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Basil Henry's story

‘I couldn’t tell. I wouldn’t tell them. I have no doubt a lot of them … went through a lot of hell as young people too, but I don’t think they went through what I did … I didn’t think they needed to know … How does this big tough bikie break down and tell his mates … Always in the back of your mind I … had this fear that someone would call me a poofter … So I just couldn’t tell anybody … I’m this big, tough bastard. Or I used to be.’

Basil was made a ward of the state in Victoria in the early 1950s, when he was two years old. After two years in a babies’ home he was sent to an orphanage, where he stayed until his early teens. When he was eight or nine, Basil was raped three times by one of the staff.

After the first sexual assault Basil escaped. He ran down the road, screaming and crying uncontrollably, and bleeding from the damage caused by the rape.

‘I got caught by the cops. They kicked me in the arse, threw me in the back of this black truck, took me back to the orphanage, where I was consequently flogged by [the superintendent] on the arse, where I’d been raped, and put in a little prison cell and fed bread and water for four days. How do you do that to a child? Not once, not twice, but three times.’

After reporting the sexual abuse to both the police and the superintendent, Basil didn’t tell anyone about it for a very long time. ‘I was always worried that nobody was going to believe me. That’s why I kept quiet.’

In later years, when Basil saw his files, he found out that his aunt wanted to care for him and his brother, but the authorities wouldn’t allow it. ‘I never knew I had any family until I got out of the orphanage and got my papers back. I had to find my family. I found my father … I found my cousins … Had we gone [with my aunt], who would I have been today? I may have been a different man.’

Now that he’s found his family, Basil has ‘a sense of belonging. I now have that sense of family’ and ‘they’re mine and I’m never going to let go of that because I know that they’re there for me’.

When he eventually told his family what had happened to him as a child, ‘they were just as torn up and traumatised as I was about it … It’s not a good thing to tell your children that you’ve been raped in an orphanage and they’re crying with you … In hindsight, I wish I had told ‘em, many, many years ago. But … how could I tell ‘em? I’m supposed to be this big, tough bastard, you know.’

Basil never did well at school. ‘My learning just went backwards. I was getting whacked across the fingers. Look at my little fingers. That’s not from motor bike accidents … That was from pulling away from the cane.’

Basil doesn’t have a driver’s licence because he’s scared to do the test and has been caught many times for unlicensed driving. ‘Every day in school I copped a flogging. I was sat in a corner with a fucking dunce’s cap on, ridiculed by the other kids … called a dummy, a moron, an idiot … and now I still go through it as an adult because I can’t get my licence, because I’m scared of a test.’

After leaving care in his early teens Basil was filled with anger, and he began committing crimes that led him to juvenile detention and eventually jail. He’s continued to break the law throughout his adult life, and has been a member of a motorcycle gang for many years. He still has nightmares about his childhood trauma.

Although Basil received a payment as part of a class action, he feels he was forced into accepting the amount offered to him. He has recently contacted a new lawyer to pursue both the child welfare department and the Victorian Police, for compensation for the abuse.

Basil came to the Royal Commission reluctantly. He agreed to come after his support person told him, ‘You need to tell’.

At the end of his session Basil told the Commissioner, ‘I feel better that I’ve spoken to you. It’s still rather daunting, but I least I’ve come here to tell my story. It doesn’t get easier, but … now I’m going on to the next step … I’m going to ask for help … I don’t know how I’m going to deal with that … I think I do need to try, just for my own [sake]’.

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