Husband and wife Duggie and Noreen were both sexually abused as children, in the mid-1950s. They decided to share their stories with the Royal Commission together, each supporting the other. For Duggie in particular the telling was a difficult, painful exercise. But at the end he said it had given him some relief.
When he was about 11, Duggie spent a year at a Salvation Army home in a New South Wales country town. His father was in jail, and his mother was unwell and couldn’t look after him. One day his mother helped him pack his bags and they boarded the train. Duggie thought he was going on holiday.
That evening his mother caught the train home again and Duggie was left behind in the boys’ home.
Shower time that night was his first exposure to the humiliating, brutal way inmates were treated. The boys were made to strip and line up, and to wait as, one by one, they each showered for an allotted time. Duggie vividly remembers the ‘prodding and the touching’ by staff that went on, that night and many others.
He also recalled not being able to get to sleep because there were two boys in the dormitory who cried. They cried every night.
‘I asked why they were crying and no one would answer me. They wouldn’t answer me. I realised that one of them was getting taken out of the room and brought back an hour or so later. And then he started crying.’
There was one Salvation Army officer, Mark Lambert, who was particularly violent. He carried a truncheon and at shower time would use it to whack boys on the penis. One day Duggie had played a muddy game of sport and was sent to shower on his own.
‘I went into the shower and [Lambert] was in there watching me’, Duggie said. ‘I got out, put the towel on and started drying my back. He come along and put his hands on my back, rubbed my back; he said, “You’ve got nice soft skin”.’ He put his arm around Duggie.
‘Then he got the truncheon and he stuck it in my backside.’
Duggie yelled out in shock and pain, and another officer came in and sent him away.
In another incident, a young boy new to the home spoke to another boy in Lambert’s presence. ‘You weren’t allowed to speak’, said Duggie. ‘Lambert whacked him so hard his hand mark was there for at least a month – the bruise was there, on this little boy. I’ll never forget it.’
Duggie stayed at the home for nearly a year. When his mother came to collect him, he sobbed. ‘My mum said “What’s wrong?” I said, “I’m just glad to be going home”. I was glad to be out of there. I felt sorry for the kids that were left there.
‘Most of the boys in that place weren’t put there because they were bad. They were orphans. I was put there because there was no one to look after me. It was like being in a jail … It should never have happened.’
Noreen’s experience also involved the Salvation Army, in Sydney. She, her siblings and their mother lived at a Salvation Army hostel for women and children. Every Sunday they went to a Salvation Army meeting, staying on afterwards for sandwiches and cakes – ‘Luxury’, said Noreen.
‘One day Mum said, “Youse are going to sing in a big hall, and God is going to bless you”. We went to Congress Hall. We were all dressed in white and we were all given little mirrors. And when we were on stage, we all sang "The spotlight of heaven is on you", and all the lights were shining on the mirrors … and I had this new white dress. I’d only ever had hand-me-downs, or Mum would have to sew something.’
It was on the way home from this event that the incident took place. It was late at night and the minibus organised to take everyone back to the hostel was very full. Noreen was the last one on and there were no seats left. The Salvation Army officer in charge directed her to sit on a male passenger’s lap. Noreen told him she didn’t want to. ‘They said, “Well, you can’t walk home”,’ she recalled.
The man told her to get in and face the window. ‘Straight away he squeezed me so tight. Then he was trying to put his hands up my dress … He hurt me. He had hot breath. I don’t know why I didn’t sing out, there were so many people on that bus. The next thing, he’s put my hand in his trousers and the more I tried to pull away, the more he hung on to me tighter. And I didn’t know what was happening.
‘When we got back to the hostel I opened the door real quick, and I tripped and I fell. Both my knees were bleeding and I tore my white dress. I run inside and I’m hitting my hands – and my mother cried when she saw me, “Oh, what have you done, what have you done to your new dress, I had to work hard for that!” I didn’t tell her, because I thought I’d done something bad.’
For both Noreen and Duggie, the impact of these experiences was immediate and enduring.
‘For a long time, every day, I didn’t want my hand to be part of my body’, Noreen said. ‘I’d hit it, I’d tread on it, I’d make it bleed – bad hand, bad hand! I was very immature. I didn’t understand. I never told my mother till after I was married. And she cried. ’Course, I thought I’d done something wrong. She cried; she said, “I'm so sorry”.’
Duggie said that once he left the home, his ‘whole life changed’. He lost his passion for sport and he couldn’t concentrate at school. ‘I didn’t rebel, I just didn’t want to go to school any more’, he told the Commissioner. ‘I couldn’t last at anything. I didn’t like authority, especially people with uniforms.’
Both had called the Salvation Army to report the abuse. ‘I said, “I want to tell you about what’s going on [at the home]”, Duggie said. ‘She said, “Look, you’re still alive – get over it”. And she hung up on me.’
Noreen’s experience was similar. ‘I was told, “You were one of the lucky ones”. I now know I was. But I just slammed down the phone.’
Noreen wonders why she has been so affected by the abuse. ‘Why can’t I let go?’ she asked. A stint of counselling didn’t help. ‘I felt it didn’t really work. The counsellor kept referring to the Dalai Lama. And a lot of the things she said to me were gobbledygook.’
She worries about Duggie and is sure there is more he needs to share. “After all these years I know more was done to you’, she told him. ‘You are not going to heal unless you tell somebody.’
‘I’ve said enough’, he replied. ‘I can’t see myself opening up any more than I’ve done here today.’ Duggie has taken medication for depression, but hasn’t disclosed his history of abuse to his doctor. He was hopeful his visit to the Commission would make a difference. ‘Everything’s going to be a weight lifted off me. I won’t have any reason to be depressed.’
Duggie was made redundant several years ago by a telephone company he worked for. Now he and Noreen live a very quiet life. They’re passionate gardeners and grow a lot of vegetables. ‘We don’t really go out’, Noreen told the Commissioner. And Duggie: ‘We go to the markets and go to the club once every six months for a meal, that’s about it’.
Despite the lasting impact of what happened to her as a child, Noreen sees her experiences as minor compared with what others have gone through. ‘After hearing what’s been done to other children, I thought what is wrong with me? To me it was traumatic but compared with what’s happened to other people, even Duggie.’
Duggie also takes a broad view. ‘I’m just a grain of sand on the beach, compared with everything else that’s gone on.’