Devin was two years old when he was taken from his mother and made a ward of the state of Victoria in the late 1960s. He spent the next five years in a Catholic orphanage where ‘there were pretty bad nuns’, including one who held his head under the bath water as a punishment. In the early 1970s, he moved to a government-run training school where he remained until he turned 21.
The training school also catered for children with disabilities, though staff didn’t seem to have particular training in caring for them. Devin recalled one of his friends, who wore a calliper and had a speech impediment, being repeatedly hit by a staff member. Devin retaliated by hitting the man’s head against a wall, until others intervened to stop him.
By that stage, Devin had come in for much physical abuse himself. One staff member held his head under a toilet and flushed it, and another randomly punched and kicked him at any opportunity. The meal supervisor made him eat his own vomit, and a teacher beat him around the head for not attending class.
‘He had every right to tell me to come back to class’, Devin said. ‘But he didn’t have the right to assault me.’
Boys were always being encouraged to fight each other and one of the teachers demanded they do it in the middle of a sports oval, naked. ‘He said, “You’re not wearing government clothes for this.” I don’t know whether it was a big thrill for him or what it was, but looking back it didn’t seem right. …Whether it was a power thing, I don’t know.’
Devin told the Commissioner that when he was 11 years old, he was masturbated by a staff member, Paul Deacon, in the shower. ‘He told me how to clean myself, with the soap, and it was a form of masturbation. He said, “Leave the curtain open”, and “Do it this way”. I ended up ejaculating. I felt shame for years after that. I didn’t understand what he’d done. I was paralysed by that for a long time.’
The superintendent of the centre, Warren Laurence, was a ‘good man’ and ‘fair’. Devin said he often spoke to Laurence about what staff members were doing to children, particularly on weekends when much of the physical abuse occurred. Laurence took decisive action several times and dismissed staff, including the one who’d got boys to fight naked. However, Devin said he didn’t ever feel able to tell Laurence about the sexual abuse by Deacon.
In 1985, Devin left the centre and moved to supported housing to learn living skills and prepare for the workforce. He secured employment for many years and then met Louise, who he married and with whom he had two children. His daughter had required extensive medical treatment throughout her life which Devin said often caused him distress. ‘When I see my daughter going through difficult times in the hospital that sets me off. It’s like another institution. Does that make sense?’
He said difficult feelings sometimes manifested for him as visions of colour. At other times he felt physical symptoms such as pressure in his chest, ‘like someone’s got a dagger in your heart’, or pain in the places he was punched. ‘It must be emotional. It hurts now. Is that understandable?’
In the early 2010s, Devin met members of a group advocating for people who’d been in institutions as children. Through them he was referred to a legal firm who pursued civil action on his behalf and he received an ex-gratia payment of $45,000 of which $12,500 was paid in legal fees.
Three years earlier, he’d spoken with nuns from the same order as those in the orphanage, in a meeting organised as part of Towards Healing. The nuns told Devin they could give him $5,000 immediately or, if he saw their appointed psychologist, he could apply for $25,000. Devin agreed to the former. He said alarms bells rang when they said they had to get their psychologist. ‘I thought, why not an independent one?’ He said he went away feeling ‘under pressure’ and didn’t know where he stood legally. ‘I felt numb, like something didn’t feel right.’
Devin told the Commissioner that he felt ‘blessed’ with his family and that he had a belief in God. ‘I don’t go to church because there’s that element of institutionalisation.’
He said he wanted to give a voice to others who’d been sexually and physically abused as children. ‘I hope you’ve been able to learn something with my experience. I’m glad I was open because with lawyers there’s certain protocols. I’ve done it for me and my wife and my children. I want to see our lives improve more and more. That’s something I’m working on with the kids. Thank you for your understanding. You’re rock solid in your understanding ... I hope that justice prevails at the end of this, I really do.’