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Monday, March 30, 1998 Published at 21:13 GMT 22:13 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Orphans 'tortured' by nuns for 90 years
image: [ Neerkol in northern Queensland, scene of the 'torture' according to a report ]
Neerkol in northern Queensland, scene of the 'torture' according to a report

Allegations that Roman Catholic nuns systematically tortured orphans over a period of 90 years are being investigated by Australian authorities.

Children at the Neerkol orphanage in northern Queensland were scalded with boiling water, locked under the floor and had their toenails pulled out with pliers, a report by a university lecturer says. Beatings, public floggings and rape were also practiced, the report alleges.

Professor Bruce Grundy discusses his report
The order which runs the home, the Sisters of Mercy, apologised earlier this month for what had happened at Neerkol.

The report by Professor Bruce Grundy of the Department of Journalism at Queensland University says the events went on for 90 years until 1976.

Official investigation

The orphanage is now under official investigation by the Queensland State Children's Commissioner, Norm Alford. He expects to release a preliminary report next month.

The orphans included 48 children who were part of a British Government orphan migration program which is under investigation by a House of Commons committee.

Punishment for holding hands

Mr Grundy said he could not think of any brutality or inhumanity that was not practiced. They ranged from floggings with a whip at the hands of workmen, to having legs plunged into boiling water.

One girl had her fingers broken because by holding a boy's hand she had broken a rule. The boy, however, was her brother.

Another former resident, Helen Carter, now in her 30s, told how the nuns once thrust a red hot poker down her back to exorcise the devil.

Mr Grundy said he had no idea why the atrocities were carried out by people who in theory subscribed to Christian principles.

"One can come up with theories that the orphanage was in a relatively isolated area, one can suggest certain sexual repressions, one can suggest that this was inculcated into them from the earliest days and it was just passed on from generation to generation -- none of which is a very satisfactory explanation" he said.

'Depthless depravity'

The report said: "Madness, ruthless and sadistic madness on the part of at least some of the nuns and a depthless depravity on the part of some of the men who inhabited the place are the defining characteristics of those who ran the orphanage."

"There was, it seems, no obvious torment or torture some of the nuns were incapable of administering. There was no limit to the sexual deviance that could be engaged in with those who were unlucky enough to find themselves singled out as 'the chosen ones'."

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