‘It’s the sort of thing I couldn’t forgive them for … No father, no mother that knows anything would [willingly] put their kids at risk to something like that.’
When Bernie’s mother died the family was devastated. His father did his best to take care of his children and then remarried in the early 1970s when Bernie was 11. Bernie didn’t like his stepmother and described her as an 'awful person'.
Several months after the marriage Bernie and his siblings were placed in an Anglican boys’ home in suburban Sydney. They were told their father and stepmother couldn’t care for them anymore. Bernie was separated from his older brother, but remained in the same dormitory as his younger brother.
Bernie stayed at the home for several months and hated every minute of it. He was punished by the workers for menial things and hit in front of the other boys, something he found humiliating. He liked being close to his brother, but kept mostly to himself.
While at the home Bernie came into contact with a man who regularly visited. This man was in his 40s and a friend of the administrator. Bernie remembers the man giving toys and treats to boys whenever he came to the home, and he was friendly to everyone.
The man started taking Bernie out on trips several times a week. Bernie remembers sitting in the car, a large sedan, and being given presents.
The man always took Bernie to a park, a long way away from the home. Several times while they were on these outings, the man forced Bernie to go in the bushes, take his pants off and lie down on his belly on the ground. The man then digitally penetrated Bernie.
Bernie couldn’t tell anyone what was happening as he was scared that the workers would punish him for complaining. He knew the man was giving presents to other boys and that another boy had also gone on a trip with him. Bernie did all he could to protect his younger brother from the man.
The abuse stopped when one day Bernie refused to go with the man into a public toilet block. He remembers sitting in the car, needing to go to the bathroom, and the man telling him to go in the toilets in the park. Bernie had a bad feeling about it.
‘I said, “Not going to happen. Take me home now”. He listened to me.’
After that, Bernie went out of his way to avoid the man and always went into a separate room with his brother when the man came to the home. He remembers feeling horrible whenever another boy went with the man, but felt he couldn’t say anything to anyone.
The impact of the abuse was instant. Bernie became introverted and only spoke when forced to. He caused trouble within the institution for sticking up for boys who couldn’t protect themselves. He had to repeat a year of school because he couldn’t concentrate, and this was humiliating.
After several months, Bernie and his siblings were moved to another home in a different suburb. This home was better than the previous one as the workers were pleasant and there were no unauthorised visitors.
In the mid-1970s when Bernie was 15 he lost interest in education and dropped out of high school. He soon found work, but couldn’t maintain long-term employment. He found it hard to trust others and build relationships, and he had difficulty staying in contact with his family.
Throughout adulthood Bernie has had depression and anxiety. He has been hospitalised for his depression, and didn’t tell anyone about the abuse until the mid-1990s when he disclosed it to his wife. She wasn’t supportive however and this was devastating to Bernie.
Soon after this Bernie disclosed the abuse to the police. He was upset the matter wasn’t taken further because he couldn’t remember the name of the man who abused him. He has since thought about applying for compensation.
Bernie has since told his family about the abuse. He found it hard to forgive his father and stepmother for placing him and his siblings into the home. However, before Bernie’s father died, he told Bernie that he was sorry for what happened, and Bernie is glad that he forgave his father.
‘It wasn’t his fault, I accept that now.’