Douglas was five years old when his mother took him and his two younger sisters from their home in regional New South Wales and fled her abusive marriage. After a year in Western Australia, they returned to live with Douglas’s grandmother in Sydney.
In the late 1950s Douglas’s aunt moved in with them. She ‘was very influential on my mother’ and ‘suggested to Mum it might be better if I was placed in a home’. Douglas never understood why he was sent to the Anglican boys’ home, but this was where he lived for a little over three years, from the age of seven. When his own son turned seven, it acted as a trigger and ‘I had a bad year that year. I gave my mother a pretty hard time’.
Douglas told the Commissioner, ‘It was a very brutal place. It was run by two women, a matron and a Sister Kinley. They were very hard women, especially Sister Kinley. She meted out lots and lots of physical punishment. Yeah, it was just one of those places. It just … constantly being abused as far as … I just remember many times being belted. There was a lot of mental abuse’.
The boys were supposed to be allowed home every two weekends but this often didn’t happen. ‘One Mother’s Day I remember Mum was expecting me home and that didn’t happen. I had no idea why.’ Douglas told the Commissioner that the boys were ‘whacked across the back and backside, whatever’, with ‘this large leather belt’. He wonders if the reason he wasn’t sent home was so his family couldn’t see the marks and bruises from the beatings.
While the matron’s role was mainly administrative, Sister Kinley dealt with the boys daily. Douglas told the Commissioner that Sister Kinley was always in the shower block when the boys were showering and several times he was belted with the strap in the shower, in the presence of other boys. At other times, when Douglas was alone, ‘I remember being stripped naked a couple of times and belted. And that wasn’t in the shower block’.
After he came out of the boys’ home, Douglas’s behaviour deteriorated. ‘I didn’t go in as a hard kid, but I certainly came out as one.’ Douglas told the Commissioner, ‘It changed me … My aunties always said I was a good young kid. And I didn’t come out of [the Anglican boys’ home] a good young kid. So it changed me pretty dramatically. I wasn’t the same person. Well, I wouldn’t have liked me as a son when I came out’.
When the family moved into a Housing Commission home in the outer suburbs of Sydney, Douglas ‘couldn’t settle’. ‘I was always in trouble. I got into a lot of petty crime. I was stealing. Always in trouble with kids. Always in trouble with the teachers. When I went to high school things didn’t get any better.’ At 14 his mother sent him to a Catholic school in regional New South Wales to get him out of that environment, but the school closed down at the end of that year. He returned to school in his area, ‘where I was asked to leave’.
Douglas told the Commissioner that during his four years in the defence forces ‘I used to get into a bit of strife. I just had an authority problem. And I just could never settle and I was constantly being punished for something’.
Douglas married at 20 and had two children, but couldn’t adapt to marriage. ‘I don’t know. I just wasn’t a married person.’ Although his first wife was aware of the abuse and ‘I’m sure that she would have understood why I was like I was’, the marriage didn’t last.
Douglas has been with his second wife, Jane, for 28 years and between them they have four children. As a parent, he has always been very protective, never abusive. Douglas told his children of the abuse when they were adults, and he credits them and Jane as his source of strength.
Douglas told the Commissioner that he has coped over the years by keeping busy. When he wasn’t able to work because of a major injury, he immersed himself in community work, taking major roles in a number of organisations, including the Rural Fire Service.
The first time Douglas told anyone outside of his family about his abuse was when he sought counselling five years ago and he ‘wouldn’t say no’ to more. ‘I suffer a bit of depression from time to time and I don’t know how far back that goes. That’s what actually got me to seek out help from a counsellor. I don’t ever think it was dangerous depression. I just would get very, very low.’ Douglas told the Commissioner he was never suicidal ‘but there’s days where things are pretty dark and you’re not really worried about getting out of bed or what happens’.
Douglas told the Commissioner he came to the Royal Commission because ‘I was extremely angry with what they did to me and I wanted people to know what they did … I think they damaged a lot of my life through what happened at [the Anglican boys’ home] and that just makes me angry because these people didn’t really have that right. You know I was only a small child. I wasn’t a bad kid. I was a good kid when I went in there. I was never in trouble ... I’ve lived for 58 years with those thoughts and anger. I just wanted to get across the point that through that three plus years, for mine, caused enormous damage’.