In the early 1960s, Del was three years old when he and his siblings were taken from their mother and placed in a Catholic orphanage in regional Queensland. As they grew up his brothers and sisters tried to look after each other, but none of the children could escape the cruelty of the staff.
Del remembered being whipped with electrical cords and having his hands smashed into brick walls. On one occasion he was beaten for misbehaving even though he already had a broken kneecap.
When he was a few years older, Del was sexually abused in the showers. A member of staff would come in to ‘inspect’ the boys, touching their genitals to make sure they were clean. He quickly realised what the man was doing and tried his best to avoid him.
He said he never reported it because there was so much abuse happening in the orphanage, there was no one he could tell.
After about eight years there Del spent time in several different boys’ homes, where physical abuse was never far away. He was bashed by staff and bullied by other residents. But he soon learned to give as good as he got. ‘You had to stand up for yourself. If you didn’t stand up for yourself they’d tread on you.’
He’d also look out for some of the smaller and younger boys, to stop them getting hurt, too.
It was around this time Del started developing a ferocious temper. ‘They were saying I was bad and I started thinking that way.’
After his experiences in care Del became increasingly angry about dealing with authority and he was in and out of prison for many years. ‘They tried to break me in the big house’, he said. His first response was to fight, and he didn’t care if it was other inmates or prison officers.
On the outside he became more and more dependent on alcohol, including methylated spirits, to the point where he started having seizures.
Since their childhood Del had occasionally talked about the abuse with his sisters, but the memories started coming back more strongly as he got older. He remembers his mother coming to the orphanage to ‘visit us when she could’, and can’t imagine the sadness she must have felt. ‘When I’m by myself sometimes I have a little cry’, he said.
Del is a man of few words, but he decided to speak to the Royal Commission after recently becoming a father again. He wants people to know that we must never stop trying to keep families together and children safe.
He also hopes that something will be done to stop the physical abuse in children’s homes and prisons, no matter whether it’s kids or adults who are suffering.
After many, many years, Del has learnt to control his temper and his drinking. His schooling stopped at Year 7 but he’s continued to teach himself, picking things up along the way. He’s also decided to start speaking with a counsellor.
In the past, when he was at his lowest, Del said ‘looking ahead’ kept him going. Now, with a new addition to his family, he knows he has more reason than ever to keep doing just that.