Alfie spent his first nine years in England, before his family moved to Australia in the late 1950s. His mother had died when he was five, and his father remarried. ‘Then it got a bit out of control. You could say that she wanted my father, but not us … we copped a lot of abuse from her while my father was at work.’
Alfie began running away ‘to escape her cruelty’. After he spent a month living on the streets, he was picked up by the police and committed to state care as a ‘neglected and uncontrollable child’.
He spent a month at a youth training farm, before being sent to a boys’ home run by the Salvation Army in Queensland. He told the Commissioner that during the five years he spent at the home, he and the other boys were subjected to terrible physical, sexual and emotional abuse.
‘On my first day at school we … prepared for the one mile march … I thought it strange at the time that I was the only boy who wore shoes. The next thing, I was told by an officer to get my shoes off. They were only for church … For the first year, my feet were always stone bruised, cut and sore. The dread of that walk to and from the school had a great effect on my concentration.’
The home was run by Captain Craig, a cruel and violent man. ‘In the process of caning you, he would jump into the air to give the cane more impact when it came in contact with your hands or backside. He would also punch the young boys with a closed fist.’ Alfie told the Commissioner, ‘Captain Craig was greatly feared by all the boys … [and] most of the staff were as afraid of [him] as we were’.
Alfie recalled the first time he lined up with the other boys for their showers. ‘I looked down [the line] and I could see all the welts on the boys … across the backside. Also across the back, the hands … The officer … [made] jokes about it … [made] fun of it.’
Boys who wet their beds would have to wash their sheets in the showers, under cold water, whether it was summer or winter. The boys were not allowed to drink after a certain time, so on hot summer nights they would drink water from the toilet cisterns. In the courtyard, they were made to fight each other, the bigger boys against smaller ones. Alfie recalled being so hungry that he would ‘beg for food scraps other boys were throwing away’.
When Alfie and another boy ran away, they were brought back by the police. After they were caned, ‘we were both told that for the next week or whatever, we had to walk around naked. Sit on a potato sack. Go naked … to eat, sleep … I was even exposed to the ladies, the women staff. I was 14 years old and it was very embarrassing. It had a lot of repercussions over my life’.
At the end of the week, Alfie was told that his school days were over, and he was sent to work. Shortly afterwards, Captain Craig told him, ‘“You’re a bad influence on the boys” and threw me in the truck with me gear and took me to a boarding house … That was that. I never saw them [again]’. Alfie never received visits from welfare officers the whole time he was in care.
‘I left the home unprepared for life. I was inhibited, self-conscious and not articulate. I had been immersed in so much violence that this was the only way I knew to solve problems. I had been taught to fight, and I used my fist rather than my brains.’
Alfie has always been very shy and awkward around women and ‘used alcohol as Dutch courage to numb the pain I felt from being in the home. Consequently, alcohol has been a big problem to me all my life and still is’. He has struggled to maintain relationships, and has been married three times. He now lives in a caravan at the back of a mate’s place.
Alfie suffers from depression and anxiety, and ‘continue[s] to have nightmares about people being whipped and flogged … Whenever I see a child walking barefoot, my legs get all shaky and I get goose bumps up my back’.
The reason Alfie came to the Royal Commission was because, ‘I’d like to support all the other people that have been in this situation and I think they’re brave to do it and I hope it’s going to benefit a lot of people that were in homes … I think a lot of them are fairly disadvantaged and I think we all worry about our grandchildren and you know, sexual abuse … seems to be coming back more … it just shakes us up. It really does’.
Alfie’s sister accompanied him to his session with the Commissioner. ‘People don’t understand. They might listen, but they just think, “Oh, it’s just a story” … I’m just glad that things are coming out in the open now and people are starting to realise and starting to do something, starting to help these people, because they definitely need it.’
Alfie told the Commissioner, ‘I have never known happiness as a result of my experiences in the Salvation Army home. There was a lack of trust, care and compassion, all those things these people were supposed to stand for. I do believe in a certain amount of discipline, but what I and the other boys received was cold, cruel and calculating and had horrific negative impact’.