This is Dominic’s first childhood memory:
‘I remember going into this big room … It had like four sets of bunks in it. So there was probably eight boys. I just remember the other boys saying the bloke comes in and puts his dick in our mouths and does what he does.’
Dominic was four years old at the time. It was the late 1960s and he had just been made a ward of the state and sent to a non-denominational orphanage in Victoria. The next thing that Dominic remembers is that ‘the bloke’ came in and assaulted all of them in turn, Dominic included.
The bloke was a cottage father who ran the orphanage. After this first incident he assaulted Dominic several more times. Then one night Dominic ‘bit it’. After that ‘he didn’t do it to me again’.
Sometime later Dominic was on a weekend visit with his mum when she noticed him taking his penis out and doing things that were unusually sexualised for such a young boy.
‘She turned around and said to the people at the home – and it’s all in the file – where did my son learn this behaviour from? He didn’t get it at my house.’
Dominic has a copy of the letter that the managers of the home sent to the minister of social welfare, noting the complaint and referring to a specific accusation that Dominic had been ‘interfered with’ by the cottage father. The truth of the accusation was not questioned in the letter. Still, nobody did anything about it.
The police were just as useless when Dominic’s mum turned to them for help. ‘They didn’t care. They were just humouring my mother … You know, “Yeah, no worries. Give him some bloody ice-cream. He’ll be right”.’
When the cottage father found out that Dominic’s mother had complained, he killed Dominic’s pet rabbit as a warning.
‘He knew I’d been to the police. And that’s what he said. He said “If you say anything else, Dominic” … I’ll never forget it. The body was where it should have been but the head was under my pillow in my bed.’
A few years later Dominic moved to another home where he was sexually abused by one of the older boys. ‘But to me that somehow didn’t seem as bad.’
Dominic left care for good when he was in his late teens. He started an apprenticeship, plus night school, and ended up with two trade qualifications. He worked hard, did well and enjoyed 10 good years before it all fell apart.
‘I basically didn’t have any problems till I was about 27 and my wife left me and that’s when it all started with work and I had the nervous breakdown … and then I started having flashbacks and then I started realising these things that I thought were dreams were really true. Basically set it all off. And what I’ve found with me and me other peers in children’s homes: we’re very high achievers but then we break. We don’t break, we shatter completely.’
Dominic survived years of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts to reach a point in the late 2000s where he decided to take legal action against the children’s homes. It was a gruelling process that ended with Dominic being pressured to accept a settlement offer that was only a third of what he’d expected.
‘If I was mentally stronger I would have got up and walked.’ But Dominic wasn’t strong at that time. ‘I was 50 kilos. All my teeth had fallen out by that stage, through stress. I was abusing drugs. I’ve got chronic pain problems. I was really abusing my painkillers something shocking. Smoking a heap of weed, drinking as much alcohol as I could get my hands on. The usual stuff.’
Dominic was disgusted with the process and with the money he’d received. ‘Just felt like I got raped again. And to be quite honest I just could not wait to get rid of it. I blew it on the pokies, drunk it, gave one friend 10,000 bucks.’
He fell into a dark place but was lifted up again by a supportive friend and an ‘excellent’ counsellor. Counselling, he said, has saved his life. The problem is that his financial entitlements only cover 10 sessions that have to be spread across the whole year.
‘As I say to her, “Do I have to have my bad days in five-week blocks?” When all her other clients, she just sends the bill to the Catholic Church. See, I haven’t got none of that recourse …
‘The most important thing to me is – it’s like, tomorrow morning to ring up Doctor Lauren and she’d say “Fine, Dominic, I’ve got one open at three o’clock, come in”. And she knows that she can just send the bill to the government and she doesn’t have to say “Well, sorry Dominic, you’re not due to see me for another four weeks”.’