‘I know for a fact I’m one of many from the institutions that I stayed in … The emphasis was never on any of us kids, people, anyone in those institutions because we were just there. There was no emphasis on every individual person, why they were there, what the family breakdown may be or their individual – nothing.’
Bon grew up in a troubled family in Melbourne in the 1970s. His stepfather was physically and verbally abusive and would regularly bash his mum. When Bon was 12, he was made a ward of the state because of irreconcilable differences with his mother.
‘I was placed into a cell. I was strip searched. Don’t ask me why … I was placed into the main watch-house lock-up at the police station, watched my mother wave goodbye from the window … When I got to [the boys’ home], I was strip searched again … I was physically assaulted on the very first day there by the top person there – the boys – I was physically assaulted on a daily basis in that place.’
Bon said the staff in the government-run home he was sent to were very slack in their attention to and communication with the boys. He thinks they enjoyed watching the kids compete with each other.
‘The staff didn’t show any interest in us. When you’re made a ward of state, this is my view of it, they become your parents. They become your mentors. They are there, paid by the government to rehabilitate you, to show you this is the way of life.
‘You need to be able to control your tempers, control your emotions and whatever else to develop skills in life. We never got that … Because you’re basically a naughty kid in the eyes of these carers, they don’t care.’
Once, they were taken on a camping trip, and Bon shared a tent with a boy he considered a friend. When they went to bed, the other boy attacked Bon in his sleeping bag and raped him twice in the same night. Bon said he was too scared to do or say anything.
The next day he told one of the carers he’d been sexually assaulted but they did nothing, other than place him in a different tent with a very tough boy. Bon said he was terrified.
As his stay in the home continued, Bon’s fear turned to anger and he frequently got into trouble for picking fights and trying to run away.
‘I will be honest, I was an arsehole. I was physically assaulted so I became that arsehole. I learnt all the tricks of the trade. I knew how to street fight. And that’s who I was. That’s how I portrayed myself, as a nasty person.’
He was sent to a mixed gender residential care home run by a Catholic organisation. He managed to protect himself while he was there, but he witnessed a number of girls being raped. He spent a period back at home, in an attempt to reconcile with his parents, but soon found himself at another children’s home, this time run by the Salvation Army. Again he witnessed multiple serious sexual assaults on female residents there.
He said supervision in these homes was always minimal and although social workers came to visit him, messages or needs were never relayed to staff members and events or problems were never documented. He was moved again and ended up in a home run by a community church organisation. He was about 14 or 15 by then and shared the house with much older residents. One of these men, Roy, groomed him with pornographic videos and alcohol and eventually got him very drunk and molested him, forcing him to engage in oral sex. Bon said he was so drunk and scared he did what he was told. He told his carer about the assault but there is nothing documented on his file.
Bon ceased being a ward of the state when he was 18. He managed to find stable work and is now married with a child.
In the mid-2010s Bon reported the assault by Roy to the police and engaged a lawyer to help with his case, which is ongoing. As a result of that, he’s been able to access counselling and is now starting to deal with some of the impacts of his childhood, including struggles with alcohol abuse and flashbacks.
Over the years, one of the biggest impacts of Bon’s experience as a state ward has been the lack of education he received.
‘I’m all about education. My son goes to a private school, so I try to make the most out of it, even though I can be angry and I still am very angry about what happened to me as a child …
‘My very close friends are all saying “Well, give up. You know, get on with your life”. Try to tell them when you’re brought up in a family environment where you’re loved and you’re nurtured, you won’t see what I see …
‘[Family] come first before everything … I used to be driven for money. Everybody wants to have all the best things in life and to have all that sort of stuff … But I want to die – if I go tomorrow – I want my friends to remember me for the challenges that I’ve done and what I’ve faced and what I’ve given to my friends is happiness. And same with my family. I want them to remember me for being a person, not what I’ve gone out and worked for.’