When Clyde was eight years old, he had to appear in the children’s court in a regional New South Wales town.
‘I was … that sick with German measles. Mother went to court … “Can you adjourn it for a fortnight?” They said, “No. You go home and get him” … I caught a train that night and … I ended up in [a state-run remand centre] and I was in isolation for a month. I went down to the special school and I was in isolation there for another fortnight, off in a little room. Eight years of age.’
Clyde entered the state-run school in the early 1950s and found the culture harsh. He experienced physical, emotional and sexual abuse while at the school.
‘I had a few run-ins … they had their workers there but … they’d … always got the older boys … to do their dirty work … and give you a biffo. Nine times out of 10 they got the other boys [to do that when] … you’ve been cheeky or something.’
He always felt uncomfortable at shower time because the workers would stand around and watch the boys.
‘They’d stand there … didn’t say nothing but they thought a lot.’
Clyde was also aware of other sexual abuse that occurred in the school but no one talked about it.
‘I think it was too dangerous … you mention it to anyone, you’re gone.’
His parents would ring the school to find out how Clyde was going but they would be lied to by the staff.
‘When your parents ring up … [staff] say, “He’s going all right” … They’d never tell the truth.’
His parents were also unsure about the length of time Clyde would have to stay at the school and often when they made the journey to the school, a trip that would take them a day and half, they would be unable to see him.
‘On my file … they couldn’t give a certain date how long I’m doing. One minute it's six months and next minute it's 12 months and my parents often come from [town] to visit me … and they’d get out there to see me and they’d say “Oh no, you can’t see him, he’s been a naughty boy” … [they’d] travel all night.’
Clyde believes this was a punishment that was perpetuated to keep him quiet about the abuse and the conditions at the school.
‘In my file, they’ve got things that I was … dumb, “severely retarded”. They never done anything for you or seen you … I think they just done that to sort of, “We’ll keep him here a bit longer”.
‘They reckon people were only there three or four months but I was there just on 18 months.’
When Clyde was released he went home to his parents. He came to the attention of the children’s court again after stealing a bicycle but received a bond rather than being sent to another boys’ home. He began to work and a few years later married.
Clyde’s education suffered at the school, significantly limiting his employment opportunities. His experiences in the school also made him distrustful of people. As a result, he usually found employment in small teams or where he could be by himself.
‘They done nothing … They were to look after us and as far as I’m concerned they didn’t.’
He has found support from a care leavers' organisation, and is interested in pursuing the government for compensation.