiatric unit options because of her continual breaking of the units’ rules. However, one day in desperation, her mother found her a placement in a clinic run by the Catholic Church. Although she was hesitant about sending Emma there, she was comforted after being reassured that all the counsellors were professionals. But Emma had only been in the unit for a few days, when she phoned her mother and told her that a woman at her counselling sessions was a ‘practising Catholic and wore a cross’.  Emma was agitated and anxious. This woman was pressuring Emma to admit she was at fault for the abuse she was subjected to. Later that day, Mrs Foster rang the manager of the unit and explained her concerns about what Emma had told her. The manager stated that it wouldn’t have been a qualified counsellor and she had no idea who the woman was. She suggested Emma may have been speaking to a tea lady or cleaning staff.

A few months before she died at 26 years of age, from an overdose of her medication, Emma refused to see or talk to her mother. Chrissie Foster was hurt and bewildered. She was devoted to her daughter’s welfare and recovery, as was Mr Foster and their extended family. In the past, Emma had written many notes and diary entries, declaring how much she loves her family and how supportive of her they always are. But, she adds, her mother is the one she loves the most; she is always there for her.  That’s why Mrs Foster found it difficult to understand why Emma didn’t want to talk to her. She was hopeful that it meant Emma was trying to stand on her own two feet, and this could be a good turn of events.

Following Emma’s death, Mrs Foster had the heartbreaking task of packing up Emma’s belongings from her bedroom in the house she had loved, had decorated and furnished herself.  Loose sheets of paper were lying about all over the place. After collecting them up in a bundle, Mrs Foster sat reading the many notes Emma had jotted down in her neat hand writing.  A few of the diary notes covered her stay at the Catholic unit. She writes about the counselling sessions she attended and how traumatic they were because the counsellor was very critical and angry:  Why had she not run away? Why had she not told anyone about the abuse at the time? Why didn’t she call out?  Emma wrote: I told her I was five or six, he had all the power’. Emma wrote that she was made to feel it was her fault she had been abused. Anyone who has read Chrissie Foster’s book will know how those options would have been impossible for Emma given her age, the school environment in which the sexual abuse took place and her Catholic upbringing.  But most of all, they would have been impossible because Kevin O’Donnell was a paedophile with over 50 years experience. His victims describe him as an old man who was  frightening and angry. He continuously told them they were evil while he raped them.

Mrs Foster could not stop thinking about this ‘practising Catholic’ who was posing, unchallenged, as a psychiatric counsellor.   She believed no psychiatric unit in the 21st Century in Australia should be employing untrained counsellors. The woman obviously wouldn’t believe a priest was capable of sexually abusing children.  The ‘counsellor’ had intimated to a troubled Emma that she held priests in the highest esteem but despised the victims who claimed that priests had sexually assaulted them.

A distraught Mrs Foster phoned the Catholic Psychiatric Unit on a Sunday morning to enquire after a counsellor.  To her shock and horror, the helpful receptionist informed Mrs Foster that there was a nun on duty 24/7 to talk to patients.  So it was a nun who was employed as a professional counsellor at the unit and who was responsible for turning Emma against her mother. Emma had said to another person not long before her death, that the abuse was her mother’s fault, her own fault, and that the counsellor had angrily told her that Father O’Donnell had not raped her.

It becomes clear in Chrissie Foster’s book ‘Hell On The Way To Heaven’ how much Emma’s stay in the Catholic psychiatric unit affected and undermined her inner resolve to overcome her addictions and get her life back on track once again.  The years of addictions and self harm had taken their toll, but Emma was making progress, albeit slow. However, once she was coerced into severing ties with her family, and to rely completely on the unit for all her support,  she had come full circle; under the control of staff who preached Catholic dogma. Her fragile psychiatric condition could no longer put up a fight. She died alone in the house her parents had helped her buy with her share of the compensation money the Catholic Church had finally awarded to her and her family, after years of legal battles.

I know full well, from my time as an observant and devout Catholic child, the esteem and reverence in which most nuns hold priests. They too believe that priests are representatives of God himself upon this earth, and can do no wrong. Nuns are true brides of Christ.

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-Anne Frandi-Coory 7 July 2013 

Hell on way to heaven

Emma and Katie Foster 

.Updated 2 November 2016

*****Chrissie Foster, author of  Hell On The Way To Heaven has just been nominated for the 2017 Victorian Local Hero award

At the Royal Commission into institutional child sex abuse, Catholic Arch Bishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, made the astonishing statement that “celibacy has worked well for the Church…… men do not need a sexual outlet…..”

