1. We want you in our life.
Trauma survivors want friends, loved ones, and partners. We want a social life which fits into our own comfort zone. We may not be able to adapt to your social preferences in the same way you are able to adapt to ours. This can be for many reasons. For instance, something you enjoy may cause us anxiety. This is where you will need to be willing to accompany us while at the same time accepting we cannot always accompany you.
We want the same things in our lives that most people do: happiness, peace, and security. We just sometimes require them under different circumstances, and we need you to both understand and accept this.
As a trauma survivor heals, we also gain a maturity and an understanding that not everyone is equipped to be in our lives. We respect you when you are honest about this. If you don’t feel a trauma survivor is the right fit to be in your life, that is okay. You do us a favor when you do not enter our lives if you are not invested emotionally.
If you do decide that you want to enter our life, be willing to take things very slow. We need your patience. The more we heal, the more we grow, release triggers and can bloom. Connecting with a healing trauma survivor can be a rewarding and celebratory experience. We really do appreciate when someone cares about us with the intent of supporting our way forward.
2. We need to know we can trust you.
Survivors of child abuse are conditioned from very young ages that we cannot trust people who claim to love us. This is because the people we were supposed to be able to trust were the same people who hurt us. Sometimes a child abuse survivor is still learning to define what the meaning of love is. Many of us who have suffered sexual abuse were groomed lovingly into being coercively raped. This can cause confusion when an abuser is also loving toward a child, resulting in confusion when we reach adulthood.
It will take more time and open communication to gain our trust.
For trauma survivors, things can sometimes be very black and white. When trust is broken with us, it can either take us a long time to regain it, or we do not ever regain it with you again. I am one of those types of people. If someone shows me their true colors are rooted in manipulation, ill intent or disloyalty, I will most likely never interact with that individual again.
You may find that many of us have a deep need for loyalty and strong ethics in the people we relate to. When we are in a trusting space with someone, we feel safe. Because we rarely felt safe as children, feeling safe as adults can be a major factor in the balance of our mental health. Be trustworthy and loyal. It can be an honor to be in our lives since many of us rarely allow others in deeply.
3. Know our trauma.
Get to know what happened to your friend or significant other. Be genuinely interested. You may not understand our childhood experiences. It may feel horrible to you. It is natural to feel disgust at hearing about abuses happening to children. This makes you human. It means you care. We appreciate you for feeling WITH us. When we are healed, many of us survivors do not live a daily private life of continually speaking of our trauma. However, understanding the depth of what has happened to us and how it has affected us will help you understand who we are.
Some of the things you might hear may be difficult to wrap your head around. Imagine having experienced it. We survivors often feel the same way about our own experiences.
Be willing to listen with acceptance. Remember that you do not need to have the same experiences as someone else to understand and accept their experiences.
If we write about our trauma, be willing to read it. Once, I dated a man who asked me about my childhood. I suggested that he read my book, Cult Child, which would let him know everything that happened in my childhood. I spent seven years writing my biography. While I can give a summary of my experiences, if someone is going to be in my life on a romantic level, they should be willing to know the details of what I endured. His retort was that he shouldn’t have to read a “manifesto” of my life. He didn’t get any more of my time. Do not speak to us this way. It’s an honor to read our journals and experiences since it is not easy for us to write about it.
Healed trauma survivors can be very strong together as friends, business partners and in romantic relationships. Because both have experienced traumas, they will most likely have a higher level of mindfulness and understanding with one another. This can be a strong dynamic. If you are healing, strive to connect with other healing survivors. Healed survivors most often inspire one another.
4. Educate yourself about our impairments.
Many child abuse survivors carry impairments such as Complex PTSD, Anxiety, Agoraphobia, Dissociative Identity Disorder, Hypersensitivity, Startle Response, OCD, Depression or other bi-products of what mentally ill people did to us. Because an abuse survivor’s scars are not visible, many people forget their friend or significant other carries such impairments. This can be difficult for us. We want and need you to remember that we have impairments.
For example, I am deaf in my right ear. Because of this, I can have higher vocal volumes, especially in loud spaces, or I need others to speak up, so I can hear. Once, when I was watching a movie with a friend, she remembered my hearing impairment and put on subtitles, without me even asking. It warmed my heart. These small moments of mindfulness mean the world to me.
If you are interested in personally connecting with a child abuse survivor, educate yourself on what our impairments are about. Read credible information. Learn what the signals are for triggers and how you can be a support person if a trigger happens. The brain is an amazing organ. Learning how trauma affects the brain of a developing child is astronomic in understanding why child abuse survivors operate the way we do.
When you can speak our language, it is easier for us to communicate with you. This creates an ease for us. We do not have to struggle in communicating what we may be going through, because we are aware that you get it. For example, a couple signs of a trigger could be the pupils of the eyes becoming larger and a frozen body stance. Knowing these symptoms can help you recognize them if they arise. Sometimes a trauma survivor feels shame and stays quiet about what is happening in our head. When you recognize the signs of our triggers, and softly rein us in, it creates an open channel for us to move through it.
As we heal, you will notice that changes occur. Things which once triggered us may not trigger us anymore. We may have highs and lows of anxiety or depressive periods depending on what happens in our lives. We don’t deal with situations or see the world the same way as non-trauma adults do. Knowing how our impairments work can give you the tools to support us through this journey. Plus, nerding out on the way the human brain functions can be super fun.
5. Don’t take our abuse personally or try and fix it.
You may want to fix everything. You may become frustrated that you cannot fix some things. You will meet child abuse victims who are still in their abuse base. You get to choose what your own comfort level is. Don’t make a victim your pet project. Victims must choose their healing as they learn the tools to do so. You will find yourself exhausted if you fall into the belief that you can fix a person who has not chosen to heal themselves. It is okay to softly move on before you become vested. It is better for all parties involved when you decide responsibly to do so.
It can be difficult to watch someone you love have days of crying or silence; a state of being that you may not understand, or even think might be your fault. Remember that not everything is about you. Sometimes we just need to be heard or hugged. Sometimes we need to cry. Let us. This is where holding space is a necessity. A healing survivor will possibly ask for your input for self-care. We may be more open with what we are feeling and dealing with in our head when you hold space for us.
