‘I was given a locker number and some clothes and they showed me where the dormitory was and that was about it’, Bruce told the Commissioner. ‘I was totally lost.’
He was describing his arrival at a boys’ home in Adelaide in the late 1960s. He’d been sent there directly from a court hearing where he’d been found guilty of shoplifting and sentenced to nine months in detention. He was 14 at the time.
Bruce was a country boy, he said. ‘I wasn’t a real outgoing person.’ The reformatory was ‘a shock’.
Bruce had appeared before a judge known for the severity of his sentencing. Other teenagers he incarcerated for minor offences successfully appealed and were released. ‘My father wouldn’t appeal, so I was basically there for about nine months … Mum wanted Dad to do something, but because there was a bit of expense in it, he just wouldn’t do it.’
There were about a hundred boys at the reformatory, Bruce believes. Some were older boys who should have been at another facility, but there wasn’t room for them there. ‘There was all sorts. I never mixed a lot; I just sort of got to know a couple of the kids there.’ There were two or three of them ‘in the same boat … We had no idea of what this was all about’.
One day at lunch Bruce went to the toilets in an outside area to use the urinal. No one else was there. ‘Next minute these two lads walked in and stood either side of me. And when I went to leave they just grabbed me.’
One of the boys raped Bruce, while the other held him captive. ‘I was just totally unaware of what was happening – and basically it happened and after it happened I just sort of stood there. I just didn’t know what to do. I had no idea what to do.’
Eventually he tidied himself up and went outside. He was crying. The warden on duty saw him and said nothing.
‘To this day I’m sure that the warden knew what was happening. It’s been on my mind for years and years and years and to this day I’m sure he knew what was going on.’
He didn’t disclose to anyone what had happened. ‘I didn’t know who to turn to.’ He was afraid of the older boys, and didn’t want his father to know so felt he couldn’t tell his mother.
‘About the only person I would have spoken to was my mother. She was the only person I absolutely trusted in this world, and my fear was that she’d tell my father, who really didn’t have a loving bone in his body … So basically I never told anybody.’
The assault took place about halfway through Bruce’s sentence. ‘After that I just kept looking over my shoulder all the time, wondering if it was ever going to happen again’, he said. ‘I just avoided them … I wasn’t going to go anywhere or do anything, I just hung around with a group of people. Or stayed close to a guard. I wouldn’t go to the toilet unless somebody else was going in there as well.’
When he left the home, he returned to his family. His father had plans for him but he left and eventually found agricultural work. He never went back to school: ‘I just didn’t want to face anybody. I was ashamed of what I did.’
Bruce told the Commissioner that the impact of the abuse has not lessened over the years.
‘It’s always there and any quiet time – if I can keep myself active it’s fine … Even at nights, you wake up still thinking about it … I just sort of crawled into a shell and thought – well, I’ll cope.’ For decades, he didn’t tell anyone about it. Even if he’d been asked directly, he probably wouldn’t have said anything. He didn’t know how people would react, he said.
‘I didn’t know who to trust.’
Finally, some 40 years after the event, he told a member of his extended family. It was a considerable relief. ‘I just felt a lot better about it.’
He hasn’t sought ongoing counselling or other professional help, other than one day calling Lifeline.
‘I just got down and out about it all and rang up Lifeline just to talk to somebody … They said tell people. And open it all up and whatever else. Which had ended up with a lot of mixed emotion, but – yeah.’ Several family members no longer talk to him as a result of his disclosure; other people have responded more positively.
‘I’ve had some support from some friends that I never ever thought would be that sort of close and supportive but, yeah, they’ve been the people who’ve sort of stuck by.’
A few years ago he saw a television report about a man who’d committed sex offences. It was the person who’d raped him, long before. In the report, police asked anyone with information to come forward. Bruce rang the police station and left a message. He never heard back.
‘I didn’t know how it was going to be accepted – whether I was just going to make a fool of myself … When I rang and then didn’t hear anything back I thought, “Hmm, well, that was a waste of time”.’
He is now thinking about approaching police again. His partner knows his story and is very supportive – ‘No trouble at all’, Bruce said. With her help he is considering seeking compensation.