‘Things were hush hush back in the 1950s and 60s. Now it’s all out, it’s all out there, and I think people are not ashamed to come forward’, Albert told the Commissioner.
Albert said he had put the sexual abuse he suffered as a young teenager in the 1950s ‘right out of his mind’ throughout his life. But since his relatively recent retirement he’d had plenty of time to look about him and to think about things, he said. And he’d come to an important realisation about what happened to him those many years ago: ‘You can camouflage it for a while but it’s never really closed.’ He’d recently told the story of his abuse for the very first time, to specialist support group Bravehearts, after hearing about the work of the Royal Commission.
‘I saw it on TV and thought oh, I’ll ring up about this.’
Albert never knew his father. His mother had to take on a night job as well as a day job to provide for Albert and his younger brother. That meant she had to place them in care. When Albert was 12, he and his younger brother were placed in a Catholic-run orphanage in regional New South Wales. The two boys were separated at the orphanage, and an ongoing legacy of their time there has been the lack of contact between them.
‘Since the orphanage we never saw each other. They separated us and I saw him once, twice after that … I haven’t seen him since 62’, Albert told the Commissioner.
The orphanage was a tough environment. The boys were hungry much of the time. They were physically beaten by the nuns, especially Sister Sophia, who was in charge of the orphanage’s daily management. ‘The way she treated us was pretty cruel’, Albert said. Sunday night was ‘flogging night’. The children were gathered together to stand and watch as those who’d got into trouble were beaten on their bare backsides with a bamboo cane. ‘That’d draw blood. You’d vomit. You’d pee your pants.’
Bullying between the children was also widespread. ‘Most of the time the kids took it out on each other’, Albert recalled.
During the four years Albert spent at the orphanage, he was sexually abused by three different men. All worked in the grounds and gardens of the orphanage. Albert believes Sister Sophia knew exactly what was going on. ‘I’d say she had to be stupid not to know. She knew everything. She was boss cock, running around doing stuff.’
One of the men came into Albert’s bed one night and assaulted him there. Another, Jason Randall, paid a boy to bring Albert to his cottage where he sexually assaulted him. ‘I was shocked and surprised but too frightened to tell anyone.’ When Albert refused to go with the boy to Randall’s cottage a second time, the boy beat him up.
Randall sexually assaulted Albert four or five more times over the next few years. When the third man, Bruce Winter, who lived in the cottage with Randall, sexually assaulted Albert and ordered him to come back again, Albert did as he was told. ‘I did go back as it didn’t seem to matter anymore … It got that way that I didn’t care.’
Winter and Randall both paid Albert a shilling each time they abused him. He spent the money on bags of broken biscuits and Vincent powders to help with the toothache he suffered. The nuns refused to take him to the dentist even though his teeth were rotting. ‘That’s why I had them ripped out when I left school. No more toothache.’
Albert’s time at the orphanage came to end when he begged not to return after a holiday with his mother. ‘I hated it that much when Mum sent us back at the end of school hols, I just bawled me eyes out.’
Albert came to the Royal Commission with a list of the ways he’d been affected by his experience of abuse. He has suppressed what happened to him all his life, for fear of being judged. He suffers depression. He’s had two broken marriages, and has a ‘warped perception of sex’. He has been an alcoholic.
‘It’s affected my whole life but I’ve bluffed my way through it. I’ve had to bring myself up when I left school, Mum was working, so I just got a job, mixed with blokes, did what I had to do, joined the air force, got married, had kids, paid my taxes, gone for Collingwood …’
His conversion to Christianity has given him some comfort. ‘I think my Christian beliefs have helped a lot. You didn’t know me back then, when I was an alcoholic – you probably wouldn’t want to sit at the same table as me.’
Albert is yet to disclose his abuse to his family. Only a couple of people knew he was coming to speak to the Commissioner. He doesn’t plan to report it to police. At one point, he wanted to go back to the orphanage, he said.
‘I was going to back and blow it all up. But what am I going to do – they’re probably all dead now, the people that did these things.’
He has had some compensation and though he is considering seeking a payout from the Catholic Church, he say money is not the ‘be all and end all’.
‘I’m not greedy for any money but if they think I’m entitled, then I only want what’s entitled. I pay my taxes and I don’t want any freebies, simple as that’, he said.
‘I don’t want to break the Catholic Church – they must be broke by now, all the money they’re paying out.’