‘It’s been so long but the memories are so fresh. I can still see myself as a little person at the orphanage and the experiences there, how horrible the environment was from the first day.’
In the 1960s, Cody was placed in temporary care in a protestant orphanage after his mother became ill and his father was unable to look after him. Cody was immediately struck by the severity of the buildings and people. ‘We met the matron who was all in white. The place was stark and cold. She said, “You need to put your bag there”. Later when I went to get my bag it had been opened and there was money in there and stamps and it had all been taken out.’
Cody was seven years old and placed in the junior section of the dormitory. From the time he arrived he felt the resentment of other boys his age and older because he was new and it was known he wouldn’t be there long, unlike those who’d remain all their lives. ‘They said I was privileged to be there because I knew I was going to get out.’
Cody told the Commissioner that some months after arriving he was woken one night by an older boy and told to follow him. The boy led Cody to the toilets and anally raped him. The sexual assaults happened on at least 10 occasions until Cody was told by another boy that it would never stop, and he went to see the matron. She told him not to tell his father or anyone else, and that the abuse would stop. ‘Something happened to the guy because I didn’t see him again. I’ve carried it all my life. It made so much difference to my life after that.’
After the abuse, the matron made no enquiry about Cody’s wellbeing and nothing further was said. At visiting times, he didn’t tell his father because he felt ashamed and feared being judged. Nor did he disclose the abuse to his parents later. He was worried his mother might consider it her fault, and his father would think he’d somehow brought it upon himself.
As punishment for wetting the bed, Cody was made to hang his sheets out the window, making them visible to older boys returning to the orphanage after school. It was a daily occurrence for bed-wetters to be lined up by the older boys and beaten repeatedly on their bare buttocks with a wooden stick. These assaults occurred outside the room of the live-in dormitory supervisor, a woman Cody described as ‘a drunk’ who never emerged from her room no matter the cries for help. ‘I never saw her.’ Staff response to Cody’s bed-wetting was to lock him in the laundry amid the smell of urine-soaked sheets.
Because Cody had never been a ward of the Victorian State, he found it hard to find any record of his time in the orphanage.
His file, when he eventually accessed it, included only the dates of his stay and nothing about him personally or the sexual abuse. ‘I just wanted to know someone had done something, that it had been recorded.’
In the late 2000s, Cody approached representatives of the Victorian Government requesting acknowledgement of his abuse and an apology. He received a verbal apology but not the written one he sought. He took up an offer of counselling and stayed with it even though his first experience wasn’t positive. After he’d described the sexual abuse to the appointed counsellor, she asked Cody if he thought he was ‘predisposed to men’. He described the second counsellor’s support as more helpful and professional.
Cody said what might have helped him as a child was having a mentor or trusted other person available while he was in the orphanage. He recommended that children in current state care have access to someone in that role.
Aside from the counsellors, Cody had disclosed the sexual abuse to his second wife early in their relationship. He was grateful for her support and that she had never judged him. His adult sons knew that he’d experienced trauma in the orphanage but not details of the sexual abuse. ‘I wish they did know, in the sense it might help them understand how I’ve been over the years. I thought I was a rare animal that was doing things, and I didn’t know why I was doing them.’
He said he’d always been ‘frightened of giving the wrong impression’ with his sons, but would ‘tell them I loved them and I’d hug them’.
‘I’m very lucky and as I get older I notice and appreciate it more and more.’