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Bobby Thomas's story

Bobby was made a ward of the state when he was six years old, after his mother had difficulty managing his behaviour. Sent to a children’s holding centre in Melbourne for a short time, he was then placed with a foster family for about nine months.

While he was there, Bobby was physically abused by both foster parents as well as their biological children. ‘I hated the way they treated me’, he said.

He was also sexually abused by the foster father on one occasion, something he’d forgotten until being reminded of it in more recent years. He disclosed the abuse to his mother at the time and she in turn had reported it to police. But despite the report, Bobby continued to live with the family. At every opportunity he ran away in the hope of being sent back to the holding centre. Eventually, he was successful.

Once back at the centre, however, he continued to abscond. ‘I had a lot of problems where I kept on running away every day’, he said. ‘Sometimes they’d have to lock me in the section and make sure I couldn’t get out, but as soon as I knew the door was open I would run.’

Through the 1970s, Bobby was in and out of various children’s institutions in Victoria. He was bullied and beaten by other boys and occasionally, staff members. He estimated that he’d run away from just one of the institutions more than 50 times. In one place an older boy tried to force him to fellate him and Bobby reported the boy to the superintendent, who called the police. The boy was removed from the centre and Bobby thought that he’d been criminally charged.

As he got older he managed to protect himself against bullies, but it was a constant battle.

He’d tell staff members whenever he was attacked and, once boys knew he’d ‘dobbed them in’, they’d plan further reprisals. Despite their threats, he continued to disclose their abuse and eventually the boys gave up.

‘I was never that worried because I thought, “Look, I’m not going to let them control me whatever way they want, no matter who they are or what their position is. I’ll show them that I can stick up for myself”. And a lot of the time I spent more time talking to certain staff who were more caring and understanding. After a while you’d get to know which ones were more like that and which ones weren’t.’

In the late 2000s Bobby saw an ad from a legal firm inviting those who’d been in institutions in Victoria to seek redress. He contacted the firm, which made a civil claim on his behalf. He received $50,000, from which $21,000 was deducted in legal fees.

‘In some ways I was happy what I got, but I’d sort of look at it in other terms thinking that “Why is it that people out there who just trip over on the street get a lot more money when what I’ve got here where I’ve suffered a lot more?” I’ve never been able to lead a normal life such as going to school and going to uni, having a career because I’ve hardly had much work in my life.

‘So then I look at it, even in today’s terms, I think, “Look at me, I will have no superannuation when I’m ready to retire”. I’ve not ever been able to travel overseas or enjoy a good holiday like most people do.’

Bobby said there are still times when he becomes angry at people who seem to be using ‘power to control me’. He’s lost several jobs after acting out at supervisors and others who he thought were doing this.

His interest in animals kept him ‘going and motivated’, but at various times he’s thought of taking his own life and believes it is his right to do so.

‘It’s my body. As long as I don’t put anyone else at risk, I have a right to commit suicide if I want to. But if you tell people you’re going to do that, police will come and arrest you and take you to a psychiatric hospital. But I say, “Don’t try and do that. That’s my life, I’m allowed to do what I want to this body of mine”.’

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