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Arthur John's story

‘When I was born my mother didn’t want me’, Arthur told the Commissioner. She placed him as a baby and young child in different institutions, first in Queensland and then, after a move to Sydney, in New South Wales. As an eight-year-old he returned to live with her briefly. It didn’t work out. ‘Far as my mother was concerned, she didn’t want me whatsoever. She said nobody wanted me.’

In the late 1940s, when Arthur was 10, he was placed in the care of a government-run facility in regional New South Wales. It was organised as cottages, each housing about 20 children supervised by a house master. Until then Arthur’s experience of institutional care had been positive. He’d been well looked after, he said. Here, though, he was subjected to a regime of brutal physical and sexual abuse.

‘It was pretty bad’, he said. ‘I was violently assaulted near every day for doing nothing.’

There were cruel punishments, imposed in tandem with sexual assaults. Arthur recalled being pulled out of bed in the early hours of the morning and put to work in the garden. It was raining and he was told to strip. When he was allowed to stop work, he was taken inside and raped. He was made to scrub the concrete footpaths, and that too was followed by sexual abuse. When he went to the showers with the other boys, he’d be taken aside afterwards and told not to dress. When the other boys had gone, he was sexually assaulted.

‘It was horrifying. I ran away so many times it wasn’t funny.’ Each time he was brought back, and each time the abuse happened again.

His main assailant was the house master of his cottage, Joseph Baxter. He would come into the dorm in the middle of the night, force Arthur out of bed and take him to another room where he assaulted him. ‘He made me dress up as a woman and then stripped me and then raped me. I was only a kid.’

As a 12-year-old, Arthur was transferred to an Anglican-run boys’ home in western Sydney. ‘I thought I’d got away from it all’, he said. But if anything, the abuse at this institution was worse.

Here again he suffered attacks from multiple abusers. One was a staff member, Michael Polotksy. ‘The rotten bastard’, Arthur said. ‘He wasn’t worth two bob.’

Polotsky made the boys run around the inside of the hall in a circle, while he stood in the middle and lashed them on with a whip. Arthur fell one day and injured himself. On his return from hospital, Polotsky and another staff member, Ronald Maguire, told him not to sleep in the dormitory.

‘They said “You’d be better off if you sleep in this room, because of your injuries”. They took me down there, made me strip – take me pyjamas off, and then Maguire raped me and Polotsky made me masturbate him and give him oral sex. And they warned me that if I was to say anything it would be made twice as bad. Well, it did get bad, because they kept on making me do things I didn’t want to do. And I was only a young lad.’

Polotsky and Maguire sexually abused Arthur repeatedly over the next five years. There were other abusers too. A man who ran a shop on the premises of the institution assaulted and anally raped Arthur about six times. Another man, who took the boys on outings, forced Arthur to masturbate him and give him oral sex, threatening to beat him with a stick if he didn’t comply.

Arthur didn’t tell anyone what was happening. Sent to hospital after Polotsky hit him with a piece of wood, he didn’t reveal the cause of his injury. ‘I just said I fell over, because of knowing that if I was to say what happened, when I got back to the home you’d get a belting.’

He ran away often, and was brought back by police. ‘I never told the police, because who’s going to believe me? Vulnerable kid, don’t know what’s happening in the world, getting no support from anybody … This went on for years’, Arthur said.

As a 15-year-old, Arthur got a job and a pay packet. Till Arthur left the institution, nearly three years later, Polotsky took Arthur’s pay, giving back just enough for his bus fare so he could get to work. For Arthur these stolen wages are an additional source of bitterness and another aspect of the compensation he plans to seek from the Anglican Church.

Retired now for some years, Arthur has had steady employment throughout his life and been active in his community in a range of volunteer roles. ‘I’ve proved them wrong, that I’ve made something out of my life. I own me home. I kept my work for many, many years … I think I’ve led a good life.’

But there are still doubts and fears that overcome him sometimes. ‘You’re always afraid, you feel dirty and unclean … You still feel when you’re at home alone at night time, you feel – “Am I worthwhile?”’ Managing those anxieties has become more difficult since the death of his wife Christine a decade ago, ending a happy 50-year marriage. For a long time, Christine was the only one who knew Arthur had been abused. She made Arthur share his story with her.

‘She said something’s wrong, you gotta tell me’, he recalled. ‘I said “I don’t want to tell you”. She said “If you don’t it’s all over”… Anyhow, she stuck with me. She said I screamed out at night time – “Leave me alone” and all that. When I told her what happened, I thought maybe she didn’t want me anymore, but she stuck by me all those years, you know.’

Arthur has never had counselling – his wife was his counsellor, he said. But since her death he has suffered from terrible memories and flashbacks. ‘Because my wife’s not there to console me now, things come back all the time … It’s really bad’, he said.

‘I’m 76 and I still feel grubby. And it’s more so since I lost my wife. But I manage … I just look after me two grandkids and that makes me happy, you know.’

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