Cameron’s mother loved her kids, who she raised on her own, but she had an explosive temper. One time Cameron’s younger brother knocked his bike over and started crying. His mum blamed Cameron for this.
‘She took to me with a razor strop, gave me a flogging.’ In the process of defending himself, Cameron hurt his mother and the police were called. The Children’s Court labelled him ‘uncontrollable’, and he was sent to a government receiving home in Melbourne.
A few months later Cameron was moved to a Salvation Army children’s home. ‘To me it was really terrible ... When you first go there, you cry a lot, you want to go back to your mother.’
He lived in a constant state of fear and anxiety, due to ongoing violence from the officers and other staff. In the mid-1950s, when he was around 10 years old, a staff member called Mr Hurst began sexually abusing him.
‘He approached my bed, he came to me ... Then he started to fondle me, and touch me, around the backside and things like that. Then he asked me to go into his room, which was adjoined to the dormitory, and he put me on the bed, and then he performed the sexual act on me.’
Cameron was regularly subjected to similar assaults, including rape, ‘not every day, but periodically, for quite some time’. He knew that Hurst also took other boys into his room, and assumed they experienced this abuse, too.
He never told anyone what Hurst was doing, not even the other kids, because he was ashamed. ‘I was only a young boy. And they’re the authority. And you know, you think you have to do what you’re told.’
Another staff member, Captain Jackson, also sexually abused Cameron. One time when they were away on a camping trip, he ended up in a tent alone with Jackson. ‘He asked me what was my penis like, and then he wanted me to show him. And he performed the oral act on my penis.’
Cameron was often physically abused as well, particularly from one carer who injured him so badly he required a fortnight’s bed rest. At other times the boys were forced to fight each other for the entertainment of the staff. The immediate impacts of these assaults included Cameron becoming anxious, experiencing night terrors and being very withdrawn.
He left the home when he was 14, and resided in a hostel. He was not allowed to continue his education. ‘They get rid of you when you’re old enough to work. They wouldn’t let me go to high school.’
Finding a job was hard, but he managed to obtain work labouring. He married while still in his teens, and had kids. This marriage soon broken down, and Cameron feels it was because of his poor parenting skills, which alienated him from his children and caused problems with his wife.
‘What the boys’ home did to me, see, when I had children and that, that’s the way I used to sort of start treating them. Like strict, with a lot of discipline. Which is not the right thing to do. ’
Cameron has had troubles with relationships, and difficulties with trust, anxiety, depression, nightmares and flashbacks. The sexual abuse also left him with permanent physical disability.
Lacking education Cameron was not very good at reading and writing, but bought a computer and used this to learn. ‘That did help me a lot. Because I learned a lot on the computer, I used to do all my letter writing on the computer, which has spell mistakes and things like that on it, and I’ve got a dictionary on it. And I used to cope reasonably well.’
Cameron has also had extensive trouble with the law, and spoke to the Commissioner from prison. In the early 2000s he accessed his wardship file, but was troubled that some of the contents were factually incorrect. He is currently part of a class action against the Salvation Army, and is awaiting the outcome.