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Charley's story

Charley seems like a tough bloke. He has spent his adult life surrounded by bikies and growling dogs and would knock you out if you did him wrong.

But as someone once said to him, he’s just ‘a big marshmallow in a leather jacket’.

Charley told the Commissioner his experiences as a child ‘taught me to be tough, too tough sometimes, that the problem’.

From the age of six until he was 14, Charley was in and out of a Salvation Army boys’ home in Western Australia due to his mother’s problems with mental illness. His younger brother was also taken into the home on many occasions.

From the first time they arrived, one officer, Lieutenant Hartfield, started grooming Charley. Hartfield made night visits to the dormitories to see if Charley had wet the bed.

‘He’d come in in the middle of the night and fondle your private parts … This officer said, “There’s nothing wrong with this, it’s quite natural and your father would normally teach you about this sort of thing but you don’t have a father so I’ll be the good guy and teach you what you need to know instead”.’

The abuse continued every time Charley was in the home. He found out only recently that his brother was abused by the same officer.

He was also regularly raped by other boys in the home.

‘I don’t know whether it was because of the way they’d been abused or whatever, but these Aboriginal boys used to rape us in the showers … And the officers either weren’t there, they were outside having a cigarette or they just couldn’t be bothered. It didn’t worry them at all.’

He didn’t tell anybody at the home because if he’d become known as a dobber, he would have been beaten up, and then be a target for others. He said it was clear the officers would not have done anything with the information anyway, other than cane the offender. He told his mother when he was about nine but she said he was making it up so he wouldn’t be sent back to the home. He also told a welfare officer one time, who said exactly the same thing. ‘He said. “There’s nowhere else for you to go so too bad, that’s where you’re going”,’ said Charley.

Those events have left Charley with a lifelong fear of Aboriginal people and people in uniforms, all of which contributed to his need to protect himself and appear tough.

Physical abuse at the home was also rife, with canings for minor offences. One time Charley discovered his brother being whipped for refusing to take a cold shower after wetting his bed. Charley charged at the officer and knocked him over, for which he received six hits with the cane on each hand.

‘I dropped to my knees and begged him to stop and all he did was grab me by the arm, force me to my feet, and told me to take the punishment like a man … That 12 cuts seemed to take forever.’

On several occasions he was taken by Hartfield to the sports room, supposedly to be caned for something, but he was sexually assaulted instead.

‘By the time I was 10 or 11, it finally progressed then to oral sex. I wasn’t forced to do anything to him but he did pretty well everything to me.’

The level of care in the home was extremely low, with terrible food and not enough of it.

‘Amongst the boys we used to refer to it as the Starvation Army.’

When he was 15 he got any job he could find, just so he wouldn’t get sent back. But he’s never been able to hold down jobs because as soon as someone in authority gave orders it brought flashbacks and he quit.

Charley’s way of facing the world was to fight back.

‘There’s only one way to stop someone hurting you and that’s to hurt them really badly first. Because of that I’ve been, all my life, the only way I’ve managed to cope with all this is to be seen to be aggressive and violent.’

Charley ran his own business for a while but is now on a disability pension. He has been married for 42 years and was determined to provide a stable environment for his children. A few years ago one of his sons committed suicide when he realised he was gay. Charley describes himself as very homophobic now and believes his son was afraid of telling him.

‘There’s a great feeling of guilt attached to all this … when you find it pleasurable you feel guilty, because it feels good, but it’s not supposed to. So then you wind up in this weird place. I actually thought you could catch homosexuality.’

Despite his tough exterior, Charley said he feels very vulnerable. He’s been diagnosed with agoraphobia, heightened anxiety, deep depression and hypervigilance.

He went through Redress WA and received $28,000 in compensation, but talking about everything was so difficult he had a breakdown.

His hope is that the Royal Commission will help change how children are educated about sexual abuse.

‘Most of all … tiny little children [to be] educated from a very early age to know that they can tell someone and that someone will listen. It’s most important that someone will believe them and make it stop.’

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