Alec Stuart's story

There had been a build up for Alec to come to the Royal Commission. His partner came with him but waited outside. ‘I wanted to do this myself. Start standing a little bit taller. Things are going to happen a little bit more, I think.’

When Alec’s father came back from war in the 1940s he went straight down to the bar and became a solid drinker. The marriage dissolved and his mother had no support. She contacted a war veterans’ support service that found a placement in a boys’ home for Alec and his younger brother.

At the age of six Alec became a ward of the state. He and his brother went to an Anglican-run boys’ home in regional Victoria, a long distance from home. As Alec said in his written statement ‘If my mother had had some support, my brother and I would not have been sent away’.

Alec was at the boys’ home until he was 14 years old. He doesn’t remember the early days well but he does remember the last few years when a man called Mr Crawford became principal. He and his wife, Matron Crawford, ran the place.

Floggings were common. At one point Alec was tortured. The boys had to work hard on the property. Apart from attending church and the local school, they were not allowed to step outside the perimeter fence. Alec lived in an environment of fear and control. He was also separated from his brother.

Mr Crawford sexually abused Alec in a barn at the back of the property, in the church vestry and when alone during outings. When Alec spent time in hospital, Crawford would visit him, putting his hand under the blankets and molesting him.

Alec told his mother about the physical abuse – he was too ashamed to mention the sexual abuse – but was told not to be silly and go back and be good.

He ran away from the home with a fellow inmate and was picked up by the police, who said they would look into the matter of abuse and floggings. However, no formal interviews took place. The boys were returned and ended up getting an even more severe flogging. As Alec recalled in a written statement, ‘After the experience with [the] police, I knew it wasn’t wise to tell anyone anything ever again’.

Looking back, Alec thinks Mrs Crawford found out about the abuse because she suddenly became more vicious. She would make her husband flog Alec more often, even though he didn’t want to, while she watched.

‘That was for his benefit … She was peed off’ possibly because her husband was paying Alec more attention than her. ‘That’s how it looked to me. Not at the time but after, when I thought about it.’

At 14 Alec was transferred to another boys’ home and returned to his mother when he was 15. The first thing he did was to go to a hotel and drink. He got a job and later started an apprenticeship. ‘Got halfway through then fell apart.’ However, after travelling around doing different jobs for a while, he came back and did manage to finish the apprenticeship.

When he was 18 Alec found out that Crawford had been transferred to another boys’ home. ‘I caught the tram out there and spoke with him trying to find out why I was so bad … Was I that bad? Did I deserve? What did I do so bad? … I was offering an apology, I suppose.’ Growing up, Alec had been locked away for 10 years with little contact with society. Despite the abuse, he trusted the Crawfords. There was no one else.

But Alec never got an explanation from Crawford. ‘So he walked me down to the tram stop in the dark. And would you believe?’ Crawford tried it on again. But Alec pushed him away.

As an adult Alec has found it difficult to trust people. He’s been diagnosed with chronic depression and PTSD. For a long time he had a problem with alcohol, which is now under control. He’s had a number of marriages and is heartbroken when he considers how much time with his kids he lost. He first disclosed the sexual abuse to his second wife when he was in his 30s. He had a breakdown at around this time.

Now in his 70s, Alec has come a long way – with help from psychiatrists.

‘I think I’ve done very well. I’ve kept myself busy at work and that sort of thing. I’ve had heaps of different jobs, different types of jobs. The last job I had was fantastic, a community worker … That give me a big lift.’

He talked about forgiveness. ‘I had to get that right because otherwise there’s a lot of anger there … and I’ve never been a violent person’ he said to the Commissioner.

‘I’ve had to sort of develop myself, type of thing … For the first time I think – I probably shouldn’t say it but it’s sort of how I feel. The fact is, we’re talking a couple of months ago, for the first time I thought “Why didn’t I just kill those two?” It would have sorted out all this pain and all this suffering of others that they’ve caused … I would have done 30 years and then I’d be on my way … but ... It wouldn’t have sorted nothing.’

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