A change in atmosphere
7.199 Many complainants gave evidence that the atmosphere in the School improved under Sr Venetia’s management. She did not resort to physical punishment to the same extent as her predecessor. One complainant described her relief when Sr Alida left in the early 1960s:
I was relieved when she left. I was relieved to the extent that I knew Sr Venetia had done some things, but she was still never on a par with Sr Alida, where bullying and beatings and things were concerned … I got some beatings from Sr Venetia, but she would never have – let’s face it when somebody is beating you they are not happy and smiling. She would never have had that harshness in her face or in her voice that Alida had, that horrible horrible venom that was dished out for me by Sr Alida.
7.200 Another complainant described the relief after Sr Alida left, and stated that the children were happier:
I felt personally that there was an air of lightness in the place … it just seemed that there was something – there was a little bit of fear gone … We didn’t have to see that big figure coming down the hall, and if you were running or anything like that, and getting a slap on the head. That’s the way I used to be afraid, you would see the big black figure.
7.201 At the same time, the witness added that Sr Venetia was moody, which could create a tense, uncertain environment:
Sometimes I found her alright. I think it depended on her mood. She did punish severely as well.
7.202 Another difference between the two nuns was that Sr Venetia was verbally cruel and sarcastic, and witnesses spoke about how they were hurt by her comments. One witness recalled how Sr Venetia deliberately ridiculed her because her mother had spent time in a psychiatric hospital:
She used the term “cracked like your mother” many, many times. I used to live in fear of her coming into my view because – I was terrified that she would say these words.