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Barney Cole's story

Barney never met his biological father, and he was very young when his mother remarried. His stepfather was an alcoholic who was often violent. ‘I can’t remember a time when he wasn’t drinking. There was always a cask of wine on the bench.’

Because Barney’s mother and stepfather split up and got back together several times during his childhood, Barney lived at various times with his immediate family, his aunt and uncle, and foster carers.

In the 1990s, when Barney was 11, his mother and stepfather had reconciled and Barney and his siblings moved back into their home in Sydney. However, it wasn’t long before things deteriorated. Barney was attacked by his stepfather to the point where he had to be hospitalised.

Barney was then placed under the care of the Department of Family Planning and Community Services (DOCS). He was separated from his siblings and sent to live with a foster family in a different suburb of Sydney. Barney’s foster parents, the Whites, were nice to him and he was comfortable in their home. The Whites also had other foster children as well as a biological daughter.

Ian White liked to treat the children, and Barney was taken on weekend outings as well as to White’s workplace. Barney got along well with his foster brother and he was enjoying living with the Whites.

One morning Barney was watching television in bed when Ian White got in with him, something he’d never before done. He placed his arm around Barney and started touching his genitals. Barney froze and didn’t know what to do.

The incident was never repeated but Barney’s demeanor quickly changed. He became angry at school, and often yelled at his teachers, at White and at his foster siblings. At one stage he was sent to see a psychologist.

Barney recalled that, on more than one occasion, his foster sister, Katie, took a spoon from the freezer and put it on the testicles of Richard, one of the other children. Richard, who was about three years old at the time, got an erection.

‘We used to sit around and laugh about it.’

Meanwhile, Barney’s family had moved to another state. His stepfather reduced his drinking and was no longer violent. Barney went back to live with them.

Barney never told anyone about the abuse because he didn’t understand what had happened. His behaviour got worse and by the time he was in high school, he’d been involved with the juvenile justice system. He smoked marijuana and was in his mid-teens when he first served time in jail.

In the late 1990s, when he was 17, Barney was released from jail and moved in with his aunt and uncle. He found work which he enjoyed, but looked to drugs and alcohol to keep himself numb.

‘Whatever I can get, you name it … I was on it. Trying to cover up everything I guess.’

Throughout his life, Barney served several terms of imprisonment. He struggled with anger management and drug and alcohol addiction for many years. He recounted that he often isolates himself from people and has difficulty socialising. He also has difficulty maintaining intimate relationships, and prefers to be alone.

Barney’s first full disclosure of the abuse was to the Royal Commission. He’d previously told his ex-partner about being abused but didn’t go into detail. He’d always feared that if he told people about the abuse they would assume that he too would abuse children. This made him wary around his nieces and nephews and his ex-partner’s children.

‘The thought’s always there even if you don’t want to end up like that person. I was with [my ex-partner] for three and half years and she had her own kids. You don’t cross that line. There’s a line there where you just didn’t want to be put into that same category after being abused.’

Barney has never reported Ian White to the police and he doesn’t wish to do so. He is however, involved in a civil case against DOCS. At the time of his private session, Barney was waiting for a response from DOCS.

Barney has been seeing a counsellor and psychiatrist for over two decades. He has been diagnosed with anxiety and schizophrenia, and takes medication to help stabilise his mental health. He has joined a community mental health group near his home, and feels that it is a good way to connect with other people who are facing similar challenges

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