There is a saying; Let the past go. I disagree. If trauma survivors could wave a wand and make the past go away, oh, how we would. No. The past holds onto us, and we spend our lives prying its fingers away.
As we heal and face our trauma, we learn the art of taking dominion over our memories. We learn that we do not have to relive the flashbacks when they arrive. It takes time to accomplish this state of being.
Connecting with a trauma survivor requires a great amount of empathy and patience. If you don’t understand us, study and read up on what we live with each day. I personally respect when someone is honest with me about whether they are or are not a good fit in my life.
Be kind. Be gentle. Most of all, be real.
– Vennie Kocsis
***** Please Note: Text and images copyright to Anne Frandi-Coory – All Rights Reserved 4 January 2019.
Anne Frandi-Coory is interviewed by Chris Morris of the Otago Daily Times in November 2018 for the series ‘MARKED BY THE CROSS’ a research project. Part Two.
Q7. Did you witness other incidents, forms of abuse (psychological, physical/violence, sexual) by nuns or others there, and if so, how often and against whom?
A. The kinds of child abuse I witnessed at the Mercy orphanage were more psychological and emotional; traumatised little children being re-traumatised over and over again, by religious women dressed in intimidating habits, who offered us no love, or affection, no comfort and who also allowed us to suffer from gross neglect. They terrorised us into submission and into ‘holiness’ and ‘piety’… These issues must have been raised by other children incarcerated in these orphanages, in the years since, because Sister Joanna volunteered in 1992 when I met her, that Sister Christopher, who managed St Agnes Nursery, was “far too busy to give individual children special attention.”
An example of the psychological and emotional abuse involving my brother Anthony and me at the Mercy orphanage occurred during one of the only times I remember both Joseph and Doreen visiting us at the orphanage in c.1952 when I was around four and a half years old, Anthony three years old. Joseph and Doreen brought Kevin with them, but I am not sure where Doreen and Kevin were living at that time. We were taken to St Kilda beach playground where Doreen took a photo of the three of us children on a swing. I remember that day, because we were all together, we had equipment to play on and we were given the very rare treats of ice creams and soft drinks, and Kevin told me many years later that it was one of the happiest days of his childhood.
Afterwards, Anthony and I were dropped at the entrance to the convent, but Anthony was starting to cry, he didn’t want to leave Doreen, to whom he clung. The nuns instructed me to take Anthony inside to the toilet.
All the while my heart was breaking because I didn’t want them to leave us there. I took Anthony to the toilet but when we came out, and he saw that Joseph and Doreen had gone, he screamed and screamed, the tears streaming down his little pale face…I started to cry as well, but the nuns offered no comfort, told me to stop that nonsense (or words to that effect) and dragged Anthony off to the nursery and told me to go into another room. It took me days to get over this, but I was not allowed to ask about my mother. My brother and I were not even permitted to comfort one another.
On another occasion, I was sitting on the floor with other children and there was a nun sitting in front of us in a chair, when another nun came in carrying a small gold bangle, approached me and told me that my mother had arrived at the door of the orphanage with the bangle as a gift for me. The nun tried to get it over my hand but it was too small. I was too frightened to ask about my mother, who I wanted to see, and then I saw the nun put the bangle up high in a cupboard which I knew I could never reach. Once again, I bottled up my feelings of, how shall I describe those feelings…infinite sadness, and when I did summon up the courage to ask the nun, after she had put the bangle in the cupboard, if I could see my mother, she replied that no, she had already left.
I remember a little girl in my primer class, Ann Tye (of Asian descent), who like me, was laughed at and bullied by other children because we wet our pants and obviously stank, yet the nuns treated us as though we were ‘sinners’ or ‘lepers’ which I certainly felt like, and who failed to provide treatment for us or to protect us, or even to clean us up. The nuns never ceased to tell us stories about lepers in colonies that Catholic missionaries ‘looked after’ and I certainly believed, from what they told me, that lepers were sinners and that the sores they suffered from were as punishment from god and that missionaries were there to convert these ‘pagan sinners’ to Christianity so that they might be cured. I cannot stress enough the harm these ‘stories’ caused us already ‘suffering’ children.
We learned about the intimate lives of saints, how they were tortured and died because they refused to deny god or Jesus. All of these saintly stories were designed to keep us pure and to provide role models for us children. To sacrifice ourselves for Jesus or god, was to ensure that we entered the kingdom of heaven when we died so I aspired to be a chosen one after movies we were shown of ‘unblemished’girls in biblical times, being chosen for sacrifice.
We had to help cook meals for all the children when I was living at St Vincent’s wing for junior school girls which was then managed by Mother Boniventure. I believe I was around six or seven years old. Another girl and I had helped to prepare and cook lemon sago pudding for dinner, and as she removed the heavy, boiling dish from the oven with oven gloves on, which I remember were huge, she dropped the boiling dish and I watched in horror as the sticky orange goo slowly ran down her bare legs as she screamed. There was chaos everywhere and later an ambulance came and took her to hospital. When I next saw her, her legs were covered in bandages. I will never forget that smell of lemon sago pudding which we all hated!
The thing is, we were little slaves, and the impression I was left with was that we were worthless and that no-one really cared what happened to us. Our mothers were ‘fallen’ women, and in so many ways, we were reminded of this daily. Very few children were actually orphans …and some children were there because their mothers were ill, or who had died, and they were the ones who went home for holidays. On the other hand, children like me, whose mothers had ‘sinned’, well we knew we were different, because we were treated with indifference.
Q8. Can you describe the atmosphere of the place and the impact you saw this experience having on others around you?
In the Mercy orphanage, it was that lack of affection, the knowing that we were not special to anyone, and the nightmares we experienced. I especially remember the nightmares, of burning in hell, and that god would not bring another flood to the earth, like he did in the bible, as the nuns and priests loved to tell us; no, the next time humans were bad, it would be the end of the world and there would be fire like the fires of hell. Every time we heard fire engines, we thought it could be the end of the world. There were those children who were dressed better, and who spoke with better diction, and had better vocabularies, than those of us who were abused and traumatised. They went home for holidays and the nuns and priests favoured them; that was obvious to us, the cursed ones.
