Connor Graham's story

‘I came forward when it first happened, but nothing was ever done about it.’

Connor was born in the late 1950s to a struggling family in western New South Wales. Both parents abused alcohol and his father was violent. The marriage broke up and, at age five, Connor was sent to live in an orphanage run by Catholic nuns in the north of the state. It was home for seven years.

‘I don’t know what it is but for some reason when anything happened they always pointed at me. I must’ve had one of those heads or something.’

Connor was not sexually abused at the orphanage, but the physical and psychological abuse was almost constant. He would be locked under the stairs as punishment and told ‘the devil is in there with you’. Male workers were enlisted to ‘give us floggings’ with a leather belt.

‘When a child at [the orphanage] wet the bed, they would be made to stand naked at the end of the bed, and then would be made to take a cold bath’, Connor said. ‘This happened to me nearly every day.’

The maltreatment for bed wetting continued when Connor was moved to a Catholic boys’ home in Sydney. He was 12. Here the sexual abuse began, at the hands of Brother Lachlan.

‘Lachlan would send me up a flight of stairs to his room, where he would make me masturbate him, and he would sodomise me.

‘I was too ashamed to say anything. I was too scared to report the abuse to anyone.’

Connor endured the Brothers for a year before his father turned up to take him away. But regular thrashings from his dad forced Connor to leave home. Eventually the police picked him up and he ended up back with his mother in Queensland. Domestic violence again pushed Connor onto the streets. This time he was sent to a boys’ home run by the Salvation Army in south-east Queensland.

Many of the workers there were kind, but not the superintendent, Captain Pottinger. Connor believes Pottinger took an immediate dislike to him. He was targeted for continual physical assaults, public humiliation and sexual abuse.

There was a small school within the boys’ home, but Connor rarely attended. His time was taken up with chores on the grounds and farm attached to the home. Once he was sent to work with an older inmate name Dan. ‘He was a big lad, 17 or 18 years old. I was just a kid.’ Dan forced Connor to perform oral sex. When Connor reported the abuse to Pottinger, nothing was done.

Connor ran away from the home with a friend his age. The boys were eventually picked up by local police. ‘They asked and I told them why we run away and what was happening there. Anyway, they rang Captain Pottinger and he just said, “No, they’re liars, never happened”. Then when we got back they put us in a cage.’

Pottinger kept a dog cage on the end of his office verandah and would lock boys in there for days at a time as punishment.

When Connor was released from the cage he was taken to Pottinger’s office, told to drop his trousers and bend over the desk. Connor expected a beating. Instead, Pottinger forced a towel into his mouth and raped him. ‘I just howled, I’d never felt pain like it.’

Connor believes the sexual abuse at the home was widespread and well known. ‘Older boys – Pottinger’s favourites – would go around the dorms at night and rape younger boys. Then they would label you a “faggot”.’

That label followed Connor when the welfare department moved him to other boys’ homes in Queensland. He endured sexual abuse by older boys at two other institutions before he escaped the system when he turned 18.

Connor quickly got in trouble with the law and has been in and out of prison throughout his adult life. He has used heroin as a way to escape the memories. He is estranged from his family and has struggled with relationships. Connors mistrusts people and has tried to isolate himself to avoid having to deal with others.

He has not talked about the abuse very much, having been disbelieved or ignored as a child. Connor’s wife supported him as he spoke to the Commissioner, and she recalled how lost he’s been.

‘We done 20 years of travelling and I felt, in myself, he was always searching for something, but I didn’t know what it was. Wasn’t that he was searching – he was running. It’s only been recent years that he’s told me.’

Connor has been put in touch with counselling services, but hasn’t continued with them. ‘I didn’t feel I was really gaining anything from it. Because I took a walk home and everything would still be there.

‘Nothing’s going to make it any more peaceful. I just want to get away from everybody … I’m on a farm out in the middle of nowhere away from everybody and I’m happy.’

Connor would like to see more comprehensive vetting of people who want to work with children. And he believes children need an independent body they can talk to who will pay attention to their complaints. Connor is still bitter at being let down by his caseworkers when he was a child.

‘In my records everything’s in there, everything’s written down. But they never done anything about it. It was even written down that I’d notified the police.’

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