Here, Anne Taylor, 72, from Kepnock, Qld tells the story in her own words.
￼Chalking up the squares, it was time for hopscotch! With hardly any traffic, we always played on the street. Just seven, my ears pricked up mid-bounce. Who could that be? I wondered, as a big black car roared around the corner, pulling up next to us. My mum, Annie, had passed away two months earlier and my dad, Nicholas, was out at work. What did these strangers want?
‘Annie?’ the lady called, while the man grabbed my brothers, William, 11, and Tommy, four. Quick as lightning, our big sister, Mary, 14, ran away. Bundled into the back seat, we screamed until we were hoarse. Through my tears, I saw an enormous grey building looming. Ripped from my siblings, I was taken inside and left with a nun. That night, I cried myself to sleep in my new home – Nazareth House, Kilmarnock, Scotland.
Shaking me awake, an older girl helped me to dress. Diagnosed with polio as a baby, I’d always worn callipers to help me walk. She couldn’t work out the contraption, so simply left it off. Slipping by in a blur, the days were filled with heartache. Why was I here?
Six months later, one of the nuns called me into her office. ‘Would you like to go on holiday on this?’ she asked, pointing to a picture of a ship. ‘Yes, please!’ I grinned. The night before I left, Dad came to visit me. ‘I’ll see you when you’re back, Hen,’ he whispered, kissing my forehead.
Along with 24 other children, I boarded the Orantes, chaperoned by a priest and three women. My callipers hadn’t made it on with me, but I didn’t care.
Docking in Yemen, we saw camels and pyramids and in Sri Lanka we went to the zoo. The six-week journey ended in Victoria, where two nuns came to collect us. Isn’t it time to go home? I thought, ready to see my family. It was 1954 and little did I know that I wouldn’t leave Australia for decades.
Herded into a bus and driven to another Nazareth House in Camberwell, in Melbourne, I was in shock. My loved ones were half a world away. Every now and then, I’d get a letter from my sister, Mary. Still, I ached for my family.‘I hate you, God,’ I sobbed.
The Scottish sisters had been strict but here they could be cruel. Each child was assigned one pair of undies for the week. And bedwetters had to hold their sopping sheets over their heads at breakfast. I explained to the nuns that I had polio and without my callipers, I fell over. ‘Don’t tell lies!’ a sister scolded.
But when I was taken to the doctor for a check up, my ‘story’ was confirmed. A specialist asked me to undress, for an examination. Stripped naked, my cheeks flushed with shame. Afterwards, a nun slapped my face so hard that I fell. ‘That’s for parading in front of those men,’ she spat, as I wiped blood from my nose.
Over the next two years, I had several surgeries. Walking with a limp, the friendlier nuns let me use the lift. But one sister insisted I hobble up the stairs. Armed with a cricket stump, she ruled with an iron fist.
When the nasty nun entered, wielding the cricket stump, I grabbed it and threw it out the window. No tears were shed when I left Nazareth House at 15. I started work in a bank, and a lovely family who I’d stayed with during holidays took me under their wing. With their love and support, I made a life for myself.
My husband, Barry, now 73, and I had three beautiful children, Tracey, now 53, Scotty, 50 and Adrian, who sadly passed away at just 29. In 1982, after nearly three decades, I travelled back to Scotland. Seeing my siblings after so long was a dream come true!
Sadly, my beloved dad had died several years earlier. But Mary told me that he’d tried desperately to get me back. ‘He never stopped missing you,’ she shared.
After Mum died, our local church decided Dad wasn’t fit to look after us. Sent to a boys’ home, William and Tommy escaped, hitching a ride on the roof of a train. But on his garbageman’s wage, Dad couldn’t afford to go to court to fight for me.
Looking back, I don’t hate the nuns. If anything, I feel sorry for them. To be so heartless, I can only imagine what they’d been through. My siblings and I talk all the time. My soul is in Australia, but my heart will always belong to Scotland.
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