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Benjamin's story

Benjamin described his father as an alcoholic. When Benjamin’s mother became ill in the early 1970s the large family was split up and placed in government-run residential care and foster homes. ‘My brother Peter, I saw him once, sorry well twice, when he was a baby and when he died in 1980, in a coffin. They’re the only pictures we’ve got of him; he’s in a coffin. That’s how serious things were.’

Many of the children in the government-run facility that Benjamin was sent to were, like him, wards of the Western Australian State. He was seven years old and the abuse started immediately when another resident, who was aged about 17, forced him to perform oral sex. ‘That went on the whole time I was there’, Benjamin said. ‘That was pretty disgusting to me.’

Benjamin told the Commissioner that over the next 10 years, he was placed in about eight different foster homes. He remembered several sets of parents who were nice, but others, including the Lennons – who took in many children – were cruel.

‘We stole fruit from next door because we were hungry. They’d give us one Weet-bix for breakfast or a small bowl of porridge. This is one example that happened: it was a time when we were taking dog biscuits, bird seed, that’s how hungry we were. These people, I find out in the end, were on a wage of $60 a week for taking in six kids.’

One day Benjamin was sick but instead of being allowed to stay at home, he ‘got slapped in the head’ by Mrs Lennon who made him go to school. After the teacher rang and said he needed to be picked up, he got ‘another belting because I mucked the day up for her’.

Between foster placements, Benjamin returned several times to the government residential facility. When he was 10 years old, he was anally raped by a worker there after offering himself as an alternative to the three-year-old girl the worker had been abusing. At 17, Benjamin was sent to a Catholic boys’ home outside Perth and while he knew boys were being abused, he didn’t experience it himself, because by then he’d become extremely vigilant and was known as a fighter. ‘You’re looking after yourself in a place like that’, he said.

One of the ways Benjamin said he got through his childhood was by distancing himself from what was happening around him. ‘The world wasn’t real. It’s as simple as that. This ain’t the world. This is just bullshit, just a blank, just put a, you know, imaginary glass around me. You can take me body, but try as much as you want, you’ll never take me soul. That’s how I looked at it.’

When Benjamin heard about the Western Australian government’s redress scheme, he thought it sounded too good to be true. He said he went through it because no one had ever believed him before when he’d tried to speak about the abuse, and he thought by telling his story he could say, ‘I’m not bullshitting’. He found the application process stressful, but had a counsellor and advocate to help him. He thought the apology was ‘pretty lame’ and ripped it up, and he was disappointed when the top payment amount was reduced by the government from $80,000 to $45,000.

Benjamin recognised that government facilities like the one he was in no longer existed, but he expressed concern about the qualifications of people caring for children in their own homes.

‘By the time I got to foster parents that actually cared, I was pretty beaten up’, he said.
He recommended better screening to ensure carers were able to provide a loving home and help children get a good education.

‘Kids in my category need a loving home, an understanding of their background. There was no support whatsoever. Realistically, I used to stand on the tower at Bridgewater crying my eyes out night after night after night. They want to know where I was? That’s where I was. Looking at the lights of the Swan lager brewery.’

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