Desmond grew up in Brisbane, one of a large family. ‘I was blessed with Mother Theresa as a mother and the devil himself as a father’, he told the Commissioner. ‘My old man, he was a sadistic, bad, evil man. I wish I could say he was a lovely man but he was a mongrel.’
To escape his father, Desmond often ran away and spent time on the streets. In the late 1960s, on Christmas Eve, he was caught shoplifting. He was stealing Christmas presents – ‘As you do’, he said.
Desmond was driven home by police and when they got there his father told them to take him away. He was taken to a state-run centre for troubled children and soon after was placed under a care and control order and sent to a Salvation Army-run boys’ home. He arrived there as a 10-year-old. He spent the next seven years there and at another Salvation Army-run institution for older boys. In that time he met many more ‘mongrels’, who physically, sexually and emotionally abused him.
At the two Salvation Army homes, the violence was extreme. One of those in charge at the first one was Captain Pottinger. Desmond recalled Pottinger bashing him so severely that he thought he would pass out. Pottinger used his fists, boots and a piece of thick rubber hose. ‘He flogged me and flogged me and flogged me till I pissed and shit myself, and one old bloke who was sitting there said “I think he’s had enough, Cap” … Honestly, I thought I was going to die.’
Desmond’s injuries went unattended, and were still visible two weeks later when he returned to school. On his first day back he ran away, to see his mother. She reported his injuries to the police, who came to the house to collect him and return him to the home.
‘If you ever complained it was “Oh yeah, we’ll look into this”. Nothing was ever done. No one was ever charged. The paedophiles, the swines that were harming you – nothing.’
After another spell in the state-run centre Desmond was moved to the Salvation Army institution for older boys. It was pouring with rain the night he arrived there. He got out of the police car that had delivered him and waited for the man who was coming to meet him. ‘He had a big black overcoat on and he was walking up and I went, it’s Pottinger … I thought “Nah. This is not happening”.
‘He never left me alone, that man.’
Desmond received terrible punishments from Pottinger and others while in the home. On one occasion he was accused of poisoning the pigs. For nine days he was locked in a coal pit at night and a dog cage during the day. ‘No running water. No toilet. Nothin’. Nothin’. Sitting in the hot friggin’ sun all day, cookin’, going mad. Asking “When can I get out, when can I get out?” “When you learn to behave”.’
Life at the home was ‘honestly unbearable’, Desmond said. ‘Every day you thought I’ve gotta get out of here … They cared more for the pigs and cows than they cared about us kids.’
Desmond was first abused sexually at the state-run facility. He was a bed-wetter, and needed to be taken to the toilet during the night. One of the officers who took him used the opportunity to molest him. Desmond told his school teacher about the abuse, but nothing happened.
‘They didn’t know how to deal with it … Nothing was ever done.’
The abuse continued at the Salvation Army-run homes. ‘I had one take me to the dam and promise me the world – I don’t want to talk about that’, Desmond said. The officer had told Desmond he would organise visits to see his mother, in exchange for mutual fondling sessions.
At the second home, Desmond was attacked after he intervened to stop a staff member sexually assaulting boys. ‘That mongrel dog who was touching the kids up – he dead set tried to drown me’, Desmond told the Commissioner.
As an adult, Desmond got involved in criminal activity and has been in and out of jail. But he’s tried not to hurt others. ‘I’ve always tried to be a decent person and help people, and I have – but you know I got my own problems where I just think sometimes what am I doin’, where am I goin’, and I become a bad, bad alcoholic.’
An incident that stays with him is one he recalls with shame. He felt it reduced him to the level of those who’d abused him. By chance he met the Salvation Army worker who’d tried to drown him years before. It was night time, in a pub. When the man left Desmond followed him and beat him up. ‘I assaulted him badly.’ If people in a nearby unit hadn’t called out, Desmond thinks he might have killed the man.
‘That’s something I’ve lived with for years’, he said. ‘That left me – I didn’t like the thought later. I can be violent but I’m not a natural person that goes to the pub and wants to fight. … [But] I was young and crazy. I just thought, “You dog”. I should have went about it another way … It played on my mind for ages. I thought that’s not you, you idiot.’
Desmond has four kids and has tried to be a different kind of father to the one he had. ‘None of my kids ever got harmed, ever, I couldn’t even smack ‘em … No way. Coming from the madness of my old man – I thought when I have my babies, they’re never going to be harmed.’
But his alcoholism has been damaging, he admits. ‘As much as my kids loved me it just tormented them no end … And it disturbs me that how much love I give to my kids but for me to get on the drink I go missing, you know what I mean? And it’d be “Where is he? Is he dead, is he in jail, is he in the watch house?”’
He had a redress payment through the Queensland government’s Forde Inquiry, money he gave to his children. He hasn’t reported his abusers because he’s been told they’re either dead or infirm. He has been in and out of rehab for his alcohol problem and takes some comfort from what everyone tells him, he said: ‘You’re a bad drunk but you’re not a bad person.’