Blair’s mother had schizophrenia and ‘was taken away into some institution’ in the late-1960s. His father, who was ‘not a good money earner’, couldn’t support the family, and as a result several of the children were placed into a government-run home in Victoria.
Blair was four when he and three of his siblings arrived in the home. Workers comprised ‘good people and bad people’, Blair said, but with some ‘pretty hard-nosed staff there’.
‘It was run like a bit of a military operation if you like, you know dinner at five o’clock, showers at four o’clock and bedtime at 7.30. But very harsh disciplines, I mean there was no love and there was no caring and understanding, which I guess is no fault of anybody’s really. It’s just the way it was.’
One day when he was about six or seven, Blair was accused of having knowledge of who had damaged property in a nearby church. In an attempt to make him confess, he was taken into a room by two female staff and stripped naked with his hands tied behind his back.
‘In a number of ways [they] beat me until they thought they could get the answers they wanted, with canes and shoes and so forth. That sticks in my mind.’
The practice of stripping children naked for punishment ‘would happen every couple of months’, and often involved the same children. Blair recalls it happening to him only once because he ‘tried to behave as much as I could, and keep out of trouble’.
After about eight years in the home, Blair lived briefly with his father and stepmother and then a sister. He wasn’t sure how his treatment in the home, and the abuse he’d experienced, had played out in his life.
‘It didn’t really affect me all that much I don’t think. I ended up … living in a hostel, had to pay some board there because my dad wouldn’t fork anything out so I was delivering papers and putting myself through school. Probably I was never good at socialising, so I got into hospitality because I wanted to learn how to socialise, so I became a waiter so it forced me to talk to people because I had no skills in terms of that. I was a scared young man.’
He’d done well at school and later built a successful career. In the 2000s he’d separated from his wife, and his sons had stayed with him. He hadn’t disclosed details of his childhood experiences to his family except to tell them he ‘was brought up in a home and it wasn’t a very nice place’.
Seeing an advertisement for the Royal Commission prompted him to want to tell his story.
‘I was going through a pretty dark time. I’d been pretty hard on myself and a lot of memories of [the home] and my upbringing were sort of coming back and it was like, there’s something wrong with me you know, I just can’t get back on my feet again, and I just didn’t care.’
At this time he saw a counsellor and found it ‘beneficial’ as it gave him ‘somewhere to talk’ and he liked ‘throwing around a few ideas’.
Blair also had a regular meditation practice and was attracted to Buddhism because it ‘made a lot of sense’ and was a ‘very logical, very scientific approach to religion’.
He’d never considered making a formal report to police about his treatment in the home, nor applying for compensation.
He believed the lack of trained workers and the home’s ‘militant’ style led to staff, many of whom were ‘18, 20 years old’, behaving the way they did.
‘I’m a very objective person, you know, and I try and look at things from different angles so I kind of look at the staff at [the home], not so much at the time but later on, they had their own set of challenges. They weren’t qualified people and I guess they were doing a job, and sometimes you get frustrated doing a job and there’s an outlet that needs to be catered for, and we were it.
‘So I’ve come to terms with: what happened was really nothing to do with me; it was more to do with them than with me. But at the same time when you’re going through a dark period, it’s like maybe it is the cause of all this stuff.’