When Addison’s husband, Nick, was a baby his parents placed him into state care because he had serious medical problems that required frequent hospitalisations.
Made a ward of the state at 11, Nick’s childhood was punctuated with sexual abuse and he has since disowned his family ‘because of issues that happened as a child’ and because they refused to believe what happened to him.
As Nick’s carer, and the mother of his children, Addison told the Royal Commission she has learned not to dwell on the negatives as she supports her husband. He has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and has an extensive list of medications he has to take.
Nick spoke about the physical abuse he was subjected to at the hands of house parents Mr and Mrs Shiller at a boys’ home during the 1960s and 70s in suburban Sydney.
He was also sexually abused by the Shillers’ adult son, Roddy. ‘Their son used to, putting it bluntly, used to molest me, like, all the time’, Nick said.
On another occasion a man he believed to be from the Department of Community Services [DOCS] ‘molested me during the night’.
Norbert was an older cleaner at a large hospital that Nick described as ‘my second home’, and he too was a perpetrator. ‘That’s not just a one-off thing’, Nick said. ‘That’s whenever he was around on the ward.
‘He used to clean in our ward and in the fire escape. Me and other kids used to just go in the fire escape and run up and down the stairs. And if he was there he used to grab you and take you down to the bottom of the fire escape and he used to touch me as well and scare me and take me to a room where all the cleaning stuff is …
‘We used to say that the cleaner was chasing us but no one listened.
‘Because of my medical problem I spent a lot of years there … This Norbert used to see me a lot. I was so scared to go to that ward.’
Nick said he was also ‘touched’ at a psychiatric facility in Sydney and at another hospital that once treated children with medical problems and has since closed.
‘We used to pass the psychiatric hospital and [the other hospital]’, Nick said. ‘Those places I remember very well. I was abused. I know I was only little and everything.’
Nick once escaped from the boys’ home but was caned when brought back and made to sit in a corner outside the Shillers’ office with his hands on his head. Another time he was compelled to stand naked so young doctors could learn about his medical condition.
He recalled that while undergoing an operation he’d seen insufficiently sedated. A report on his pain and distress was included in his DOCS file which Nick was able to access years later.
‘I’ve got a lot of disliking towards DOCS mainly because if I was in their care they should have been looking after me and having a medical problem as it is … I’d already had two or three members of my family already die from it.
‘I do recall being touched at the [other hospital] and at the psychiatric hospital. You were always getting smacks and everything there.
‘I mentioned it to DOCS … about the man at [the boys’ home].’ Nick said he was not believed and nothing was done about it.
Lasting impacts of the abuse included severe depression and several suicide attempts.
Addison said a more recent distressing interlude with DOCS has also affected the family ‘big time’.
‘It’s passed on to the kids as well because the kids suffer from depression because Dad wasn’t always the best.
‘I just can’t get that out of my head – what I’ve said’, Nick said.
Addison said Nick ‘can’t show love and emotion towards his children because he’s scared of the repercussions’. Nor can he enjoy their birthdays or Christmas, because ‘I didn’t get any of that’, even finding it hard to ‘give my own kids a hug’.
Nick is often ‘very angry and frustrated’, according to Addison, who says he might hurt himself by hitting ‘a wall or something’, but never a family member.
‘I’m just lucky my kids understand my problem’, Nick explained. ‘They’ve all grown up with me being the way I am and they understand. But at the same time I’m not an affectionate person. I put that down to what I went through as a child.’
Nick is now on a disability pension and living in public housing. He said, ‘If it wasn’t for Addison I don’t even know if I’d be here – like, still alive. It does really get to me that I can’t do a lot of things with the children.’
Addison said a detective they’d seen about five years ago wasn’t interested in investigating the abuse, and Nick can’t afford counselling. ‘I know I need help but I know I’m not getting anywhere talking’, he said.
Nick wanted to tell his story to the Royal Commission because his childhood abuse ‘just eats at me. I can’t get it off my head.
‘I have a massive dislike of DOCS. For years I should have been looked after and I wasn’t.’