Doug was 11 years old when he was sent to a boys’ home run by the Salvation Army, in Sydney’s south. The staff there were extremely violent and cruel. Floggings occurred daily.
‘The minute you got there you knew what it was about and I’d never had anything like it before. The old man could give me a punch-up occasionally, when he was drunk, when I was a kid, but nothing like in there.’
Other abuse included scrubbing the showers, naked.
‘When you’re made to strip naked and get on your haunches, and you’ve got some bloke standing behind you with a cane, flogging you on the arse and saying you’re not doing it properly, you know, you’re thinking “What’s next?” That was the degrading part. To me, that is perverted.’
Doug’s early childhood was in Queensland. When his parents split up, in the early 1970s, his father was unable to look after Doug and his siblings. The older ones went into children’s homes and Doug and his younger brother, Luke, went to stay with relatives on a farm. Doug loved it there but after a few months, his mother, who had moved to Sydney with a new partner, called for them.
Doug and Luke lived in a small flat with their mother and her partner, but this only lasted about four weeks. Despite the fact that their relatives on the farm wanted the boys to come back and live with them, the two brothers were sent to the boys’ home.
There were two main abusers in the home – Major Bruce Grierson and Captain Ian Collins. Doug escaped numerous times but was always taken back. He and Luke looked out for each other as best they could. Their mother’s visits were very infrequent.
Doug has ‘no doubt’ the older boys were abusing the younger ones in the home.
‘I had one experience in the boys’ home. I was sound asleep one night … and I woke up with a sensation. There was an older boy, a couple of years older, and he was giving me a head job … He done the bolt. And it never happened again. I don’t know why he did it … I knew who he was but … I never had any problems with him before … I was only 10 or 11, 12 year old. I couldn’t even orgasm yet … and I just didn’t get it.’
There were no counsellors at the home. It wasn’t safe to talk to anyone on staff. At the local school he attended, Doug felt the ‘home boys’ were treated disdainfully. He remembers being flogged for something he didn’t do and wonders if it was just assumed he did it because he came from the home. His education was severely affected.
Doug left the boys’ home when he was 14. He went back to Queensland and worked for his father. He describes his youngster self as a ‘bit wild’, often getting into fights at the pub. At 17 he served several months in prison for a range of thefts committed with a group of other boys. But after that he met his now-wife, Georgia, and turned his life around. He stopped going to the pub. He worked hard. Doug doesn’t believe in violence against women or kids and he and Georgia created a stable life for their family.
Early in their relationship, Doug disclosed the childhood abuse he experienced. Their children also know about it but it’s not spoken about often. Very recently, Luke told Doug that he, too, was abused in the home.
‘I never tell people how I feel. I never tell my wife or my [children] I love them. I just, for some reason I haven’t got it … The [kids will] come up and give me a hug and say “I love you, Dad.” I don’t know what to say.’
Doug has never seen a counsellor. He tries to put the abuse behind him but admits it’s difficult with all the exposure on the news. He still smokes – a habit he took up early as it was encouraged at the boys’ home.
Reflecting on the impact the childhood abuse had on Doug, Georgia, who also came to the private session, said ‘He feels as though anything good in his life is always going to be taken away from him. I’m not saying he’s a raving jealous idiot or anything like that, but he’s very protective. And he’s always on guard. That’s the way I could put it. That’s what I see out of the whole thing’.
‘That’s probably a good summation of me’ Doug told the Commissioner. ‘You’re always on edge. You’re always thinking. You’re always trying to stay one step ahead, I suppose.’
The police recently contacted Doug and his brother as legal proceedings against one of their perpetrators, Captain Ian Collins, have begun.
‘I just hope someone’s made to pay for what they’ve done to these kids and I hope it stops soon.’