Bruno was five in the mid 1960s when he was placed in his first Queensland boy’s home. From the time of his admission, he received regular harsh punishment, including being stripped naked, and hosed and caned by staff.
‘On many occasions, myself and other children, when we were getting punishment we was always taking our pants down and then it proceeded with either a strap or a cane. At the time I didn’t understand it to be a sexual thing. I just took it as a punishment.
'Even to this day, I still can’t understand where the punishment come from, we didn’t do much wrong. We was kids.’
After some months Bruno was returned to his mother’s care, but he rebelled and was soon placed in another centre. This pattern would continue until he was 17.
Overall, Bruno spent time in four centres, three of which were government-run while one was a Salvation Army home. He was admitted multiple times into each. Because he’d been placed in care at such an early age, he was particularly vulnerable to abuse, and was physically, emotionally, and psychologically abused in all the centres, and sexually abused in two. His anger was obvious as a child.
‘In one of the centres we were told to write down or draw things to express ourselves. So, I painted the room black and red in skulls – anger.’
He feels for the survivors of sexual abuse, particularly those he knew in the homes.
‘I seen a lot of people way worse than myself in the abuse. I’m only grateful to be where I am in the abuse I received, not to cop it as bad as they have. I have a lot of empathy for them.’
Bruno was also sexually abused when he was remanded in the Brisbane watch house before being transferred to adult prison when he was 17. Since then he has spent time in prison for a sexual offence and used drugs for many years. Bruno had limited education in the homes, which has affected his opportunity to work and build a life.
‘Self-education … I got smarter on the outside of school than I did inside.’
Throughout his life, his rebellion has always landed him in greater trouble. Now, he is in the midst of complex family and institutional legal actions, and despairs of finding legal assistance that he can afford. He also believes the institutions don’t listen to him or take his concerns seriously because of his child welfare record.
In coming to speak with the Commissioner, Bruno was supported by his long-term counsellor, Simon. Simon told the Commissioner that anger has been a significant factor that Bruno has had to manage.
‘I can see a profound link between the anger in Bruno as a child … and how that has continued into his adult life. When he has received adverse experiences from institutions as an adult … he has responded in angry ways which seem to have very much coloured the way those institutions have responded to him.
'It very much seems as though Bruno as an adult is being punished for the anger that was created in him by the [Queensland] state as a child.’
With Simon’s help, Bruno has gained perspective on his life. He knows that the lack of nurturing and the abuse he experienced as a child have affected him quite severely. Bruno worries about his future and believes there needs to be more support for adults who grew up in out-of-home care.
‘I didn’t want it to travel to my adult age … I’m in my late 50s and I thought quality of life should be a little better than it is today … Today, I have nothing.’
He is also concerned about the children in out-of-home care today.
‘There’ll be children probably coming to you, someone like this Royal Commission in 20 years’ time saying exactly the same thing. It shouldn’t be the case anymore.’