He went on to say that if priests couldn’t cope without sex, they were quickly defrocked.  Why were paedophile priests not instantly defrocked, but sent to poor parishes like Ballarat and Doveton, for instance?

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Chrissie and Anthony Foster

Well, I also want to know why thousands and thousands of girls and boys worldwide, over centuries, have been raped by Catholic priests? Celibacy is the biggest joke the Catholic Church has played on us…priests have mistresses, visit prostitutes and rape children!

 Jesus, if he existed at all, was not a celibate; in fact he married twice. Even the most saintly man finds celibacy difficult!

Former PM Tony Abbott, while LNP Leader of the Opposition, a failed Catholic priest, threatened to demolish the Royal Commission by withholding extra funding. It took an atheist female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, to set up the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses To Child Sexual Abuse.

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I have just finished reading  Hell On The Way To Heaven by Chrissie Foster.

Mrs Foster’s story was highlighted when there was a push in Victoria for an investigation into the sexual assault of hundreds of children throughout the state of Victoria by paedophile Catholic priests and Brothers, over several decades.

In the book, Mrs Foster describes how the lives of her two young daughters, Emma and Katie, were destroyed by a paedophile priest. They were both raped at around 5 years of age by Father Kevin O’Donnell who was then aged in his seventies.  Emma and Katie were raped repeatedly over several years and eventually Emma killed herself with an overdose of drugs. She had attempted suicide many times over the years.

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Father Kevin O'Donnell

Paedophile priest Father Kevin O’Donnell

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Katie tried to drown her memories of what Kevin O’Donnell did to her with alcohol and now suffers from severe brain damage.  When Katie was 15 years old she was hit by a car driven by a drunken driver while crossing a road after a drinking binge.  The resultant brain damage left her with no short term memory. The memories of her repeated rape by O’Donnell are the clearest and she lives with them everyday. If that isn’t hell, well I don’t know what is!  The book is harrowing reading because of what a Catholic priest did to these innocent young girls and the hundreds of other boys and girls he raped and sexually assaulted over a period of some 50 years.  There is also evidence that he had young men calling on him in the early hours of the morning for sex. Whether or not he had sexually assaulted these young men when they were boys, we will probably never know.

Mrs Foster blames herself for blindly following her Catholic faith which she believes prevented her from recognising the early signs that her daughters were being sexually assaulted by this beast.  But the really devastating truth about the sexual assault of hundreds of children is that the Catholic Church did nothing to stop it. Over the years several children and their parents complained to Bishops, including George Pell, and other priests, about Kevin O’Donnell’s behaviour, but they were not believed.  Or O’Donnell was shifted elsewhere. One priest told a worried parent to keep her accusation quiet.

Emma and Katie were attending a Catholic school in Victoria when Kevin O’Donnell was the priest in charge of the local diocese. His control was all-encompassing; the local church, local schools, principals and teachers. His commands were law. As Mrs Foster puts it, this was the perfect setup for a paedophile. Without the knowledge of parents, O’Donnell could call into any classroom he liked, request a particular child to go with him on some fictitious errand. Or he would simply walk amongst the children on the playground until he sighted a child who would fulfil his loathsome needs.  He would then take that girl or boy to a locked room at the back of the school hall or a disused Church cottage, and do whatever he liked with them. That was of course after they drank the drugged can of coke he offered them. He was cunning and experienced. To ply these very young children with alcohol would alert their teachers by smell and behaviour, that something was amiss. The children would all have to return to their class rooms after this disgusting excuse for a human being was finished with them. Mrs Foster and her husband, Anthony Foster, never found out what drug O’Donnell used to subdue their daughters, although a doctor did suggest that it was probably some form of valium.

If teachers complained about O’Donnell’s behaviour and his practice of taking children out of classrooms during school hours without parental consent, they bore the brunt of O’Donnell’s foul temper and some even lost their teaching positions. If nuns issued complaints to the Church hierarchy, they were ignored. There was nowhere else to turn; Father Kevin O’Donnell had the diocese and parish in his tight grip. Even when some parishioners were told of O’Donnell’s offending, they refused to believe it and so O’Donnell was able to continue sexually assaulting children with impunity.

