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Duane's story

‘I need to put a lid on some of these issues’, Duane told the Commissioner. ‘It’s good to be able to sit here and seriously talk to you people about what really has gone on in the boys’ homes.’

Duane, now in his 40s, has long experience of institutions in Victoria. His parents were drinkers, and there were constant fights over bills and ‘lots of tension’ at home when Duane was a boy. After one of his sisters died, his parents divorced and Duane was made a ward of the state. His father found another partner and had a child with her. He got up in court and told the judge to find Duane a good home because he now had another family.

Just prior to his teens, Duane was sent to a government-run home. Confused and missing his family, he ran away. The police found him with a mate who’d committed armed robbery and he was taken back to the home. Early the next morning he was ‘ripped out of bed and bounced off the walls and marched into the shower room’. He was given a stainless steel bowl, boiling soapy water and a toothbrush, and ordered to scrub the tiles. He was petrified. The bowl was burning his hand but he was too scared to put it down.

After a month spent sitting on a bench and carrying out punishment duties, Duane was sent to his second state-run home. At Christmas one of the ‘care givers’, just for ‘a laugh’, brought in her daughter’s lingerie. She dressed four of the boys, including Duane, in the lingerie and paraded them around in front of all the others.

It wasn’t done as punishment. ‘For the life of me I can’t figure out why a lady would want to dress up a prepubescent boy in female lingerie, and parade him around in front of other boys.’

Duane, who was the youngest boy there, was suddenly a target for the others. The care giver never had the chance to do it again, as Duane was moved to another section. During further escapes from this home, and then from a home run by the Salvation Army, Duane started committing crimes. Duane thought his only choices were, ‘either being abused by paedophiles or stealing. And I chose to steal’.

The boys’ homes didn’t want him anymore and he was sent to adult jail which, Duane said, ‘scared the living crap out of me’. At one point, he was beaten so severely that he was in hospital for five days.

Duane learned how to cut hair so that he could become the jail barber. That way, he had charge of the scissors ‘so no one could put ‘em in me … That’s how scared I was in jail’.

Duane has been out of jail for several years. His goal is stay out for another year. And the year after that. ‘Every year I renew it.’

He was diagnosed several years ago with bipolar, obsessive compulsive disorder and impulse control disorder. He takes an antipsychotic that works well and stops his manic episodes.

A psychologist’s report stated that Duane’s growth had been retarded mentally, physically and emotionally by being institutionalised. ‘That made my self-esteem levels go to zilch.’ He believes that the lingerie episode has affected him deeply. ‘I can’t have relations with my partner and that’s been over two years.’ He has to live alone as well, since sharing with other people, even his partner and kids, is not possible for him.

In the boys’ homes, ‘I was just a number, a head count … I was given no opportunity at all for education’. The supposed care givers gave no care at all, Duane said. ‘There should have been someone watching the watchers.’

Duane’s trying to get on with his life now and has some good people around to help him. He’s going back to school to get his certificate. ‘I’m trying to move on but I have very, very dark days.’

Not long after he contacted the Commission, Duane met a couple in their 60s at a bus stop in his hometown and asked them where they were off to on such a nice day. ‘They said, “We’re going to the Royal Commission”. I was flabbergasted. I thought, "How deep is this going? How far back?" I said, “Fair dinkum ... You’re not alone”.’

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