‘I’ve dealt with this more over these last few years, why it happened, shouldn’t have happened. And I felt embarrassed and dirty over all these years … for nothing. A lot of wasted time and thoughts … heaps of anger.’
Billy was born into a large family in Tasmania in the late 1950s.
‘[It] wasn’t good to be at home sometimes. I had an abusive father and he bashed my mother a lot. So, as kids we didn’t stay at home, we sort of run amok on the streets … wagged school a lot because we wore hand-me-downs to school.’
Billy was bullied at school because he was poor and the other children thought he was unclean. He missed a great deal of school and by the time he was 13 years old he had come to the attention of police and was made a ward of the state. It was recommended that he be sent to a boys’ home.
The boys’ home was a state-run orphanage. Because of the stress of his situation, Billy still wet the bed and was placed in the ‘bedwetters’ dorm’.
At night a staff member would come around and check if the boys had wet the bed. Billy was frequently sexually abused by a male employee who would fondle his genitals while conducting theses nightly checks. Billy was also abused in the shower by another male employee.
‘I wasn’t comfortable with it so … escaped from the boys’ home … I was going home to tell my parents about it [the abuse] … I was a bit scared and frightened to mention it to anyone [in the home].’
The police picked him up before he could tell his parents and he was taken straight back to the home. Billy felt very vulnerable, especially as the culture of the home was physically violent with staff encouraging and condoning fights amongst the boys. As punishment for escaping he was locked in a security room for a number of weeks.
‘I didn’t talk to none of the other boys about it. Didn’t report the incident[s] because I thought I’d get in more trouble … I didn’t want to stay there forever.’
The abuse continued until one night Billy fought back.
‘I pushed him away one night and it never happened [again]. Well, he tried a couple of times after that, but that pretty much stopped it.’
He was 14 and a half years old. At 15 years of age, Billy left the home and returned to his parents’ house despite remaining a state ward. He disengaged from school.
‘I rebelled. I ran amok in class. I didn’t want to take any notice of [key figures] ’cause [of] the way I was treated … The last year of school I actually started to settle down and take notice of one particular teacher [but it was too late] … I never pursued it afterwards.’
He was angry and had severe trust issues, particularly regarding authority figures like the police and employers, and suffered depression. Billy’s relationships were affected by the abuse too.
‘Made me wary. I didn’t want to be with girls in case any found out. It made me disrespect the law in many ways. My peers – I didn’t have any respect for anyone like that until not that long ago … I could never trust to be around my [male] friends, I wouldn’t go drinking with them [because of] trust issues and I just rebelled.’
Once he had children himself, Billy’s anxiety grew more obvious, although he never told his wife about the abuse.
‘I refused to bathe my kids because of what happened to me. I just didn’t feel comfortable … doing it.’
One of his sisters, who had also been put into state care, requested her welfare files. She received Billy’s as well. Billy’s sister and her children all read his file before he did. Billy felt he had to tell his son about his abuse before any rumours spread through the family.
‘Everyone had read my files and I didn’t [even] know they were available to me … I was very annoyed about that … she shouldn’t have had my file.’
Billy applied for compensation through the Tasmanian redress scheme but found the process unsatisfactory. He received a small amount of money.
‘That meant nothing to me after what had happened to me … being a ward of the state for that long and the time I’d spent in the boys’ home … I thought it was unjust. I didn’t accept their apology. It was just a word that they had to say. I think “sorry” actually meant nothing to them.
‘They [officers with the Tasmanian scheme] didn’t offer me any counselling, they didn’t offer me anything. The amount of money … I thought it was quite inappropriate.’
It is only recently that Billy has begun to address the sexual abuse.
‘It’s something I’ve tried not to talk about all these years and then this got brought up with [the] … files of mine … things from the boys’ home, memories came floating back. They’re always there but you just block it out.’
Part of Billy’s journey has been teaching himself to read and write and to engage with technology so he can keep up with his grandchildren. He has also been talking to a counsellor recently and knows that this has helped him gain some perspective on his life.
‘Since I’ve started talking to a counsellor about it, it’s been a bit better – that I’ve actually spoken to someone about it makes it feel a bit better. But it is all still there.’
He has never reported his abusers to the police because of his deep distrust of them and he would like to see more community awareness about reporting sexual abuse.
‘I didn’t know I could make such a complaint [about his abuse]. I didn’t know I’d be entitled to make a complaint. I just thought they would laugh at me … I had so much anger about it all … I only found out about it from a sister … that [I] could make a complaint.’
Billy is also determined to do as much as he can to ensure children in care now are not sexually abused.
‘I just hope they can do more for kids in state care, or any type of care they are in … No matter what cost … it shouldn’t matter from what walk of life they come from or what they’ve done to get where they are.’