Raised in Queensland in the 1950s, Billy barely knew his father but said his mum was a beautiful lady ‘who gave me everything’. She was affectionate and caring and made sure he went to school and always had enough to eat. Then, when Billy was seven years old, she died and everything changed.
Billy was sent to an orphanage run by Catholic nuns where he was sexually abused by an older boy named Luke Graham. Billy told the Commissioner, ‘He had a bad habit of putting his hands on you and interfering with you, touching you and that. I don’t like talking really about it. I don’t want to go into detail’.
At 14 Billy was removed from the home and put to work on a farm. It was a safe and comfortable place but Billy only stayed there a year before he was sent to a different farm run by a man who starved and beat the boys.
From there Billy was sent back to the orphanage where he was again abused by Luke Graham. Psychologically, the abuse began to take its toll. ‘I was getting thoughts in me head, bad thoughts and that. Bad things in the eyes of God, because I did believe in God.’
During confession one day Billy told the priest what Luke was doing, not just to him but to other boys and girls at the orphanage. ‘The only thing he said to me was to go away and say so many Hail Marys.’ A short while later, the nuns removed Billy from the home and told him he was going to be sent to another farm.
Instead, he was sent to a state-run reformatory for boys.
‘I don’t think there was one night when I slept in that place. I sort of cried meself to sleep if I did. I was so frightened of being raped and what happened to other boys and what happened to me in the showers.’
Billy said he had a towel over his head when the incident in the showers occurred, so he’s not sure if it was just other boys or one of the staff as well. ‘I don’t know exactly who did it to me but that was something that has done really, really, really a lot of damage.’
Billy escaped from the reformatory several times.
‘They brought me back and flogged me and threw me in a room and sort of stuck a stick and tied me hands up, like tied behind my back with a stick behind me, and just thrown in a room and left there I don’t know how long. Hours were nothing to me. The rest of my life was like that because I couldn’t tell the time, I couldn’t sort of – days were nothing to me.’
When he was 17 Billy made yet another escape from the reformatory, but this time when the cops caught him he was sent to jail. He couldn’t believe it. Compared to the orphanage and the reformatory, the jail was like a paradise.
‘I felt like a king … they fed us so well. I’d never seen so much food. Rump steak, T-bone steak and roast on Sunday. Jelly and custard. We had an egg. We had a beautiful sausage that didn’t have maggots in it.’
For the first time in years Billy felt safe and comfortable. So much so, in fact, that when he was released he broke into a shop and deliberately let himself get caught so he’d be sent back to jail.
A few years later he was released again and started to build a new life. It was tough, because he’d never really learned to read and write, but Billy managed to get by. He did his best with relationships too, but struggled to make them last. He smoked about a hundred cigarettes a day, and when the bad thoughts got too much for him he hit the bottle hard.
Then, when his first child was on the way, Billy decided to make some changes in his life. He stopped smoking and cut down on the drinking. In the end his hard work paid off and he managed to raise a great bunch of kids. He told the Commissioner he maintains close relationships with all of them.
‘They all think the world of me and I think the world of them.’