Mr Foster is an atheist who had promised to bring his children up as Catholics and send them to Catholic schools as part of the marriage agreement with his future wife, a devout Catholic. Mrs Foster believes it was her own upbringing as a Catholic that allowed her to trust so much in priests. After all, weren’t they the representatives of God here on earth?  Weren’t priests placed in the Catholic community to protect children and support parents?  Even when she thought O’Donnell’s behaviour odd, Mrs Foster believed that he was always right in all things. He took his instruction from the pope who was infallible. To disobey a priest was a mortal sin.

You will be in disbelief, as were the Fosters, at some of the tactics used by the Catholic Church to exonerate itself from any blame for paedophile priests, such as the entrenched loophole in the truth called  Mental Reservation. George Pell and his bishops use this loophole time and again in relation to their protection of paedophile priests, including when answering questions at the Melbourne Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses Into Sexual Abuse Of Children.

I have often wondered over the years if my mother had not been such a devout Catholic, would she have been able to overcome her traumatic childhood? She never stopped praying to God and relying on priests and nuns to help her through all the difficult times. And there were many of those.The Catholic Church always seemed to let her down when she most needed its support. Perhaps if she hadn’t been so indoctrinated, so reliant on a non-existent god, she may have sought some other avenue of support, like professional counselling. When you are in the Catholic system, it is very difficult to get off the treadmill. The spectre of committing a sin, with the prospect of going to hell, is a great deterrent for those with a strong faith. If you needed guidance or counselling, you visited your parish priest.  If you were having problems with your children, you sent them to a priest for a talking to.

Mr & Mrs Foster were hopeful of gaining support and empathy when they were finally given an appointment with Archbishop George Pell after numerous letters, and requests to talk to him, were ignored. They asked him to take action against O’Donnell and had prepared a huge file on the suffering of their two daughters at the hands of O’Donnell. But the newly promoted Archbishop Pell was arrogant, evasive and rude, while refusing to believe that O’Donnell was a paedophile. Pell insisted that…  ‘It’s all gossip until proven in court. And I don’t listen to gossip!’ The Fosters would have to go to court before the Catholic Church would give them financial assistance for all the doctors’, psychiatrists’ and hospital bills that were mounting around the disintegration of their daughters’ lives.  Much later they were offered $50,000 for Emma by Pell, but they would have had to sign a confidentiality clause and would not be able to sue the Church. The Fosters turned it down.

Eventually the Fosters did receive compensation after many years pursuing the Church with the help of lawyers. It’s a testament to this couple that their marriage has survived the years of suffering they and their three daughters have endured at the hands of the Catholic Church. Their youngest daughter only escaped O’Donnell’s debauchery because by the time she was at school, he had retired from the parish.  He died before the Fosters and police could take any action against him.  The Church would protect its priests and the reputation of the Catholic Church at all costs. It was clearly evident in Pell’s actions and his  treatment of the Fosters, that the welfare of the victims of paedophile priests was of no concern to him.  In fact one of the official excuses that the Church relied on was that it was unaware of the harmful effect sexual assault had on children and that’s the reason they hadn’t taken any action against offending priests! Their role was to support priests and shield them from State Law.

I can relate to Mrs Foster’s claim in the book that it was only in the years following the shock of discovering what had happened to her daughters, and the loss of her faith, that she realised how brainwashed she had been by the Catholic system. Going to church every Sunday, regular confessions even though she had committed no sin, prayers every night.  Of course total obedience to priests was mandatory under Canon Law, which she faithfully inculcated into her daughters, as her own mother had done with her. By the time she could see her past without the blinkers of blind trust, she was 40 years old. I was 17 and had just entered the workforce when I began to suspect that what I had been taught in all the Catholic institutions I’d lived in, on and off for the previous 17 years, was not based on reality. But it took much longer to throw of the yoke of indoctrination,

I too had it so clear in my mind, that when I went out into the world, I would be looked after by God because I had been such a good Catholic girl. This is what religious brainwashing does to you. You believe everything priests tell you, even if it overrules what your parents tell you. Or even what common sense might tell you!  I can still remember when I was a little girl in class asking the nun if I had to love God more than my own father. She had just told us that we had to love God more than anyone else in the world because he was our true ‘father’. She insisted that was the case. I never stopped thinking about it and even believed I was committing a sin because I didn’t think I could love God more than my father. But I still trusted in God for everything in life.

