Andreas Peter's story

When Andreas was three years old his father went to jail and his mother, unable to care for him, placed him in a children’s home run by the Salvation Army.

For a young boy living outside Melbourne in the 1960s, life at the children’s home was difficult but Andreas didn’t know any different. When he was eight years old a visitor from the Lions Club ‘sat me on his lap and all that … put his penis between my buttocks’. Andreas told the Commissioner, ‘There was a lot of service clubs. And at that stage I didn’t know any different’.

On another occasion ‘one lady pushed my face into her tits and her vagina and that’. Andreas was also abused by other boys at the home on several occasions. ‘But I didn’t know anything … I know now.’

When he was 13 Andreas was moved to a different Salvation Army home, this time closer to the New South Wales border, where he spent the next two to three years. If Andreas thought the first home was bad, this second facility ‘was just another world’.

At this home Andreas was physically, sexually and psychologically abused by the ‘screws’ who were employed by the Salvation Army. ‘You were manipulated in such a way it was all to do with fear and their influence over you, their control. So you got to the stage where they could do whatever they like.’

Children at the home were frequently told by the staff, ‘You’ll never make it, you’re nothing, scum of the earth, you’re a troublemaker, you’re gonna go to jail … It was purely about domination and control’.

‘I think the biggest thing for me is the way [it] was operated and nobody cared. It was a smorgasbord for paedophiles. There was people coming and going.’

Harry Melking was one of the ‘screws’ whose job was to supervise the boys in the morning before school and in the evening before bed. Melking was kind to Andreas, and, being small and vulnerable, Andreas interpreted this as offering protection from the staff and other boys.

Sometimes Melking would take kids to his parents’ home on weekends or holidays. On one occasion he took Andreas swimming in the dam before giving him alcohol. Andreas doesn’t know what he was given to drink but he fell asleep very quickly and has no memory of what happened during the night. When he went to the bathroom the following morning he found sperm and blood in his anus. Melking took him away several times again after that and Andreas recalls waking up with a ‘sore bum’ at least twice, unable to recall details.

It didn’t take long for Andreas to recognise that sexual abuse of the boys by the staff was rife. However, there were severe penalties for speaking out about it. ‘I knew when somebody was being molested … But you couldn’t talk about it, if you did you got flogged … Silence was golden … There was always repercussions if you said something.’

‘I been in homes that long it didn’t matter what they did to me. I thought it was normal.’

Another staff member at the home, Alan Bonner, once took Andreas away for the weekend and gave him whiskey, soft drink and cigarettes. Again Andreas became drowsy and vaguely recalls Bonner putting oil on his penis before mounting him missionary style. Andreas doesn’t remember anything beyond that but again woke the next morning to find he was bleeding from his anus. The following night Bonner’s girlfriend came to visit and they had sex on the bed next to Andreas while he tried to sleep.

At the home Andreas became very close friends with a volunteer, Ron Billings. ‘He had a big influence on my life. More so than I thought … He was God, I thought. I thought the sun shined out of his arse.’ Billings molested Andreas and then rewarded him with presents of alcohol and cigarettes.

‘It finally stopped. I think I was around 16 then. When I said it finally stopped it’s sort of something like he’d moved on. But I didn’t know he had all these other kids as well.’

It was around this time that Andreas met his wife and seven years later they were married. During this time Andreas experimented with drugs and alcohol but considers himself lucky to have ‘good people’ around him, including his wife, who stopped him from going down a dangerous path.

‘I had discipline but when I got out it was freedom. So I was doing as I please, what I like, had nobody to answer to.’ Andreas soon learned ‘everybody answers to somebody’ and briefly joined the army. ‘It sorted me out and I was a hard nut to crack. It gave me more respect.’

In 2006 Andreas was contacted by an officer from Taskforce SANO after he was named as a suspected victim of Billings. Initially Andreas denied he had been abused. ‘I actually told them to piss off when they first contacted me.’ Eventually he relented and made a report. Billings was found guilty of child sex offences and sentenced to nine years in jail.

After making a claim against the Salvation Army Andreas received $26,000 after legal fees, a figure he found disappointing. ‘No money can compensate for what’s happened but … I believe they should be made to pay.’

Andreas has seen psychiatrists in the past but found the experience unhelpful, preferring to manage his mental health in his own way. ‘Nobody’s gonna put me down, I’m a survivor.’

Andreas has an adult daughter of whom he is very proud, and is supported by his wife, who he describes as ‘a rock’.

‘I never told her details and all that until it started coming out [when] the police visited. And even now there’s some things I wouldn’t tell her. I think she can work it out for herself. She’s a pretty smart woman.’

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