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Charlie Matthew's story

'Family life was pretty good up until my dad left. Then Mum became a chronic alcoholic – I kind of had a rough trot from the age of seven up.'

Now in his late 30s, Charlie's adult life has revolved through crime, jail, suicide attempts and mental health institutions.

'I haven't actually stolen anything for years and years … It's my hands that get me into trouble – fighting, weapons and that.'

He's facing a trial with police claiming stalking and harassment of his ex-partner, but Charlie is cautiously confident: 'The only threat of violence was towards myself … and I gave myself up after a couple of hours'.

The way Charlie sees it, 'Things started to go wrong the night Mum bundled me and my sister into the car and drove from South Australia to New South Wales … Dad followed us and got back with me mum for a little while, but then he left'.

A helter-skelter series of refuges and briefly occupied homes ensued. Then one late night, 'the cops caught me trying to siphon petrol out the back of the pub where me mum was drinking'.

This brought Charlie to the attention of welfare authorities. 'I was made a ward of the state, I would have been nine … They tried to put me in a few foster homes, a couple of group homes, but I was running off from those places back to my mum all the time.

'A stable home – I wasn't used to it. I was used to doing my own thing, then suddenly I've got rules.'

When he was 13, Charlie decided to run off somewhere new. 'I ended up living on the streets in Sydney, a scared boy running around.

'One day I was asking for money off people, and this guy he cracked a conversation, bought me a feed. And then he offered me a job as his offsider, doing truck deliveries.

'I got his phone number and spoke to DOCS. They ended up buying me a few things, clothes, and took me over to the twin servos at Gosford, on the highway. My caseworker met the bloke and took down his details, and then it was pretty much, "No worries, see ya later!"’

Charlie says it was assumed by all that he would be in Eric Wykham's full-time care, considering he was going to be driving interstate with him. 'Obviously they didn't check into his details …' If the DOCS caseworkers had investigated they would have discovered Wykham was a convicted paedophile and was at that time on parole for child sex offences. Charlie believes they were 'probably pleased to have me out of their hair … I never heard from DOCS again from that day onwards’.

'Everything was fine for a couple of weeks, then things began hitting rock bottom', Charlie recalls. 'We were on the road … I woke one night with him next to me. I tried to say something, but I had a knife held to my throat.'

The violent abuse continued for several months and, on one occasion in Melbourne Charlie was drugged and pimped to another man. 'I woke up in the cells, with the cops laughing at me because I had no idea how I'd got there … Then they let me go back into Wykham's care.'

The 14-year-old didn't know how to escape.

'One day I convinced him to drive past my father's house. I was hoping to see my father or my step-brothers or somebody – I had it set in my head that if they were out the front, I was going to jump out of the truck.

'Unfortunately they weren't there and I didn't jump out of the truck.

'We ended up in Queensland and I finally grew some balls, I actually took to him with a knife. Pretty much told him to stop it, right there and then. I would have killed him or killed myself, one of the two.

'He done a whole heap of talking towards me, he was saying he loved me, and this and that, but that was just trying to save his own arse. He put me on a truck and I ended up back in New South Wales.'

And after about six months, aged 'about 15', Charlie took up armed robbery. 'From that day on I pretty much became a different person. A person I don't like. A person I still am this day.'

Frequent assessments of that person have been made at mental health institutions, but Charlie doesn't think anyone has got him right.

'They talk about bipolar depression, drug-induced psychosis, post-traumatic stress … The mental health team sucks, mate! I've been admitted into hospital four times in the last six months due to suicide attempts, trying to get the police to shoot me. I'm in there for 24 hours, tell 'em what they want to hear – and they let you go with a big smile.

'Sometimes at night I cry, because this is not the person I enjoy being.'

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