Through all that the Fosters were suffering, Mrs Foster researched the way paedophiles groom children for their own sexual gratification. She was part of a group that wanted to alert other parents to the dangers by giving them information to help identify the signs children might exhibit if they were being sexually assaulted. Meanwhile the Catholic Church did nothing to inform parents that O’Donnell may have sexually assaulted their children and to seek help if they had any suspicions.  Mrs Foster also used her daughters’ recollections of how O’Donnell was able to lure them away from safe environments. She tells us that no child can know how to protect themselves from a determined paedophile, and Father Kevin O’Donnell was a paedophile with 50 years’ experience.

Mrs Foster did her best while O’Donnell was still alive, to urge Archbishop Pell to defrock O’Donnell so that he could never use his priesthood to harm other children. But Pell would not hear of it, even though O’Donnell had recently been convicted for several counts of past sexual assaults on young boys. At the time O’Donnell was convicted for these particular sexual offences, the victims were grown men. The police informed the Fosters that these were representative charges only as there were so many it would have taken years for them all to be processed and heard in court! The police were anxious to do what Cardinal Pell & his church would not do; get O’Donnell behind bars where he could no longer sexually assault children. The Fosters’ other concern was that when O’Donnell was released from prison, the fact he was still a priest  would enable him to use his position of trust to go on offending.

When O’Donnell was retired he was sent to live in a unit close to St Mary’s Church in his former parish of Dandenong. He began officiating at Mass on Saturdays. When complaints were made to Father Noel O’Brady that children were visiting O’Donnell at his unit, he took those complaints to the archdiocese.  The ‘appropriate authority’ instructed Father O’Brady that  ‘It’s not happening on Church property…we’re not responsible.’  O’Donnell was supported and protected by the Catholic Church until he died.  It couldn’t have done this if he had been laicised. Obviously the Church knew what O’Donnell had been doing for decades, and right up until the end of his life, his welfare came before the hundreds of children whose lives he had totally destroyed. Many have committed suicide, many will never come forward, most continue to suffer.

I urge all parents who send their children to a Catholic school or intend sending their children to one, please read Chrissie Foster’s book ‘Hell On The Way To Heaven’ if only to be aware of the telling signs that your child might be vulnerable to sexual assault and to ensure that what happened to her beautiful girls will never happen again.

Think clearly and make sure you know what is contained in the Catholic Catechism the schools use to instruct the children in Catholic dogma.

-Anne Frandi-Coory 

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See: Royal Commission Into Sexual Abuse Of Australian Children

***This page is copyright to author Anne Frandi-Coory. No text or photograph can be copied or downloaded from this page without the written permission of Anne Frandi-Coory.***

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Author Anne Frandi-Coory with her small daughter

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Kevin

Kevin

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Yes I know. Many of us have been through a divorce and it is one of the most difficult times we have ever had to go through.

But you can guarantee that for the children involved, it will be something they will never forget, for better or for worse.

So, our children must come first, because the decisions we make on how we go about the divorce proceedings, will affect their lives profoundly.

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Anne and Anthony at first Santa photo session

Anne and Anthony at first Santa photo session

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For all the criticisms I may have had about my ex-husband and the father of our four wonderful children, he never let spite get in the way of any decisions we had to make.  Our three sons were teenagers and our daughter was 11 years old at the time of our divorce. He took our two oldest sons to live with him and I cared for the two youngest children. However, the children moved freely between the two households at holiday times etc.

It is only on hindsight that I can now see we mostly did things right. Yes, we stuffed up occasionally, but not once did we denigrate each other in front of the children.

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The point I am coming to is this. Please don’t separate siblings from each other permanently.  The bonds between them are vital because they will need each other in the years ahead. Please don’t use your children as pawns or turn them against each other. Emotional blackmail is absolutely soul destroying for all concerned!

 I didn’t have to read about all of this in books. I and my siblings have lived it.

Our mother, Doreen, had severe bipolar disorder with psychotic episodes which was diagnosed when she was in her thirties. Her psychiatrist and youngest sister, Anne, believe her childhood traumas brought on the severe manifestations of the disorder.

Even though Doreen wasn’t able to care for her children there was no doubt she loved us. (If you want to know more about her story, please read post: Letters to Anne Frandi-Coory. But both our extended Lebanese and Italian families abandoned her and her children.

