Aylmer was placed in the care of a Wesley Mission-run home in New South Wales at the age of two, shortly after the death of his mother in the early 1950s. His older sisters were already there. The superintendent at the home, Simon Hopkinson, ‘set about making our family life a misery’, Aylmer said.
‘I was subject to some of the most brutal physical and mental abuse that could ever be perpetrated upon a child, by this man.’
It was not just Hopkinson who bullied and beat Aylmer. When he was nine he was placed in foster care, in the charge of two brothers who ran a farm. Along with several other boys, from other institutions, Aylmer was treated as slave labour. ‘I was put to work doing a man’s job’, he said.
The boys drove sheep and built a shearing shed and also did general farm work, loading hay bales, milking cows and dipping sheep. If they made mistakes the brothers belted them with a leather strap. Early on in his time at the farm Aylmer lost his glasses, and they were never replaced. ‘I had trouble seeing the whole time I was there’, he told the Commissioner.
The boys were sent to school occasionally but, because Aylmer couldn’t see properly, he couldn’t learn. ‘This lack of schooling has affected me all my life’, he said.
Aylmer lived at the farm for a year, and was then sent back to the home. He had one other experience of foster care, living with a family in a small town for about 10 months. Here he was sexually abused by one of the neighbours, who made Aylmer masturbate him and perform oral sex. Sent back to the home Aylmer, then about 12, was a ‘nervous wreck’. He approached Hopkinson and told him what had happened.
‘He said that I was a liar, and that I had a dirty mind, and that people who have dirty minds needed to have their mouths washed out with soap … He said “You will never speak of this again, or I will punish you further”.’
Aylmer was also subjected to physical and mental abuse by Sister Michaela, a supervisor at the home.
‘This woman should never have been given the job of looking after children as she was not fit to hold that position.’
She attached him to a device that gave him an electric shock if he started to wet the bed. It was painful and humiliating. She rubbed his face in the soiled sheets and denigrated him constantly. ‘She would say things like “You’re just nothing. You’ll never amount to anything. You’re out of the gutter and you’ll go back to the gutter”.’ Aylmer recalled one incident where she attacked him with a large bone left over from dinner, giving him a skull injury which is still scarred today.
By the time Aylmer left the home in his mid-teens, he had post-traumatic stress disorder.
In recent years Aylmer has received counselling through a victims’ support service. With his sisters, he has also begun to seek compensation from the Wesley Mission. The damage caused to them all has been life-long, he said.
The neglect of his education meant he couldn’t read or write till he taught himself in his 30s. He has had severe health problems arising from overwork as a young boy. In his first marriage he was never intimate with his wife. ‘I believed I had a good marriage, I thought that was normal’, Aylmer explained.
He is now married for a second time, and described his wife as ‘loving and caring and understanding’ – but that marriage, now 25 years old, is also unconsummated. The couple has had ongoing counselling in the hope of developing a more ‘normal’ relationship, but it’s a source of enduring sadness that he has never been able to have children.
Aylmer and his sisters first met with representatives of the Wesley Mission in the early 2000s. They were asked to prepare statements about their experiences in care and their lives since. The Mission responded with an offer of support from its mental health services – located on the site of the institution where much of the abuse took place.
Ten years later they approached the Mission again. ‘We told our story. We said we’d done it 10 years earlier’, Aylmer said. The outcome this time was equally disappointing. There were threats about getting lawyers involved. ‘By the way, my son’s a barrister’, a Mission representative told them. ‘I felt like saying to the guy, “You’re a dickhead, mate. Get with the program”,’ Alymer said.
They were told the Mission didn’t have money for compensation. Once again they were asked to provide a statement of events. They received no follow-up communication after the meeting.
One of Aylmer’s sisters has now passed away. He and his other sister are considering what further action they can take to make the Mission take responsibility for its failure to care for them as children, and the impact that has had on their lives.