In the early 1950s, when Aden was 10 years old, he was removed from a Catholic orphanage in England and sent to a Catholic orphanage in regional Western Australia.
Aden found the Australian orphanage to be a cruel and sadistic place. Punishments were brutal, food scarce, and hard labouring work was expected of even the smallest boys.
The Brothers who ran the orphanage also favoured academically inclined students, while limiting access to education for the other boys. Aden found he was working 12-hour days, seven days a week, performing hard physical work in all weather.
In addition, Aden was sexually abused by a number of Brothers and staff at the orphanage.
In a written statement Aden submitted to the Royal Commission, he stated that, ‘Brother Peter … regularly abused me by putting his hands under the covers while I was in bed at night and grabbing my penis. On various occasions I would be awoken by other boys crying as they climbed back into bed after being taken away and assaulted. I waited every night for something to happen’.
The abuse continued for five years. Aden was also raped by a young man working at the orphanage. A Brother discovered them while Aden was being raped, but nothing was done, nor was any assistance offered to Aden. Aden was only eleven years old at the time and had to continue to work alongside this man. He was constantly frightened by the prospect of further sexual assault.
Aden was offered no schooling after the age of 13 years and was placed in the kitchen to work. The sexual abuse continued. When he was 15 years old the Brothers sent him to work on local farms, where he was treated badly and never paid. When he was 20 years old he left the Brothers’ care for good.
Aden’s abuse has significantly impacted his life. He was an alcoholic when he was younger and his early intimate relationships were challenging because of his trauma. His lack of education also meant that he could only find seasonal and menial employment, although he has worked hard all his life.
‘I’ve got to work. I’ve got to have somewhere to go.’
Aden’s wife, Shirley, helps with his everyday writing and Aden is a very optimistic and resilient man, but Shirley told the Commissioner that she feels saddened by the opportunities Aden has missed out on because of his low level of education.
‘I think one of the things I feel very sad [about], apart from all the terrible things that happened to Aden, his education was so lacking … He was denied a basic right, such a basic right.’
The Brothers had led Aden to believe that his mother died when he was a child. In the early 1990s, with the help of the Child Migrant Trust, Aden discovered that she had died just two years earlier. But he also found extended family in England and has been able to meet his aunts and uncles and experience a sense of family late in life.
Aden’s immediate family are a close-knit group and Shirley has been very supportive. He only recently disclosed his sexual abuse to her. She has assisted him in applying to the Western Australian redress scheme and then, later, to the Towards Healing scheme run by the Catholic Church.
The Western Australian redress process asked for a written statement about what had happened to him as a result of being a child migrant. He didn’t have to meet anyone face-to-face.
‘Just wrote out what you … as honest as you could … It was a relief … to be able to share it with someone ... just get it off my shoulders.’
Even his children noticed a difference in Aden after this process. He appeared more relaxed and happier.
Aden’s experience with Towards Healing was very different.
‘The … thing that really got in my guts was when we went to see the Brother and the response we got, like “It never happened before”, you know, things like this. It really got the back of my neck up and … [He] made me feel as though, as they always did [at school] … feel that you’re [small] and frightened and scared to say “Boo”.’
The Brother wasn’t warm and there was no acknowledgment of the harm done to Aden by the Brothers at the orphanage.
‘It was that way he looked at you. You know, you weren’t really welcome … Just came out as cold as cold can be … Halfway through it I wanted to get out and go. I’d had enough. Then they started angling about money and I just thought, “Just take it and go” … He wasn’t really interested in us. It was just a thing they had to do.’
Aden and Shirley found the Brother’s attitude cruel and Aden felt belittled and humiliated during the meeting. He believes that the Catholic Church acted this way on purpose to discourage people seeking compensation from the church.
‘When I came out, I thought to myself “Why in hell did I go through all that?” It wasn’t worth all the energy that Shirley and I had put in to be put through that. It took me two or three months probably for me to settle [afterwards] … To me they were trying to wipe it under the floor.’
Aden is pleased about the Royal Commission. ‘Now it’s all out, my two girls know, I’m just letting it just fade away if I can … It’s out in the open. It’s not behind closed doors anymore.’
Shirley added, ‘It’s … like [Aden matters]. Having a Royal Commission because it matters … that this has happened … We don’t want this to happen to someone else’.