Danny is a septuagenarian. He spent nearly all his childhood years in the 1940s and '50s in a boys’ home run by the Salvation Army. ‘Life’s been pretty good’, Danny told the Commissioner. And yet when he speaks of the abuse he suffered as a child, Danny reads an account written in the third person, as if about some other lost boy.
‘When Danny was a bit older, around 10 or 12, Mr Walters used to come and sit on his bed after lights out.’
Walters was a lay worker, a man in his 30s who seemed to be in charge of Danny’s part of the home. Walters would make Danny sit up and would cover him in kisses, then ask Danny to kiss him back. He would fondle the boy’s penis.
‘Mr Walters came to Danny’s bed around three or four times … He started moving in on one of the other boys because Danny was scared and did not respond to him.
‘When Danny had to get undressed and stand in line for the showers he felt like he was always being looked at in a strange way. As he got older he understood sexual undertones to the way he was being looked at. Some of the other kids said similar things.’
The abuse went beyond the sexual. ‘Mr Walters used to make Danny stand outside with only his underwear on as punishment for wetting the bed. This was often on cold nights.’
Danny recalls sexualised behaviour from many of the other boys during play times. Older boys liked to start wrestling matches with him that would end in genital groping. Danny was also groped by boys his own age.
Many years later Danny attended a reunion organised for former residents of the boys’ home. Much of the conversation was about how widespread and matter of fact the sexual abuse was at the institution.
When Danny eventually left the care of the Salvation Army, in his teens, he was poorly educated and had difficulty socialising. He tried to pick up a trade, and then spent time working on various farms. ‘I was very, very, very withdrawn when I was younger, very withdrawn. Really shy, like an “as if everybody knows” attitude. Very backwards in coming forwards.’ Danny traces his problems to the sexual and physical abuse at the home.
Life turned around for Danny when he joined the defence forces. The job provided stability for six years, training and full-time work. Danny made a lot of good friends. And shortly after he left the service, Danny met Eva. They married, raised a family and have been together ever since.
As a little boy, Danny did not try to report his abuse to anyone. He was eventually reunited with a brother and a sister he never knew he had. Danny is close to his siblings, but did not share his secret with them either. He even kept the truth from wife Eva for more than 40 years, until the Royal Commission began its work and Danny decided it was time to speak up.
‘I was hoping some of them were still alive and would get their due. That’s what I was hoping.’
Danny is not interested in reporting his story to the police. He is thinking about approaching the Salvation Army for compensation. ‘I’m not worried about me … I wouldn’t mind getting some money to give to Eva.’