The Mercy orphanage was always busy with people; children, college girls, nuns, priests, visitors. I also remember large dormitories, with rows of beds, and when I was a toddler, I remember many cots in the nursery, not in rows, but placed this way and that and I was probably more than three years old and still sleeping in a cot, because I can remember standing up in the cot for what seemed like hours. Most of us were scared of the dark. We were not happy children … and we didn’t have toys or play equipment. We didn’t even know how to play, or to smile. When photos were taken, and someone said smile, I honestly didn’t know how to. My most vivid memories are of children crying and us small children polishing floors, and me waiting for Joseph to visit me. We hardly ever ventured outdoors.
When I was a boarder at St Dominic’s, around 1957, the whole building began to fill with smoke, and we children were all terrified that the building was engulfed in flames. We heard sirens and nuns rushed in and ordered us to vacate the building at once. We all raced down the stairs and out onto the concrete steps behind St Joseph’s Cathedral. We had been in bed and were half asleep, so we were all shivering in our nighties standing outside on a cold winter’s night. This seemed to go on forever, with firemen running in and out of the building and nuns seemingly rushing about everywhere, red faced and in mild panic. Once everything had calmed down, we were instructed to go back to bed, it was only a chimney fire which had been caused by a blocked chimney which hadn’t been cleaned for some time.
When we were back in bed, lacking comforting words to allay our fears, the girl in the bed next to mine began to talk about how frightened she was. We discussed what it would it be like at the end of the world when it was all on fire and there weren’t enough fire engines to put all the fires out. We stayed awake for hours after that; I am sure her heart was racing as fast as mine was. We talked about animals and birds and people being burned to death. It was a long night.
Q9. What was the impact on you at the time? And since then?
Fear and loneliness were what I lived with every day as a child … fear of things, fear of the end of the world, fear of dying, fear that the devil and god were always watching me, fear of animals. I was so afraid of the dark, because I often ‘saw’ the devil watching me to see if I was a bad girl. Many were the nights I lay awake in terror, hiding under the bed covers, with my heart pounding in my throat, after a nightmare. I was even afraid to go outside at night because I believed that either god or the devil lived on the moon; I could see someone there…and I was always sure that the moon followed me in the dark.
One of the worst nightmares, which recurred again and again during my childhood, was of me sitting on a swing which was swinging higher and higher, and I am screaming for it to stop, while trying to look around to see who was pushing the swing, but I could never see who it was although I knew someone was there. Another recurring dream was me being locked in a tiny space, my screaming waking me up. This happened once when I was staying at my cousins’ house when I was about 13 years old, and my screams woke the whole house.
I would sit alone somewhere, completely zoned out, I don’t know in what mind space, so that if someone called me, I couldn’t hear them. This happened many times and often I was punished for not coming when called. I suppose it was no wonder that my family, nuns and priests thought I was ‘backward’.
I was still afraid to go to the toilet and continued to wet my pants until I was about 11 years old. We didn’t have access to animals or birds, and knew nothing of the natural world. We were never read nursery rhymes or fairy tales, so in later years when my children were young, I used to read to them every day, and I learned so many fairy tales and stories that I’d never heard of. … the only stories about animals that we heard in the orphanage were abstract e.g. St Francis loved animals and birds, and sheep and goats were looked after by shepherds.
As a young mum, (I was married at 18 and gave birth to my first child at 19) I’d race to the church to have my babies baptised, because I ‘knew’ that god would take them from me if I didn’t have them baptised asap and that they would go to Limbo forever. I was still having nightmares about the end of the world and of one or more of my children dying. I was jumpy and over emotional, with a very quick temper…I could become very angry over the slightest thing, which often left me screaming and crying. I felt intense pressure to be a good mother which was the cause of much anxiety and depression on my part. I asked our family doctor if he could help me, but he didn’t suggest counselling, which now when I think about it, he should have done. However, he prescribed me amitriptyline in 1972, which calmed me down and I did sleep better. I stopped taking this medication in 1980, and later I consulted psychologists; the best and most helpful was John Craighead who worked from the public hospital in Blenheim, Marlborough. I remember well my opening words at my first appointment with John Craighead: “I have been paying for my mother’s sins for years” …his silence was deafening.
Up until the late 1990s, a nightmare, a triggered memory, could make me cry for what seemed like hours, but the next day the depression that had been building, would lift, until the next time. All through my childhood, and early adulthood, I was socially inept and behind all of my peers in all other milestones. I was bullied at school, laughed at, humiliated and had no close friends all through my school years. However, I could read, I loved learning, especially English grammar which I excelled at, and once I learned to read, I stole children’s books from cousins and a neighbour, and sometimes to be alone, I’d take the books and sit somewhere alone to read them. I am an avid reader but this has had its drawbacks, especially when I was younger. I take things literally, which often caused confusion and which meant I was very slow to understand colloquialisms and sarcasm.
I find it difficult to engage with people I hardly know, at an intimate level, because of trust issues. I am a virtual recluse, with only a few close family members and my life partner sharing my life. I loathe being the centre of attention so social media and writing are very important aspects of my life.
I experienced anxiety, nightmares, panic attacks, a deep sense of loss and fears of abandonment, interspersed with bouts of crying, which abated in my forties. I had attended Canterbury university in Christchurch, enrolling when I was 42-years-old, commuting from my home in Marlborough, with the support of my partner. I started a degree in psychology, but I changed my major to sociology because I wanted to understand more about life and the socialisation process. I completed my degree through Massey University while working for Social Services full time in Blenheim. It was around this time that the nightmares finally ceased. I felt safe and secure…but the journey was too long and too arduous.
Q10. Why was your Italian mother never allowed to visit you? Did you know this at the time, or just wonder why she never did?
According to my paternal Lebanese family, my mother was a ‘sharmuta’ (a prostitute) and needless to say my father passed this information onto the nuns at the Mercy orphanage. There was no secret about my mother being a ‘fallen’ woman, and although I didn’t fully understand what those particular words meant, I knew they were about sinful, impure women; we as children had been read many stories of what happened to sinful women.
