After being removed from his mother at age three, Alastair spent the rest of his childhood in a Christian children’s home in South Australia. In the late 1950s, when he was about 10 years old, Alastair was sexually abused by the house mistress, Miss Kerrigan.
He told the Commissioner that Miss Kerrigan used to sit on his bed and hold his hand and chat while the other boys were asleep. One night she invited him into her quarters, gave him alcohol and a cigarette then started fondling him.
After a short while Alastair left the room. ‘Probably fled. I was probably scared, because it had never happened before.’
The next morning Miss Kerrigan came through with the other house mistresses to wake the boys. Alastair said, ‘Can’t remember if I slept that night or not. Must have been in the back of my mind … I woke up and I hit her. That was regrettable. I just reacted’.
He was sent straight to the Matron who ‘flogged me of course’. During the flogging, Alastair told her what Miss Kerrigan had done.
‘She stopped and she listened. She said, “But you shouldn’t have done it”. So I still got punishment.’
But later that day Miss Kerrigan vanished from the home and Alastair never saw her again.
Though he never suffered any more sexual abuse after that, Alastair said that for other kids it was a regular occurrence at the home. In particular, there were incidents of older boys raping some of the young girls. Alastair was certain that the staff knew and did nothing to stop it. He said, ‘I don’t think one girl left that children’s home a virgin’.
The home was also ‘pretty brutal’ in terms of physical abuse. There were regular canings and beatings, and one time Alastair witnessed the Matron attacking his younger brother with a stick.
Still, Alastair said that there were just as many good times as bad. ‘There were movies, educational literature everywhere, books, books, books, radio. It was good.’
When he left the home the staff helped him find an apprenticeship, and from there he secured a steady job. However, in his late teens he started to feel suicidal and began behaving recklessly.
‘I was jumping in front of cars and popping pills, drinking, you know. Getting into deep depressions.’
Then one day he came across a mail order psychological treatment course and signed up to receive the monthly booklets. ‘And that helped me considerably, oddly enough.’
Over the years, Alastair has rarely spoken about the sexual abuse. He has never applied for compensation and said this is mainly because he felt bad about hitting Miss Kerrigan.
‘I felt so sorry for doing it. Apparently I broke her jaw … I just felt sadness and regret after that. I didn’t feel dirty or anything like that. I didn’t feel damaged. I felt I was the person – I did the damage.’
Alastair has lived alone for much of his life and says he treasures his independence. He considers himself one of the lucky ones.
‘I don’t know what it was. All I can tell you is I grinned and bore it. And a lot of the kids did not. There’s a hell of a lot of kids that have passed away, and a lot of girls as soon as they got out they became prostitutes, a lot of kids ended up in jail.’
For the future, Alastair said he would like to see children in care provided with ‘loving supervision. And I’d like to see kids told the truth as they grow up’.