Clyde’s first memory of the Anglican boys’ home he was sent to at the age of six was watching his older brother being beaten by a housemaster and being told that if he misbehaved the same thing would happen to him. It was the 1950s and set the scene for Clyde’s future years in institutions.
He recalled punishments were handed out often and randomly, and his numerous attempts to escape saw him sleeping in boat sheds and other quiet spaces around Melbourne. Within a short time of arriving at the boys’ home, Clyde was sexually abused by a person who came into the dormitory and put their hands under his bed covers and fondled him. ‘I remember seeing the silhouette dressed in sort of religious clothing like cassocks or what they used to wear in church and them sitting on the bed.’ For years afterwards, Clyde had to sleep with the blankets pulled up over his head.
When he was eight years old, Clyde was transferred to a Salvation Army boys’ home. While he was being fitted out for clothing he was sexually assaulted by one of the officers. He didn’t report it to anyone. ‘Who do you tell? Do you tell the abusers you’re being abused?’
At first, Clyde didn’t try to run away because the home’s authorities had designated a group of boys known as ‘vigilantes’ the task of dealing with anyone who transgressed in any way, and they’d beat up anyone who tried to abscond. ‘That was their little reward.’
Some months later, an older resident who was sent to reside in the younger boys’ dormitory, raped Clyde. When the assault became known, staff called an assembly of all residents and announced that Clyde and the 13-year-old were having a homosexual relationship. ‘The inference was that I was party to it.’ Thereafter, Clyde was picked on relentlessly with the story carrying on into other institutions to which he was sent.
After the rape, Clyde tried to abscond and his father became involved, taking his son to court to request he be charged with being ‘uncontrollable’. From this time on, Clyde became a ward of the state and was moved to several other government-run boys’ homes.
At 14, Clyde was sent to a boys’ hostel to serve out a 14-month sentence. Conditions were harsh but improved greatly with the appointment of a new superintendent who cared about the boys and their living conditions. When his sentence was completed, Clyde left and thumbed his way around Australia. After he turned 18, a letter was sent to his father stating that Clyde was now discharged from all care.
Clyde told the Commissioner that he had got into a lot of trouble over the years, committing crimes and spending time in jails, where he’d often become a target for violence after other inmates recognised him from the boys’ homes. On one occasion, he was raped in jail.
Clyde said his life started to change in the late 1980s. ‘I was an alcoholic. I am an alcoholic, but I suppose I woke up one day and thought there’s got to be something better.’ He started going to AA and later sought counselling for a gambling addiction, during which memories of the sexual abuse came up.
In the late 2000s, Clyde tried to access his files from the boys’ homes and discovered that some institutions only kept records when he was a ward of the state. His frustration at being told by Salvation Army staff that he’d never been in their boys’ home led Clyde to enlist the services of a solicitor who organised a meeting and made representations for financial reparation. ‘The thing I was interested in was a letter of apology. I wouldn’t have taken them to court but they played hard ball and said I wasn’t there.’ Clyde received $24,000 of which $6,000 was paid to his solicitor.
From an early age, Clyde said he figured out that he had to do what he could to survive, and that one day he’d be free of the institutions. He also realised that he had no part in or responsibility for being sexually abused.
‘I’m not saying it hasn’t scarred me but I don’t dwell on it.’
He said he’d done bad things, criminal things, but he wasn’t doing it anymore. ‘I don’t want to sound like I’m making excuses but a lot of the things I did for necessity, for physical safety or I needed to eat and have clothes. I did a couple of violent things but it wasn’t ingrained, it was taught. Some of that brutality came out, but I’m dealing with it today.’