Doreen was evicted from the Coory house at 67 Carroll Street for some reason, and I have listed Kevin’s and my thoughts on the possible reasons above. Kevin was 3+ and I was ten months old and it appears at that time she was about 6 weeks pregnant with Anthony. I saw Doreen a couple of times as a very young child; Joseph occasionally took me to visit his family at 67 Carroll Street and while I was there on one occasion, Doreen crept down the concrete steps at the side of the house, and found me in the rear yard, where she smiled her dazzling smile and gave me three picture books, said goodbye and left. I was perplexed, and when Joseph asked me where I got the books, I told him about the lady with red hair… ”Oh, that was your mother” he said, but I truly didn’t understand who or what a mother was then. Then later there was the trip to St Kilda playground, one of the few times we were all together, parents and three children. I knew she was my mother at that stage, and I loved being with her.
I think I understood while still living at the orphanage that Doreen was a sinful woman and that is why she wasn’t allowed to see me, but of course I didn’t understand then, what she had done to make her a “sinful, impure” woman. If ever I asked Joseph why he and Doreen were not together he would just say that “she broke my heart” and my aunts would tell me that she was a sharmuta. Although I didn’t fully understand the meaning of that word, I knew it meant something very bad.
My father took me to visit Doreen a few times; when she lived in a boarding house in St Kilda at the corner of Forbury Road and Valpy Street, where I remember Joseph taking me up a curved flight of stairs, and he obviously had been there before, because he knew which room Doreen lived in. I have a stark memory of standing there in front of her and watching her smoke one cigarette after another, while she chatted to me. And once when I was about three years old he took me to visit her in hospital after she had been knocked over by a car and had her leg broken. She always had a warm smile for me. However, I knew not to tell the nuns or the Coory family about these visits.
Q11. Did you have contact with your mother later in life?
I met my mother occasionally when I was a teenager and after I was married, usually at her state house in 56 Hewer Crescent, Naenae where she lived with Kevin, later at his house after he married, and not long before she died, at her government flat in Newtown, Wellington.
Joseph died in December 1974 and I went to his funeral, although Doreen didn’t attend. However, the following year in 1975 she flew to visit me and my family in Marlborough. She was very well then and on medication for her bipolar disorder. It was only for a few days, but it was very healing. We talked a lot about her marriage to Joseph, and when she had custody of the three of us children in Dunedin.
At that time, I hadn’t done any research for my book ‘Whatever Happened To Ishtar?’ so I knew nothing of her Italian background, her childhood etc, so our conversations were concentrated around her marriage to Joseph, and my birth. She told me that I only weighed five pounds at birth but that I quickly doubled my weight, which astounded everyone. While she was pregnant with me, Joseph raced around to shops to buy the food that would satisfy her cravings and that she lost a lot of blood during my birth. She breastfed both Kevin and me. I didn’t ask more about Anthony because I did not know much about him, apart from when he was a baby, and a very small boy. These conversations conveyed to me that she tried to be a good mother, she had done her best with what she had, and photos of Kevin as a baby, show a happy, chubby boy. There are no photos of Anthony or me as infants.
Doreen told me that Joseph was good to her at first and that she believed having a daughter “made a man a man”, but apart from that did not say much about the Coory family or why they evicted her and I didn’t like to ask. She talked about being admitted to Porirua Mental Hospital as it was called then, and how during one admission, she screamed out that the lady in the other bed was her sister Anne (whom I was named after) although the staff did not believe her and told her to stop screaming. Finally, Aunty Anne saw her, and she began to scream as well. Anne was suffering from severe depression. Doreen had become a nun at nineteen, to escape the violence at home; her mother was sexually abused and beaten by her father, and one day he dragged Doreen, the eldest daughter, out of school at 13-years-old to take care of her siblings and her mother. She witnessed her mother self-aborting with a knitting needle on more than one occasion and was forced to clean up the bloody mess.
Of course, entering a convent when she was 19 years old, did not help Doreen (then called Sister Martina) to escape from the realities of life as she had hoped. She left the convent a very naïve and troubled woman, but remained a devout Catholic from then on, which I believe hindered her rather than helped. Doreen prayed endlessly, instead of seeking the professional help she so desperately needed. She subsequently spent the next few years looking for love, but instead was used and abused by several men. I believe that Joseph did love her, but he was a simple man, socially unaware, with the vocabulary and reading age of a twelve-year-old. He certainly had no idea how to treat a woman or how to raise children! Doreen kept in close contact with an order of nuns when she moved to Wellington, until the day she died.
Doreen said that she never stopped thinking about us children and when Anthony and I were taken from her, and she was forbidden to have any contact with us, it worsened her illness and caused her to be deeply depressed. She also told me that it was Joseph who originally placed us children in the Mercy orphanage. This and other information was verified by Doreen’s psychiatrist, Dr Bridget Taumoepeau at Porirua Psychiatric Hospital when I spoke to her in 1995 about two weeks after Doreen’s funeral. She told me that whenever Doreen was admitted to the hospital “she never stopped talking about Anne and Tony” and how she was never allowed to live with us or to have contact with us, and she often didn’t know where we were. Not being able to be a mother to Anthony and me caused her to be consumed with guilt which in turn deepened her depression.
Sometime after Doreen and Joseph had moved to Wellington to live, Doreen was admitted to Porirua Psychiatric Hospital for the first time, suffering from deep depression, on 25th February until the 2nd of April in 1947 according to Dr Taumoepeau …and this was when her bipolar disorder with psychotic episodes was first diagnosed. After that first admission, Doreen was re-admitted almost every two or three years (sometimes at her own request), usually for months at a time, and she received ECT on many occasions for severe depression. During her first admission, Doreen had wanted her son Kevin to stay with her Italian family in Wellington, but Joseph insisted that Kevin should stay with his own Lebanese family, although he had not yet officially adopted Kevin. Doreen’s psychiatrist also told me that Doreen had a very settled period in the late 1980s, up until about two years before her death.
I was always told by the Coory family that Kevin was illegitimate and that his father was an old man with a walking stick who lived further up Carroll Street. As I child I believed this to be true and Joseph never disputed these lies. In my teens, my cousin who is the same age as me, told me that our uncle Phillip, Joseph’s younger brother, was Kevin’s father and that he couldn’t marry Doreen because he was already married. In 1975, when Doreen came to Marlborough to visit me, I already knew the truth about who Kevin’s father was and that Joseph had adopted him before I was born.
