Andro was seven years old in the mid-1960s when his mother committed suicide and his father deserted the family. After a period of time living on the streets, Andro and his siblings were eventually made wards of the state by their maternal grandparents.
‘My grandparents are the ones who put us in the children’s homes, my brothers and sisters, because they said we drove our mother to suicide. That’s what they told me. They told my five-year-old brother, “You drove our daughter to suicide”. So they just got rid of us basically. They were pretty stupid people.’
Andro was sent to a boys’ home in Melbourne while his siblings were all sent to a different facility. Andro was one of more than 200 boys living in the home, where his cottage parents were an untrained married couple called Mr and Mrs Palmer.
At the home, Mrs Palmer would visit Andro at night and fondle him in bed multiple times a week while also insulting him and threatening him not to tell anyone about the abuse. Because Andro had no adult family members to spend holidays with, he had no choice but to join the Palmers on their holidays.
‘One of the complications in my life as well is that I had no family in this place. For three years I never left the place. Christmas holidays I’d be the only one there – of 220 boys I was the only one left. So this particular woman took me away … It was in her own interest but I guess she probably felt comfortable that no one was ever going to find out; I was never going to tell anybody.’
The abuse continued for several years and eventually escalated to penetrative sex during the holidays when Andro was 14. Andro did not report the abuse to anyone at the time because he thought the Palmers were doing him a favour by taking him in. He also thought no one would believe him even though he suspected Mrs Palmer was abusing other boys at the home as well.
Upon returning from holidays, Mr and Mrs Palmer were removed from the boys’ home without explanation and Andro never saw them again. About six months later Andro was called into the office where he was confronted by the Superintendent and two other staff members.
‘They had me in the room and said, “You’ve deliberately had sex with a cottage mother. What makes you think at your age?” And I said, “Ummm”. And [the Superintendent] just came up to me (and he was ex-prison) and he just … knocked me and I went flying across the room. Then he picked me up and he sat me back in the chair. And there were three of them. And he basically went on and on and on about how I’d violated their rules and breached their trust and a whole bunch of other stuff.’
The following day Andro was dispatched from the boys’ home and sent to the Social Welfare Department.
‘No one knew I was even coming. I just ended up with a suitcase there. And the social worker said, “I better put you somewhere”. So he put me into [the] YMCA.’
The same social worker began supplying Andro with marijuana, eventually attempting to sell it to him. ‘The very day that he took me to the YMCA he says, “I’ll roll you a smoke”. And I’d never had one. I thought, “Well I’ve gotta have one, he’s a social worker”. But after a while he tried to sell it to me.’
The Social Welfare Department expected that Andro would leave school and start work, but Andro found the prospect of continuing his education far more appealing.
‘I said, “I want to stay in school so I need support”. So they said, “Oh well we’ll give you the money”, and “Can you find your own accommodation?” And I said, “yeah”. And they were giving me like $29 a week. You couldn’t earn more than $22. And I thought I’m better off than my mates who are at work, so I said, “Yeah I’ll stay in school”.’
Andro did well at school although he admits ‘I certainly did a lot better at school before being institutionalised’. After completing his education, Andro forged a career in the IT industry, ran his own successful business, married and had children, and is now retired. The years of abuse however have caused him to often feel inferior and ‘not as good’ as other people.
In 2000 Andro decided to obtain his records through a Freedom of Information request, but was disturbed to see they had been heavily redacted with the fault for the abuse placed entirely on him. ‘They’ve really gone out of their way to systematically defame me and demonise me and what other adjectives you could use to describe it. But I was only a young kid … Basically, reading that I was just offended by that. And I thought these people have committed a crime. And I’ve got my own kids and I thought 13, 14-years-old? Nah nah.’
Andro is not interested in taking civil action but has since reported the abuse to the police and an investigation is underway. ‘I guess in the back of my mind I always thought maybe it was my fault, maybe I should share some of the blame. But then once you have your own kids you think, “No, what were you thinking?” No!’
‘I don’t know how many of these people are dead but geez, I’d like to see one of them go to jail. I really would. It would just be such closure for me.
‘The problem I’ve got is, you know, in my 20s if I told any of my mates, “Oh, I was sexually assaulted by an older woman” – “You lucky bugger!” y’know? So that’s a really difficult thing for me to comprehend. Where if you’ve got young boys being molested by other boys or girls it’s in the news, but for men it’s like some sort of bravado.’