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Brian John's story

Born in the mid-1940s, Brian grew up in Victoria and enjoyed a normal healthy life until the sudden death of his father when Brian was about nine years old. In the aftermath, Brian’s maternal grandfather swooped in and took control. Without consulting anyone else in the family he arranged for Brian and his siblings to be made state wards and put into care.

Brian and his younger brother Martin were initially placed in a non-denominational boys’ home but after their second escape attempt they were transferred to a Salvation Army boys’ home where vicious physical and sexual abuse were a normal part of daily life.

‘They were sadistic, brutal people’, Brian told the Commissioner. ‘The officer’s door opened into the dormitory. He could walk through and pick whoever he wanted. And he would rape whoever he wanted and do whatever he wanted.’

The worst offender was an officer named Gregson.

‘When he first would rape you he would have … operatic music going loudly in his room. And you wouldn’t have a clue what was going to happen. [He’d say] “I’ll show you how to fold your clothes”. And he’d show you how to fold your clothes then he’d bend you over the bed and he’d rape you.’

The matron, too, inflicted sexualised violence on the boys.

‘Matron Daly was the most vicious female I’ve ever come across. Can you imagine 200 boys lined up in the quadrangle in the middle of winter, stark naked waiting for a shower – six showers? And she’d march up and down the aisle in front of the boys. And as teenage boys would be, occasionally they stand to attention. Possibly you’ve never seen a boy whacked on the willy with a cane, with the willy turning black. And she would smile.’

Although every boy at the home suffered some form of abuse, they never talked about it. They were too ashamed.

‘It was as though you weren’t the victim. You were the one that caused the problem, is the way it was instilled into our brain … by the officers. “It’s your fault. You made me do this. You forced me to do this”.’

And yet, somehow, at age 10 Brian summoned the courage to report Gregson’s behaviour to the manager of the home, Captain Munro. For his trouble he was flogged with a wooden stake. As Munro laid into him he said, ‘filthy little brat. Only a brat like yourself would have the audacity to make those charges against a man of God’.

Brian left the home two years later. The Salvation Army moved him into a hostel and got him a job. Brian worked long hours six days a week and saw only a tiny fraction of his pay – most of it was taken by the Salvation Army. Eventually he got fed up and absconded.

Brian spent the next five or so years in and out of various boys’ homes and juvenile justice facilities. He got angrier and angrier, becoming a ‘vicious, nasty little bugger … I was a shocking kid. I thought the world owed me a favour’.

To make a living he turned to crime. It was all he could think to do. In the homes, he said, ‘you weren’t taught anything apart from survival. When you got out you knew nothing. You didn’t know how to cook, you didn’t know how to do anything’.

Still, Brian managed to turn himself around in his mid-20s. ‘All of a sudden I realised I could do more with me mouth than I can with me hands … I woke up to meself.’ He started working hard, and with his willingness to ‘take a punt’ and knack for ‘talking people into doing things’ he managed to build a successful business.

He married but didn’t mention the abuse to his wife or to anyone else. It was not until about the year 2000, when he was in his 50s, that the truth finally came out. A newspaper article prompted Brian to join with his brothers in a case against the Salvation Army.

The Salvation Army denied everything right up until the last minute. On the steps of the courthouse they offered Brian and his brothers a modest settlement amount. Brian knew it wasn’t enough to compensate for what they’d been through but he took the offer. First, because he wanted there to be some funds left over for other survivors who were suing the Salvation Army, and second because it was never about the money for him. It was about ‘getting the story out there’.

Brian then went on to successfully sue the state government for failing to protect him when he was a state ward. Now he’s working on several projects to help other survivors who are less capable than he is.

‘I’d say 95 per cent of the boys and girls that I’ve spoken to that have been abused or been a state ward have got nothing. They’ve got no self-confidence. They’ve got nothing whatsoever. And they can be led into doing any bloody thing. But give them a quid or something like that to get them back on their feet, maybe it’ll help. And that’s the reason why I’m doing this.’

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