Kevin told me that when they heard that Joseph was possibly dying from pneumonia and pleurisy in 1957, Doreen and Kevin flew to Dunedin, where Doreen dropped twelve-year-old Kevin off at 67 Carroll Street and then went on to find a hotel. I remembered that day because I was there visiting Joseph. There was a knock on the door, my uncle answered it and I saw there standing on the doorstep, Kevin, whom I hadn’t seen in years, carrying a suitcase. Two aunts were standing on either side of me and one of them asked what he was doing here. Kevin answered that he had come to see “my father” … my aunt told him that he couldn’t come in because he had made the choice to go and live with his mother… “but I don’t know where she is” Kevin replied. They told him in no uncertain terms that he couldn’t come in. I was scared and once again rooted to the spot, unable to move although my body ached to go and hug Kevin, who later described this to me as the most humiliating time of his life. He had to walk some distance to the police station and ask them to find his mother, and in the meantime the police found him a place to sleep at the YMCA while they searched all the hotels for Doreen. At that time, I had no idea where by brother Anthony was.
That image of Kevin standing at the threshold of the Coory family home carrying a suitcase, and which had caused me so much anguish at the time, has never left me. I have lost touch Kevin over the last few years.
I was constantly indoctrinated by priests and nuns, both at St Dominic’s and at the Mercy orphanage, that I had to be pure, not to have impure thoughts and certainly not to have sex before marriage, and by implication, not to end up like my mother, so much so that my teenage years were utterly miserable. I was completely and utterly lost, going from one job to the next trying to avoid boys and men at all costs. So terrified was I of becoming like my mother, who of course at that time, I scarcely knew. However, after I met her in the Coory family’s backyard in Carroll Street, we re-connected and after that episode I began to search for her red hair whenever I walked around the streets of Dunedin.
During one of my visits to see Doreen and Kevin when I was a teenager, (which we had to keep secret from the Coory family, some of who lived in Wellington) they told me about the time they were struggling to survive while living in the state house at 56 Hewer Crescent, Naenae, in Lower Hutt, and Doreen was working at the Zip factory close by.
Q12. How old was your younger brother when he, in turn, came to the orphanage, and what year was that? What was his experience?
Anthony was about seven months old, and was first admitted to St Agnes’ Nursery on 13 May, 1950, which was managed by Sister Christopher who was very fond of Joseph due to his supposed devotion to Anthony and me. Sister Gregory was in charge of St Joseph’s Boys’ Home when Anthony lived there, and I interviewed her at the Catholic convent at 19 McAuley Crescent, Waikiwi, Invercargill in 1992. She remembered Anthony well, as I in turn remembered her from those days. At the time I interviewed her, she was elderly and very softly spoken, and also a little hesitant to say much. I got the impression from her that nuns were receiving a lot of harsh criticism for their treatment of children in Catholic homes in the past, but told me that they thought they were doing the right thing. I detected a fair amount of guilt in the way she said it. There is no doubt Anthony was a deeply traumatised little boy. Whenever Kevin and I have asked him about what he remembers of the past, he says he remembers nothing about his early childhood. He did not have a good formal education, but now has a steady career, and he kindly looked after Joseph until he was admitted to Cherry Farm, even though in the early days Joseph wanted to have nothing to do with Anthony because “…he is not my son”. Anthony also looked after Joseph’s dog Tim until he died. Anthony moved to Wellington permanently around the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Anthony also worked with Kevin in his high profile and successful restaurant, The Bacchus, in Wellington for a few years, and built a close adult relationship with Doreen, who also worked at the restaurant as a dishwasher.
I have only met up with Anthony occasionally over the years, because he is very close to the Coory family, whereas I am still terrified of them, so much so that when I am in their company, I can barely put a sentence together and then only with a voice I can barely muster. Kevin and I do have suspicions that Anthony was sexually abused during his childhood in Catholic institutions. He is gay and lives alone. You will have to contact Anthony for more complete answers to those questions concerning him. I do not know where he lives in Wellington.
As I have related above, Anthony could barely speak until he was five or six years old. He was severely beaten with a belt by uncle Phillip in my presence, but he says he doesn’t remember that either. That particular beating left him screaming and sobbing, which he ‘asked for’ because he and I had stolen two empty soft drink bottles to take to the dairy to cash in to buy lollies, while I was so terrified, I hid.
Q13. When were your brothers moved to the Doon St orphanage and why? What was their experience like there?
I do not have a memory of ever visiting Kevin at St Joseph’s Boys’ Home in Doon Street, although I do know he was living there for a very short time. Anthony was moved from St Agnes’ Nursery to the Doon Street Home when he was five years old in 1954 while Sister Gregory was in charge there. There was gender segregation when boys turned five, and siblings were separated regardless of the emotional damage it might cause. I interviewed Sister Gregory in Invercargill in 1992 and she remembers Anthony and me very well. As I have said above, Anthony has blocked out all memories of his time at the Doon Street orphanage, and I can only relate what I, Kevin and Doreen witnessed whenever we visited him there and when he lived with me at St Agnes Nursery.
Q14. What year were you finally able to leave, and how did this come about?
My father told me one day in 1955 at St Vincent’s Orphanage when I was about seven or eight years old that I would soon be going to school at St Dominic’s Boarding College in Rattray Street. I remember being very anxious when he told me this but I don’t recall him giving me a reason. When I met Sister Joanna at the disused orphanage in Macandrew Road in 1992, I asked her what the reason might have been for my father shifting me to St Dominic’s after all those years. She explained that at that time the Lebanese community was well settled in Dunedin and many Maronite priests were coming to Otago for further education. The Lebanese community were by then largely well off and were contributing some of their wealth to St Joseph’s Cathedral and the attached Dominican primary and secondary Catholic schools, and while most of their children attended those schools, I was the only Lebanese girl who was a boarder. I became a boarder at St Dominic’s around 1956.
Sister Joanna informed me that the Vatican had made changes to Canon Law, and there were other big changes afoot within the Catholic Church. Numbers of orphans and destitute families were dwindling, and there were fewer nuns and priests taking up those vocations.
