Casper was five years old in the late 1950s when his mother left and his father remarried, this time to a woman with children of her own. Two years later his father drove him to the Salvation Army boys’ home in South Australia, telling him he would only be staying there for three weeks and that there would be ‘lots of kids there to play with’.
Upon arriving, Casper was told to wait near the building entrance while his father spoke to the Salvation Army officer, Sergeant Wran. After their conversation, his father left without saying goodbye and Casper was led into the home where he would live for the next nine years.
Within three days of arriving at the home, Casper was sexually assaulted by another boy. ‘I’ve had to masturbate, oral sex with boys.’ The abuse occurred regularly and within three months Casper was violently raped by another resident. ‘I was split pretty badly, like both ends. I had no idea what to do.’
Casper immediately told Sergeant Wran who reported it to his senior officer, whose response was ‘the boys make it up so they can go home’. Wran gave Casper a clean set of clothes and told him to wash himself off in the shower.
For the next three months Casper was repeatedly ‘abused every two or three days by the boys’ until eventually he was again brutally raped, leaving him bleeding and in pain. Again he reported it to Wran, who told him ‘Just throw the clothes, you're lucky you don't get a belting’, and told him to clean himself up in the shower once more.
For the first two years living at the home, Casper was not permitted any visitors due to a decision by senior management, who believed family visits ‘disturbed the children and it put them backwards’.
‘My nana would have taken me, of course. My nana looked after me until I was five when my mother ran away. But of course I had a new stepmother and she had her own children, which I can understand in a way. She had a different family. My nana was willing to take me. My father wouldn't tell her where I was, so for two years she looked for me. Eventually she did find me and the courts wouldn't allow it, because she only had a bedsit and because of her age. But my nana wrote to me constantly.’
During this time, Wran, who was now promoted to assistant manager, began raping Casper on a regular basis. Casper estimated this occurred ‘over a couple of hundred times’.
After turning 13, Casper was permitted to make home visits, and visited his nana on weekends and holidays. It was also at this age that the sexual abuse stopped, although physical abuse at the home continued. During one of these visits when he was 16, Casper ran away to join a travelling circus. ‘It was a fluke. I went on my bike … and there was the circus … I'd already planned I wasn't going back, there was no way. And there it was, bingo.’
Casper stayed with the circus doing odd jobs for six months before he left and became a street kid. By the time he was 17, he turned to alcohol to escape the memories of abuse. ’I didn't like it. I don't like alcohol now, but I just needed to get rid of everything.’ Around this time, he acquired a shotgun, and one evening when the alcohol didn’t numb his pain, Casper tried to take his own life with it.
‘I didn't realise that the nightmares and that were doing all this … I had no idea. I didn't even realise I had any problems, really. I mean, I did, but I didn't realise that was it … I don't even know why, I just looked and I thought I'm sick of this. I just got it. I only had one cartridge as well, put her in … Nothing, not a thing. It was in the right side and everything, I know it was. And then I had the shits so bad, I was so cranky that I couldn't even frigging shoot myself that I just lost it. I smashed the bottle and I just got the gun and threw it against the wall and, of course, honest, the truth, it went bang. It went bang, all over the frigging floor ... That gun was gone that day. Then that was the turning point.’
Casper continued to battle his alcohol dependence until one day he was lying in the park as people from the nearby church were passing by after their Sunday service.
‘One day I was just sitting there at the back and this bloke walked and he was walking ahead, his wife had to walk like a little bit behind him with their two children. He just stopped them like that and he put the Bible like that and he said “See them. This is it. They should be shot. They're like dogs. The best thing for these people is to shoot them”. I sort of heard this. I'm half drunk and I thought “What's he saying?” but it stuck. All of a sudden I thought “Shit, he's got a point” you know … I thought “That's no more drinking”.’
Casper threw himself into work as a means of distracting himself. Eventually he met and married Nora, and they had children together. ‘Once the children came, that was it. They saved my life. It was magic. The moment I had that I never had that before, except for my nana of course.’
Casper continued to work hard while remaining devoted to his family. It wasn’t until he was in his late 40s that he commenced civil and criminal proceedings against the Salvation Army and disclosed the years of abuse he endured there. After a lengthy court battle Wran was convicted and sentenced to prison, and Casper received a very substantial compensation payment. Even with a large settlement, Casper doesn’t believe any amount can compensate for the psychological damage caused by years of abuse.
‘I have nightmares. I sleep two or three hours a night, that's it … The only reason I'm going to get out of these nightmares is when I'm dead, isn't it? It sounds horrible, but none of us victims are going to have any relief from nightmares until we're not here, and that's the bit they should be paying for in my opinion.’
Casper has never accessed counselling but instead turns to the support of his family to manage the constant flashbacks he experiences. ‘My daughter stayed with me two or three days ago and she said to me she couldn't have had a better childhood, she could not have had a happier childhood. See, that's what I always wanted to happen, to break that bloody cycle.
‘I'll be honest with you, last night was a shocker, simple as this. Like, I do all the cooking and whatnot. The other night I made roast lamb on Australia Day. I bought a nice leg of lamb, simple thing, put it on a tray in the fridge … went over and tipped the tray into the sink, turned the tap on, and of course that was me seven years old in the shower. So every now and again a trigger will make it really worse.’