Dion’s early life was one where violence inflicted by his mother and father permeated the family home. In the 60s, when he was 10, his mother suddenly took him and his younger sisters to separate Catholic orphanages and left them there.
‘I had no idea what was going on. I guess I was pretty angry, naive of the situation, uninformed, and I tended to have a bit of attitude, you know, I wanted to know what was going on. No one would tell me.’
Girls remained in the orphanage until they were old enough to get a job while boys were sent to another institution at the age of 12. Up until the time they left, boys were supervised in their bathing by older girls, a situation Dion found embarrassing.
One day Dion was seen by an older girl urinating behind one of the sheds. The girl threatened that she’d tell the nuns if Dion didn’t do whatever she told him to. ‘Nearly every day for I don’t know how long, she would have me down in the hall, in the play section, and she would be playing with my genitals. She would ask me to play with her and I was terrified. I became quite terrified every day when I had to strip off and line up for a bath.’
Dion told the Commissioner that he ran away from the orphanage nearly every weekend. Each time he’d be picked up by police and returned. His attempts to tell police about the abuse were dismissed. ‘I told them and they bashed me. …That’s part of my problem today. They didn’t believe you and they punished you.’
Dion was also sexually abused in the orphanage by a maintenance worker. ‘He just started talking, “Have you ever played with yourself?” … and all this other stuff was going on and I already had the experience with the police. And I don’t recall what – I just, I was horrified. The next thing I recall is I was sobbing. I was on the bed and I was sobbing.’
For brief periods, Dion and his sisters returned to the family home but violence there continued and the placements didn’t last long. Dion was always running away – from his parents and the homes. ‘I developed this desire to be not where I was. I never knew where I wanted to be, but I knew I didn’t want to be where I was.’
By 14, Dion was carrying out petty theft offences – stealing milk money and food. He was caught and brought before a magistrate who made him a ward of the New South Wales state and sentenced him to 12 months in a government-run correctional centre.
One Christmas period in the early 70s, the centre’s cottage parents went on holidays and boys were left in the care of Mr Gordon. For the six weeks Gordon was employed, he regularly sexually abused Dion, who then started acting out. Sent to a government-appointed psychiatrist, Dion was diagnosed as ‘a sociopath’.
‘That’s an official diagnosis on my record. I’m a sociopath’, Dion said. ‘And I was treated accordingly.’ When he went back to court, the magistrate read the reports and sentenced Dion to another 12 months in the centre.
Dion said that when he finally left institutional care he didn’t know what to do. ‘I didn’t go back home because I didn’t have to. I was homeless then until I was 45. I used a lot of alcohol, a lot of drugs, but I made a commitment to myself that I would never, never get in trouble with the law. I didn’t want to end up in jail or anything like that. I would be able to do a bit of work, but I didn’t have that ability to be able to retain or have consistency, or I had no trust or faith in myself.’
In between living on the streets and staying in homeless shelters and refuges, Dion occasionally set himself up in a flat, but said his drinking always led to him becoming homeless again. He also ‘went bush’ often, and during one of these periods became very sick.
‘I was six and a half stone. I was really thin. I needed a walking stick to walk. I had abscesses and sores all over my legs. So I guess I came back into society and I had a cathartic moment and I just realised that if I chose to start learning things, I can learn how to be okay, and I had a vision in my head … Then all of a sudden I realised that all my life I’ve been fighting myself, you know, and all this devastation, all this destruction I caused fighting myself. And I didn’t want to fight myself anymore.’
It was a major turning point, Dion said. Within a short period, he applied for and was accepted into a university preparation course. He completed a degree and was employed in a teaching position while furthering his education, and recently completed a doctorate.
Dion is seeing a counsellor which he finds helpful in managing the dissociative episodes he sometimes experiences. ‘Sometimes I’m just not there. I can disappear from myself for a couple of days. It’s not a nice thing to have to live with. It’s scary. It’s very scary. I just did the best I could.’
He’d never considered seeking redress from the government or Catholic Church. ‘There’s no point. There’s nothing I want from them.’
He told the Commissioner that he was cynical about the Royal Commission. ‘Having said that, it’s not about the participants within the Royal Commission; it’s about the government responses. I’ve seen too much. I mean, you know, I’m getting to that age … but if you’re optimistic. I find that encouraging.’
‘I’m very appreciative of this time; I really am. Actually, I don’t know, I just feel a little bit calmer now.’