Bertie was born in regional New South Wales in the late 1940s. He ‘can only guess’ why he and siblings were made wards of the state and placed in care when he was young, and wonders if it was partly because ‘we were of Aboriginal descent’. The children were separated and Bertie moved around to several different children’s homes with his young brother, experiencing physical abuse in these facilities.
At the age of 12 Bertie was sent to a special needs school run by the St John of God order. His parents were unable to pay the maintenance at the school, so he was not allowed home on holidays. He never received visitors.
Older boys physically and sexually abused Bertie in the school bathrooms, and threatened to bash him further if he disclosed this abuse. He also heard rumours of one of the Brothers sexually abusing boys at this time, but was not himself abused by any of the staff.
Over the holidays Bertie was sent to stay with a Catholic woman, Mrs Clifford, who treated him well and wanted to adopt him. ‘I tried to tell her what went on in there and she wouldn’t believe me ... She was so religious.’
Eventually years later she believed him, possibly because child sexual abuse in the Church was all over the media. ‘Sometimes religion can be good, and sometimes it can’t be ... That’s why I’m so against religion, I don’t care what religion it is.’
When Bertie was 16 he left care and found fruit picking work, marrying a few years later. He and his wife have now been married almost 50 years, and have children and grandchildren. As his education was patchy while in care his wife taught him arithmetic as an adult to help with gaining other employment.
Currently Bertie receives assistance from an organisation which supports care leavers, and they helped him access his welfare file. He was particularly upset to read a note in his file written by a Brother at the school, which said ‘my mother looked like she was mentally ill’, and does not think an opinion like this should have been recorded in writing.
Bertie told the Commissioner that the memories of the abuse don’t go away as he gets older. He has trust issues, and at times has felt suicidal. ‘I don’t know how I survived. Even when I was at school I wanted to do away with myself.’
He has tried counselling but finds medication is more useful in managing his mental health. ‘I’m glad I didn’t [suicide] ... I’m taking tablets at the moment to sort of calm me down.’