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Allan John's story

‘Child migration was a despicable practice made even worse by the cruelty and perversion of the criminal Christian Brothers, given free rein by the neglect of both federal and state governments who were my legal guardians.’

Allan lived as a young boy in England with his grandmother but when she died suddenly, he was sent to a children’s home briefly before being shipped to Australia in the early 1950s as a child migrant. Arriving in Western Australia at age 10, Allan was sent to a Christian Brothers boys’ home where he remained until he was 16.

His recollections of the home were of severe physical, emotional and sexual abuse from which boys had no escape. There was no one to report the treatment and visitors to the home seemed to focus only on congratulating the Christian Brothers for their work.

Brothers strapped, beat and punched boys, and forced them to labour in construction and maintenance of the property. Education was minimal and what little Allan received filled him with fear as the teaching Brothers routinely bullied and harassed boys in the classroom.

When Allan sustained a third degree burn doing farm work it was left untreated. His leg became gangrenous and was in imminent danger of needing amputation. It was saved only because he happened to visit a neighbouring farm family; the woman took one look at his leg and drove him to hospital. ‘To this day I have terrible scars all over my leg’, Allan said.

When he was about 12, Allan was sexually assaulted by Brother Street.

‘He lured me with the promise of a tractor ride. When I naively agreed, I found myself sat up on the tractor, clamped between his legs while he molested me.’

In addition to Street, Allan was abused by an older boy who’d grope him in his bed at night. There was nothing he could do to stop the boy who was much bigger than he was.

It was well known among the boys that a visiting Benedictine priest, Father Santo, sexually abused boys. ‘He tried to interfere with me in the confession box’, Allan said. ‘But I managed to get away once he started groping me’.

While he was in the home, Allan found out his two younger brothers had been sent from England the year after him and were living in another Christian Brothers home. The three didn’t reconnect until many years later however, and Allan still felt guilty that he hadn’t been able to protect them.

When he left the home in 1969, Allan had the equivalent of $10 in his pocket. ‘I was never seen by a welfare officer, no plans were made for my future. I was given into the care of a farmer who could do what he liked with me. I realise now that when the state government subsidy had stopped when I turned 16, I was of no further use to the Brothers.’

For most of his adult life, Allan worked in factories doing ‘hard physical labour’. He wondered what opportunities might have been if he’d had a good education.

‘Your whole life’s affected’, he said. ‘I mean, I’m not saying I would have been a lawyer if I’d had a better education. I don’t know. That’s something I don’t know till I die.’

Allan participated in the Western Australia redress scheme and was disappointed when the government made substantial cuts to payments. ‘To be quite honest, I’ve spoken to a few people, what the Western Australian government did to us, that was a kick in the pants, the redress scheme. I thought that was a bad decision … But it’s happened now.’

He hadn’t ever reported the Christian Brothers to police, and was angry that changes to the statute of limitations meant no one would have to answer for the abuse. ‘Now most of them have escaped justice through death, but the order is still there and should be held to account. They covered up and protected the criminals.’

Allan told the Commissioner his main goal in life after leaving the home was to ‘get a home’. He’d married and had a daughter, and now helped in the care of his grandchildren.

‘I’m always there for my daughter and I pick up the little grandchildren from school. I don’t need a lot of friends, that suits me fine. I worked hard for my home and that’s my castle. I don’t go to pubs or nightclubs or anything like that.’

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