Q15. What do you think motivated the treatment dished out by the nuns, and what do you think of their behaviour, and of the Catholic Church, now, looking back?
I believe that Catholic nuns and priests were unfit to have full charge of young children. While living in these Catholic total institutions, we were indoctrinated to the point that we could not think for ourselves, were terrorised daily about what awaited us in the fires of hell if we sinned. We were preached at daily, about how Jesus died on the cross because we were born with Original Sin …that we had to suffer here on earth to have any chance of getting into heaven. Graphic images of Christ hanging on a cross, with blood dripping down his side and out of his hands and feet, not to mention the blood on his head from the crown of thorns, were everywhere, to remind us daily what we had done to this poor man. Every nun had a large crucifix hanging around her waist.
These Catholic men and women (priests and nuns) had no idea how to educate and raise healthy and well-adjusted children, let alone children who were deeply traumatised.
Corporal punishment was barbaric, especially when it involved children who had done nothing more than talked in the hallways or at the table during meals when we were forbidden to talk other than to say grace, or some other minor ‘sin’. These men and women took it upon themselves to separate siblings from each other by gender when boys reached five years old, which added to the despair and anguish felt by children already suffering deep trauma.
From research I’ve done, and from knowing my own mother’s reasons for entering a convent, many nuns and priests took up their vocations because they were either indoctrinated themselves from childhood, wanted to escape violent home lives, or had some sort of anti-social disorders. Then there were the sexual perverts who believed that having control over so many children meant that they could do anything they wished to them and no-one would care because no-one wanted them, not even their own families.
The fact that the teaching nuns labelled traumatised children ‘backward’ or ‘feebleminded’ or ‘imbeciles’ was especially cruel. In Anthony’s case he was sent to a special school at St Bernadette’s because he couldn’t read or write when his peers were able to, and I can remember at St Dominic’s time and time again, when I excelled at some subject, I was queried as to whether it was all my work. I remember in one case in form one, in an art class we had to sketch a copy of a famous work of art, and when the teacher saw my effort, she asked if it was my own work, and when I said yes, she asked, “…are you sure?” I didn’t know how to cheat, even if I had wanted to!
On many occasions the nuns took their anger and spite out on us children… we were lost children but were seen as slaves to do their bidding, even when we were supposed to be learning in the classroom. They had total power over us and we could never escape their control 24 hours a day. All the nuns and priests cared about were our souls, they had to be white but if we committed sins, our souls would have black spots on them and god would not be happy.
I didn’t even know that I had a body from the neck down because as the nuns told us, our bodies could lead us to sin. The nuns always wore habits that covered their whole bodies except for their faces so we never saw a naked adult body and of course to look at another child’s body was a sin too.
Q16. What has been the lasting impact on your life, and the lives of your brothers, from all of this?
Anthony and I completely missed out on any form of normal socialisation during our formative years in Catholic institutions. There can be no doubt about that. It has taken me almost my entire lifetime to overcome the impact that spending all of my formative years in a Catholic institution has wrought upon me. Only now at age 70 years, can I truly say that I feel secure and safe. I have written two books, taught myself to paint, but not until I was in my sixties, and I only wish that I had begun to really live a full life so much earlier, because now I am running out of time, and going blind, because of the neglect and deprivation I experienced during my childhood years. Neither my brothers, or I, have ever reached our full potential.
You would have to ask my brothers this question for a full answer, but what I do know is that Kevin had a dreadful life living with Doreen when he was a child, and that he never was able to visit Joseph, the only father he ever knew. I remember Joseph talking about Kevin all the time and for Kevin’s first five or so years he had a close relationship with Joseph. Photos certainly show a happy little boy and I do remember Joseph taking me to Carroll Street when Kevin lived there and he did seem happy, playing in his peddle car and laughing at the time. When Doreen decided eventually, after her divorce from Joseph, to return to Wellington where her extended family lived, Kevin wanted to go with his mother. The Coory family from that moment on refused to allow any contact between Kevin and Joseph.
When they moved to Wellington, Kevin often stayed all night at movies which ran 24 hours if Doreen was in hospital and he also had to deal with her sexual liaisons with other men, and of course her mood swings. None-the-less he was always loyal and caring towards her, but it wasn’t the kind of life any young boy should have had to endure. Kevin has never been able to sustain a happy personal life with a woman, although he does have two children with whom he keeps in touch. Anthony has no children and from what I know, he lives a lonely life on his own, although he still has contact with some Coory family members.
My two brothers and I grew up living separate lives for the most part, and so have never really been siblings in the true sense of the word i.e. having the same reference groups, shared memories of a happy home life, or been able to offer support to each other. That sense of loss is always with me.
A friend recently introduced me to author Essie Fox and I’m so glad she did. The first of Fox’s books that I have since read, is The Goddess And The Thief and I am so looking forward to reading another of her books The Somnambulist.
The Goddess And The Thief is set in the time of Queen Victoria, when Great Britain was in the throes of plundering India and exiling the Maharajah (Great Ruler) with the inestimable assistance of the Honourable East India Company, during the early days of the British Empire. This very fine example of a well researched historical novel is my favourite genre; a way of learning about world history via a great story.
I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Essie Fox was herself a Hindu goddess …every line she has written in this book, is evocative of wonderful, sumptuous India, juxtaposed with the corset-laced Victorian age; an era fixated with death, opium and all things exotic.
Readers will be able to instantly identify with the motherless heroine, Alice, who after her father had died, moved permanently back to Windsor, England. Hindu mysticism along with childhood memories of India travel over the seas with her; apparent reincarnations and a sculptured goddess whose eyes appear to follow her every move in her father’s house, confuse Alice. And her Aunt Mercy, who at best is ambivalent towards Alice, is obsessed with the mysterious and intense Lucian Tilsbury. When the troubled Alice reaches her teens, she finds herself reluctantly attracted to him, also a little afraid of the intense, sexual affect he has on her, no matter how much she fights it. What are Tilsbury’s true intentions? Why are her aunt and Tilsbury so intent on stealing the Koh-i-Noor diamond from Queen Victoria and returning it to India where he believes it rightfully belongs and which Britain had claimed as its own at the end of the Anglo-Sikh wars? There is also mystery surrounding Mini, her ayah, whom Alice adored. Her heart broke when she had to leave her behind in India, and she yearns to return to be re-united with her beloved Mini, whose parting gift was a bangle made of glass beads and sacred brown rudraksha seeds, given with her last words:
Always wear this my dearest, it shall be a token of our love. And every time you touch a bead you shall know that Mini thinks of thee, and that Mini shall be praying still for her beloved’s safe return.