Doreen had 6 children in all. Hers was a desperate quest to find love and a family. Three children were taken from her and adopted out. Her oldest son Kevin lived with her in between her frequent bouts in a psychiatric hospital when he was just a small boy. His was a lifelong devotion to her. I was her second child and my brother Anthony her third. All three of us were placed in various orphanages; Kevin whenever Doreen couldn’t look after him (she was either working or in hospital, no benefits in those days). Records show I was  10 months old and Anthony a new born when we were placed in the Mercy Orphanage For The Poor in Dunedin, for all our formative years.

I don’t know the full truth as to why I, Kevin and Anthony were not adopted out as well, but the one thing we three had in common was that we had three different fathers who were all brothers from an immigrant Lebanese family. My father Joseph adopted Kevin at about six months old and of course I was his only child. He loved us and did his best, but his family were adamant they did not want us in the family home. Anthony was completely ignored and neglected until he was much older but cannot remember any of his past traumas. However, they show in his demeanour and on his face.

Getting back to sibling separation, the reason for my writing this piece.

We grew up in different orphanages and had different lives with many years passing between each brief contact.  We could never support each other through the very tough years because we didn’t have that all important bond of growing up together or being in close proximity.

It has taken us years to overcome our childhoods but we have done it all ourselves with no help from drugs, drink or family support. Without the luxury of having each other to share our tears with.  I am sad about that but I am also proud that we have refused to be victims.

I believe the deepest cuts were those inflicted when our mother abandoned us and we were separated from each other. Please don’t do that to your children.

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© To Anne Frandi-Coory All Rights Reserved 15 June 2013

Heritage listed Catholic Church in Christchurch (Getty Images)

Manchester Street-one of the worst hit  (Getty Images)

Published in The Australian Writer issue #374 February 2012

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***This page is copyright to author Anne Frandi-Coory. No text can be copied or downloaded from this page without the written permission of Anne Frandi-Coory.***

Anne blog

Anne Frandi-Coory

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I was living in Melbourne when the Christchurch earthquake struck on 4 September 2010. My daughter Gina, her husband and baby son, were living there at the time.

The first I knew about the September quake (without realising it at the time!), was when my daughter sent me a text:  “We are under the table, and Jack thinks it’s great fun”.  After getting out of bed at around 4 am to search for my bleeping mobile, only to find this message from Gina, I promptly turned the thing off, muttering “I will have to have words with that girl about the  time difference”, and staggered my way back to bed.  When the news automatically came on our bedside radio clock at 6am  announcing the 7.1 magnitude earthquake in  Christchurch, I leapt out of bed, wide awake, the full realization hitting me.  I had gone back to sleep ignoring my daughter’s text.  I was used to Gina texting at all hours of the morning after Jack was born, mostly to tell me how gorgeous he was, but often to ask advice about his sleeping and feeding routines.

Panicking, I managed to get through to her and calmed down when I heard she and her family were okay and that their house sustained no damage. At that stage, no-one in Christchurch had died as a result of the quake and damage to buildings was minimal.

However, I was in Christchurch when a devastating earthquake hit five months later on 22 February 2011; Gina and her husband, Paul, were not. They were off to an education conference in Rotorua and I was there to look after Jack,  a 20 month old with attitude.  On Monday the 21st, Gina and I had spent the day with Jack shopping in the CBD, having coffees and snacks at cafés, and generally having a wonderful mother/daughter day out.

On Tuesday the 22nd, Paul and Gina left me with Jack early morning to catch their flight to Rotorua.  At 9.30am I left the house to take Jack to his usual private day care.  Gina works Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and we decided it was better for Jack if we kept to his routines while his parents were away.  I was a little nervous when they left, because I recalled that the last time they had arranged for me to come over from Melbourne to look after Jack for a week, Paul snapped his Achilles tendon and their trip away was cancelled.  I wondered what my little charge had in store this time to get his parents back.

After dropping Jack off, I did a few messages  and returned to the house in Avonhead to settle down, while Jack was away,  to some serious writing on my laptop for my next book.  Deep in thought, re-reading what I had just written, I felt more than heard, a loud rumble and then the whole house heaved, seemingly all over the place. I leapt up and raced to the nearest door frame with double french doors dividing the dining room and lounge.  I gripped onto the door jamb to stop myself falling as the glass doors swung back and forth on their hinges.  The quake went on for many seconds and slowly settled into faint tremors.  I immediately sent Gina a text “earthquake, all ok”.  That was the last communication with her until that evening, and I learned later how important that simple message was to her, as she could not contact anyone in Christchurch for some time.

