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Alvin Bert's story

‘I’ve had a few things that have been on me mind’, Alvin told the Commissioner when he came in to meet him. These few things spanned 80 years, a world war, various episodes of sexual abuse in orphanages in England and nine months of unpaid child labour in a children’s home in Sydney.

Alvin was ‘in the system’ in England since he was three months old. He was placed in care because he was ‘born out of wedlock’ and lived in various children’s homes until he was sent to Australia. By then he was 14 - street smart, self-reliant and ‘on the ball’.

He only had two years of proper schooling. ‘I never learned to read until I was nearly 12. And I learned to read out of a bible.’

Being street smart stood Alvin in good stead during his very first week in a Methodist children’s home in Sydney. He and the other boys were visited by some sailors who were each invited to choose a boy and take him out for the day.

A big Irishman chose Alvin. But instead of going sightseeing Alvin was taken back to the sailor’s room in Kings Cross. The sailor asked Alvin to join him in the shower. He said ‘Mate, I had a shower before I left.’ The Irishman had a shower then lay on the bed naked, with an erection. He said to Alvin, ‘Come and join me’.

‘So I looked at him and I saw one of those great big china pots … I picked the chamber pot up and I smashed him two or three times over the head, knocked him out, left him there and took off.’

Alvin spent two nights in a local park until hunger drove him down to the markets to look for food. Two policemen caught him and took him back to the home. The governor of the home thanked the policemen. When they left he dragged Alvin to his office and knocked him to the ground.

‘I looked up at him and said, “That’s the first and last time you do that”.’

Alvin was put to work milking cows at the home. Every day of the week he was up at half past four in the morning and didn’t finish until about 10 at night. He never attended school and refused to go to church.

‘I dunno how religious you are but when I come out here and seen what was going on, that was the bloody finish.’

After nine months or so Alvin left the home and its governor far behind. ‘Before I left there I broke his bloody nose … and took off.’

Alvin hitch-hiked down the coast and got a job in a dairy farm. He told the farmer he was 17. When he decided he’d had enough of cows he walked west to find different work and get on with the rest of his life.

Alvin still feels churned up, every day, about the abuse he suffered but he’s been remarkably resilient. ‘I just never let any bastard stand on me.’ He also has a wonderful wife, Alvin said. He’s been married for nearly 60 years and is proud that all of his kids have done well.

When Alvin was about 60 he went back to the UK. It was the first time he realised he had relatives. He described the repeated sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of a matron and a Methodist sister in the homes back in England. He wet the bed every night until he left there, he told the Commission.

He has resisted counselling so far. ‘If they want to counsel me they can go through the same things I have, then they’ll know what I’m talking about.’ But for some time now, terrible nightmares have led to him sleeping alone.

Alvin would like to see older sexual abuse victims get adequate access to housing and healthcare. He suggested that weekly home visits from a healthcare provider would be good. He would also like the partners of victims to be looked after.

He’s been a steadfast campaigner and advisor for child migrants for the last 20 years. He came to the Commission because ‘I just want to do the right thing by all the kids who come out here and were treated wrong. That’s all I’m here for’.

Alvin wasn’t given a birthday or Christmas present until he was 21. ‘I cried me eyes out.’

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