Aunt Mercy, a spiritualist medium, wants Alice to be her assistant during séances held for broken-hearted women, including Queen Victoria, who has a compulsive yearning to re-connect with her beloved Prince Albert who has recently died so young. Although Alice agrees to aid her aunt during séances initially, she finds the experience unnerving and unethical, and the relationship between Alice and her demanding aunt deteriorates rapidly. Mystery and suspense evocative of India fill every page of this book, and Fox’s superb writing sucks the reader into the sensuous depths of this beguiling story. I especially loved Fox’s use in the book of asides with such titles as The Letter Never Sent and The Prayer Never Answered to unobtrusively give the reader some insight into the past.
Eventually Alice begins to experience bizarre ‘dreams’ in Mercy’s house and later in Tilsbury’s, where he eventually confines her in a strange bedroom under what she believes is some sort of spell, although the stupor that envelops her renders her unable to think clearly. Added to that, ghosts appear in odd places, seemingly to warn Alice of danger. Statues of the goddess Parvati and her consort Shiva sometimes seem to move; are they just figments of her vivid imagination, reincarnations if you will, of the stories Mini used to tell her?
There is no-one apart from Mrs Morrison, Aunt Mercy’s cook, who Alice feels she can trust. But then, how can she find the words to explain the mysterious and devastating effect that Lucian Tilsbury has over her body and soul?
–Anne Frandi-Coory – 25 September 2018
The following post about the life of Italia Frandi’s daughter Helena, is an excerpt taken from the…
1918 Influenza Karori Cemetery Project
Researched and written by Max Kerr and Jenny Robertson
WOODWARD, Helena Arethusa
Born July 1888; died 28 November 1918; buried 28 November 1918
Helena WOODWARD’s mother, Italia Maria FRANDI, was born in the Tuscan city of Pisa in 1869.
Italia was the second child and only daughter of Aristodemo and Annunziata Frandi (née FABBRUCCI) and had an older brother (Francesco Garibaldi, 1866), and a younger one (Ateo, 1873) born in Pisa before the family left Italy for the other side of the world:
“The Frandi family travelled to New Zealand on an assisted passage upon the steamship Gutenberg, which left Livorno, Toscano Coast, Italy, on 15 December 1875 and arrived in Wellington, on the North Island of New Zealand, on 23 March 1876. From there they travelled by ship to Jackson Bay on the west coast of the South Island and then on to the ‘Special Settlement’ at Okuru…….”
…From Anne Frandi-Coory’s book Whatever Happened to Ishtar? A Passionate Quest to Find Answers for Generations of Defeated Mothers pp. 279-280. (2010). Anne Frandi-Coory is a great-niece of Helena….
“While living in the Okuru Settlement Aristodemo built a hut for his family to live in and Annunziata gave birth to two more sons, Italo Giovanni in 1877 and Antonio Raffaelo in 1878. When the Okuru settlement failed the family moved to Wellington, where Annunziata gave birth to four more sons: Enrico Carlo in 1880, Benito Ranieri in 1883 (lived for three months), Alfredo Guiseppe (my grandfather) in 1884 and Giovanni (stillborn) in 1887.”
Aristodemo appeared on the 1896 Wellington electoral roll as a fishmonger with premises in Molesworth Street, a business that he continued for at least 15 years.
Italia Frandi married on Christmas Day 1886 in what was then known as St Mary’s Cathedral, Hill Street (i), when she was 18. Her husband, John CARRENGE/CURRANGE, originally KARENTZE, was also a native of Pisa who had migrated to New Zealand. It appears that he was of Greek heritage and was employed as a wharf labourer. The couple had a daughter in 1888, registered with the name Ellen Harriet but from at least the time she was enrolled for school, she was known formally as Helena Arethusa and within the family and at school, usually as Lena. A son, named Aristidemo Leo, was also born to the marriage in 1890 but died at 7 months old around February 1891.
Lena grew up in Thorndon, attending Thorndon School from 1896 until 1901, when according to her school record she left on ‘doctor’s orders’. The family lived either in the same or adjoining houses with Italia’s parents and some of Lena’s uncles in Murphy Street or Wingfield Street (a narrow street that used to run off Molesworth Street towards Murphy Street, alongside what is now the National Library). This would have been a convenient location for Lena, close to school, handy for her grandfather working at his fish shop, and convenient also for her father working on the wharves.
As a young girl, however, Lena may have witnessed scenes of domestic violence. In April 1900, Lena’s mother appeared before the divorce court seeking a dissolution of her marriage on grounds of cruelty and drunkenness. Lena’s father had deserted his family some 6 weeks earlier (ii). The Evening Post reported (on 9 April 1900) that almost from the start of the marriage, Italia’s husband ‘had given way to drink’ and that he had frequently ill-treated her. When she had remonstrated with him, he told her to clear out. The judge granted a decree nisi.
In the following year, Italia married a second time. Her new husband was Peter CORICH, a seaman of Austrian descent who had come to New Zealand in about 1885 and who was naturalised in 1899. The new couple had a daughter, Elvira Maria, known as Vera, in 1902.
In 1889 (iii) Italia had established a dressmaking business to support herself, working from home, and around the time of the divorce she was advertising for ‘improvers’ (or apprentice workers or more likely, beginners) as well as a girl for housework. With the business being run from home, it is likely that Lena would have made herself useful with small sewing tasks and creative uses of fabric from an early age. Peter Corich died in 1906 and was buried in the Catholic section of Karori Cemetery. It was fortunate therefore that the enterprising Italia had developed her own income-generating business.