Not knowing of the hell that engulfed the CBD, I raced for the car in the driveway, my only thought to get to Jack.  Before I left, I had tried ringing the carer on the landline and mobile, but neither worked.  Ten minutes driving on almost-empty roads, got me to my destination and I arrived to find the carer and her charges under the substantial dining table, watching cartoons on a tiny laptop.  Jack was serene, as though it was perfectly normal to sit under the table.  I joined them.

In between the aftershocks, I got up to watch the horrors unfolding on TV in the adjoining lounge.  The earthquake was of a lesser magnitude than the one in September;  6.3, but shallower at 5 metres, and centred at Lyttelton.  Much of the CBD, where Gina, Jack and I had spent most of the day before, was all but razed.  Gina told me later that as the news got through to her and her colleagues, all Christchurch residents at the conference just wanted to get home to family and friends.  But there were no flights to Christchurch that  day.  All control towers and runways had to be inspected.  Back at the house in Avonhead, after spending an hour and half drinking comforting tea at the carer’s, I speedily carried Jack from the car  into the dining room, closed all the doors and removed the chairs from around the dining table, to enable us fast access under the table.  I gathered nappies, toys, books and anything else I needed for our enclosed space.  I had no electricity and no phones, and no battery radio.  That was the worst time, because I felt so isolated.  I managed to find enough food for Jack and I that didn’t need cooking. I took Jack  to bed at about 7 pm after playing with him and reading him stories, in between grabbing him and diving under the table during each aftershock tremor.  Singing Jack’s favourite songs had him swaying and laughing.

Down in Jack’s bedroom, I dressed him in his pyjamas and lifted him into his cot.  I dragged the single bed in his room over beside the cot and lay with my hand through the bars, holding his little hand.  Jack thought this was great fun and fell asleep without a murmur.  Tremors kept me awake most of the night so I was  in a state of  ‘fright and flight’  while Jack slept on.  The next morning Gina managed to get through to speak to me on  my mobile, relieved to hear we had made it safely from the carer’s home and that the house was undamaged.  They were hoping to board a flight late that morning to come home.  In the meantime, she told me that all drinking water had to be boiled and not to flush the toilets because raw sewerage was flowing into the estuary and it was probably seeping into the city’s water supply.  The best news of all was that there was a transistor radio and torch I could use, on a top shelf in the pantry, put there for just such emergencies.  Also, there were several bottles of drinking water in the deep freeze.  I told her that although there were few cars on the road when I went to pick up Jack, on the way back, cars were bumper to bumper going in the opposite direction, probably frantic drivers travelling to loved ones and picking children up from their schools.  Many schools were badly damaged in the quake, but no children were injured or killed.

Meanwhile, still holed up in the dining room, waiting to hear from Gina, I received another text message saying that they were on their way to Christchurch, when a man on the plane, worried about family he could not contact, had a heart attack, and the plane had to return to Rotorua.  Gina and Paul finally arrived back at their home at 4pm on Wednesday, relieved we and the house were fine, but distraught at news that many colleagues had lost their homes and some acquaintances were missing or dead in the rubble of the city.

The next day we travelled to Cromwell in Central Otago, five hours drive away, to Paul’s family’s holiday house.  We were lucky to be able to escape the city, but we were all on edge, thinking of what was happening back home.  After eight days, we returned to Christchurch and the growing total of the dead pulled from rubble.  There was no peace to be had and the after shocks reminded us of the ruin of one of New Zealand’s most picturesque cities.  Over 10,000 homes cannot be rebuilt because of the liquefaction of the land under them.  The violent tremors liquefied the land pushing  the sandy-silt  up through roads and  buildings.  Many families whose homes were destroyed, are living in caravans, cars, halls and tents.  Many have left the city.

Post earthquake, the fanatics and soothsayers had their say in letters to newspaper editors  and on radio talkback.  Apparently God destroyed Manchester Street because it is alive with prostitutes at night.  One has to ask why God would destroy the rest of the city as well, trapping people at work in multi-storied buildings, and flattening countless family homes.  Then there are the churches.  Why did God turn  Christchurch Cathedral,  Baptist churches, Anglican churches,  Catholic churches, Protestant churches, to name a few, into piles of rubble?   Is it possible that the earth moved because of a fault line in the earth’s crust?  I prefer that scientific explanation myself.

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© To Anne Frandi-Coory All Rights Reserved 10 March 2011

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Christchurch CBD 22 February 2011 (Getty Images)

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