Alfred was placed in a children’s home in Victoria when he was five months old and remained in Catholic institutions until he was about 15 or 16. He isn’t sure of the exact age he left because throughout his childhood he’d never celebrated a birthday.
And because he’d only ever been called by number, for many years he didn’t know his own name. One day he was admitted to hospital in a semi-conscious state after a fall and hospital staff kept asking him his name. ‘[My number] was all I knew and they couldn’t work out what the hell [the number] was. I said, “That’s my name”, because that was my locker number.’
Beatings from the nuns in the home were frequent and severe. The nuns also aided and abetted the many priests who sexually abused scores of children over decades. Alfred recalled being five years old and a nun coming to him and saying, ‘Father wants to cleanse you’. He said he was taken to a room with ‘medieval stuff across the wall’ and told to take his clothes off and get into a bathtub. He was given something to drink and blacked out.
‘When I came to, I hurt like bloody hell. I was bleeding from the top of my back down to my bloody shins, but my genitals and bloody well my bottom hurt worse, and I later found out I had bite marks on my privates.’
Alfred told the Commissioner that a succession of priests visited the church adjoining the home, and they stayed for periods of six months to several years.
One priest who was much-admired in the district used to request nuns bring a ‘bobby top’ to him, a term denoting a boy who’d been circumcised. Alfred would often be abused by that priest. He said he’d be ordered to take off his clothes and go into the confessional box on the priest’s side, then made to fondle the priest’s genitals while he heard confession.
‘If Catholics knew what was going on they’d be horrified … you’d be playing with his genitals while they’re bloody well having confession.’ The priest’s usual penance to local men was financial, and pound notes would be passed through the small slit in the confessional screen.
Alfred said there were three classes of children in the home: those who were there as boarders and returned to their families in outlying areas for holidays and weekends; those who still had an aunt or uncle linking them with the outside world; and those like Alfred who had nobody at all. This latter group were known as ‘drones’ and only ever worked, receiving no education. ‘I went to a school’, Alfred said. ‘But only in the classrooms to clean up after the other kids.’
In the mid-1960s and still in his early teens, Alfred was put to work in a hotel owned by a prominent local Catholic. He slept in a tool shed and was raped repeatedly by the local priest acting in cohort with the hotel owner and another relative. ‘One would hold you down and the other one tie your legs and then they’d go for it. That lasted nearly nine months, and it was the whole three of them, they’d just take turns. Strip you off your gear. You had nowhere to go.’
Alfred said during the rapes he’d ‘turn off’ and try to think of other things. ‘But when they’d finished their bloody business your body would come back to reality and that was the worst part, because you had to bloody deal with that.’
When he finally left the home, Alfred worked on farms and cattle stations throughout Australia. He taught himself to read and write, married and had children. He’s been in stable employment all his life.
In the late 90s, two teenagers approached him through a community support agency and asked for help with difficulties they were having in their lives. They’d also been in orphanages and from that initial contact Alfred and his wife came to help and house more than 25 young people with a variety of difficulties including drugs, alcohol and homelessness.
Alfred said he didn’t really know why he’d survived so well when many others hadn’t. ‘Half the time I had no role model and I think back, where did I get this and where did I get that from? How did I come to be where I am today compared to what I’d gone through?
‘And I’ve seen a lot of people commit suicide, with a lot on drugs, there’s a lot that live on the streets, there’s a lot in jail. What happened to all them poor buggers? That’s one of the reasons why I want to come on their behalf, because they haven’t got a voice.’
Alfred said before his wife died in 2012, she told him he had to tell his story. ‘We worked our little family in a bubble and we buried this sort of stuff way down. But before she died one of the last things she said … she made me swear as she was dying that I have to tell my story somewhere and start writing and putting it on paper so other people can understand and my poor kids can understand. Other people need to know what actually happened.’