When she left school, Lena found work in a related occupation, as a milliner. She was employed by Cenci’s, primarily a millinery establishment when it was founded in about 1900 in premises in Vivian Street, but business growth over the next few years led to a broadening of its range to ladies’ outfitting in general and relocation to new premises at the corner of Lambton Quay and Panama Street. In 1905, at the firm’s annual picnic, Lena was reported to be the winner of the 440 yards handicap race for junior millinery hands (New Zealand Times 18 March 1905).
On 7 October of that year, Lena married Frank Hubert WOODWARD in St Paul’s Cathedral. The Social Gossip column in the Free Lance (3 November 1916) reported on the wedding. Lena wore ‘a pretty cream gabardine suit, with a wide Leghorn hat’ (that is, one made of fine plaited bleached straw), and her sister Elvira acted as bridesmaid. The paper added:
The bride is a niece of the late Captain Frandi (iv), who was last year killed at Gallipoli. She has many other relatives whose names are on the Roll of Honour, and some of whom have made the supreme sacrifice. Naturally, the luncheon after the wedding in the Rose Tea Rooms was of a very quiet kind, only relatives and very intimate friends being present (v).
Lena’s husband Frank was the eldest son of Helen and Charles Woodward, then living in Ellice Street, Mount Victoria. Like Lena, Frank was aged 28 when they married. Born in Lewisham, London, he migrated with his parents after serving with the East Surrey Regiment in 1904–05 and joined the Zealandia Rifles, one of the volunteer groups set up during the 1900s. At the beginning of 1914 he wrote to the Army District Headquarters in Palmerston North seeking a place on a course for aviation instructors, explaining that had studied the principles of ‘mechanical flight’ and as an amateur pilot had experience with two types of monoplane. It is not clear what came of this request, but in September 1914 he attested in Awapuni with the Main Body of the NZEF. In March of the following year he was transferred back to the District as unfit for camp duty. He re-attested in Trentham on 2 October 1916 and embarked for Plymouth (England) later that month, less than 2 weeks after his marriage. He served in Europe until his discharge in April 1918 when he was deemed no longer physically fit for war service because of ‘defective vision’. He was then taken on the strength of the Wellington Military District as Area Sergeant-Major and so continued to serve as a soldier.
Not long after Frank’s return Lena became pregnant and on 26 November 1918 she gave birth to a premature daughter, whom they named Helena, but the infant lived for just 6 hours. Lena was probably already sick with influenza and she died 2 days later, on 28 November, at the age of 30. Lena and Frank were living with her mother Italia in Murphy Street, Thorndon, at the time. Lena and her daughter were both buried on the same day, 28 November, in plot 142E in the Anglican section at Karori Cemetery. The headstone on Lena’s grave incorporates a Latin quotation ‘Anchoram habeus animae tutam ac firman’ (translated as ‘The anchor we have of the soul, safe and firm’) based on Hebrews 6:19 about the central importance of hope.
Read more about Helena here in the original
1918 Influenza Karori Cemetery Project
I so love this photograph you sent me from Austria…
it reminds me of the hopelessness my mother felt, her loneliness; she was also a heavy smoker.
You captured all of that desolation in one image for me. – Anne Frandi-Coory
Well, that was my intention. That’s why it is entitled Abandonné.
The original went to Aix in France to a woman who writes for a Jazz Magazine.
The woman pictured told her story in the book Welcome to Hell … similar to the story of
and your book, Whatever Happened To Ishtar? …
See, I am surrounded by writers 🙂 – Reinfried Marass
*All text and images are copyright to Anne Frandi-Coory*
*All rights reserved 16 August 2018*
There is so much domestic violence occurring in Australia …so many women and children murdered. Why? I believe it is a societal problem, but why in 2018, can’t we find solutions?
My mother, Doreen Frandi, abandoned me when I was ten months old for various reasons which I explore in my book: Whatever Happened To Ishtar?; A Passionate Quest To Find Answers For Generations Of Defeated Mothers.
In the fifteen years of research I did for the book, I discovered how awful life was for my Italian mother, grandmother and great grandmother. I was devastated to put it mildly! The domestic violence, marital rape, too many children, no contraceptives, brutal men, etc etc. In my mother’s case, she was thrown out of my father’s Lebanese extended family’s home onto the streets of Dunedin. Just like her mother and grandmother before her, she was used and abused all her life by men. My mother had previously entered a convent to escape the violence at home, but her life as a nun didn’t give her the peace she craved.
I often wonder if I had not been placed in an orphanage and other Catholic institutions for most of my childhood, would I have also become the victim of domestic violence? Instead, I became an angry, frightened child and combative young adult, not trustful of anyone, particularly men. I was independent and passionate about whatever I chose to do, and refused help from anyone! I obviously had something to prove to the world.
Anne Frandi-Coory 6yrs old
I loved my mother, and have never blamed her for her abandonment of me. She did her best. The nuns would never allow her to visit me in the orphanage, which broke her heart, and she suffered all her life from mental illness brought on by the guilt that she could never be the mother she wanted to be. I blame the Catholic Church which could have helped her to care for me, particularly as she was a former nun, but it didn’t! As far as the Church was concerned, my mother was a ‘fallen woman’ because her first child, a son, was born out of wedlock. She couldn’t care for me and work as well.
It didn’t matter to the Church that my naive mother was pregnant to a soldier who was already married, which he neglected to inform her at the time of the affair. She followed him to his family home in Dunedin, and the rest is her tragic story. The father of her firstborn was my father’s younger brother. My father, 18 years older, with the best of intentions, married her, adopted his nephew, and almost three years later, I was born. The major problem was that my red haired mother lived with the immigrant Coory family in a three storey house, in which several generations also lived. Including the father of her first child! The Coory family was a devout Catholic one, and it’s clear from my research and my memories of visits to that household, that my pretty mother was a harlot, and her red hair proved it beyond doubt! The fact that she was Italian just added racism to the hatred the family felt towards her.
So many successive generations suffering domestic violence. It occurs in all races, cultures, religions, and countries. If there are solutions, I don’t know what they are. Societal change takes generations and we should all be looking for answers. I know one thing for sure: Australia’s current LNP government is not interested in investing in the prevention of domestic violence. It has cut funding for Women’s Refuges and other safe houses, cut Newstart and other benefits which could help single mothers. Once again, the cards are stacked against women and children!
– Anne Frandi-Coory 16 August 2018