Edgar doesn’t remember much about the first Anglican children’s home he was placed in, although he spent most of the 1950s there after his mother left his father and he was made a ward of the state. ‘I know it wasn’t a nice place ... I have all these flashbacks about people yelling and hitting.’
At the age of 11 he was sent to an Anglican boys’ home in Brisbane. During his two years there he was repeatedly sexually abused by the dormitory master, Mr Tillett.
The first time was on a Saturday night, when he was called to Tillett’s bedroom. He assumed he was in trouble and going to be punished.
‘He told me to get undressed and he started to feel my penis and having oral sex with me. He would rub his face [and] beard stubble up and down my chest and then have oral sex with me.’
Edgar would see other boys being taken away from the dormitory by Tillett and then come back sobbing, so assumes they were also being sexually abused.
‘This was the worst fear, to hear him coming, not knowing who was going to be selected to go to his room. Sometimes he would pass your bed and come back. I would put the blanket over my head, very frightened. To this day I sleep with the lights on.’
Tillett was also physically and emotionally aggressive. ‘If he couldn’t get his way, you’d have to go down the shower and strip off and he’d flog you with his big belt.’
Some of the other boys tried to sexually abuse Edgar too, but he managed to fight them off.
Edgar would stick up for other kids who were being bullied, putting himself between them and their attackers. ‘For most of my life I’ve tried to help people.’
Although he felt the abuse was wrong, he didn’t realise at the time that Tillett was committing criminal offences. ‘I didn’t think of it as a crime in them days, because you don’t know about the law or anything, ‘cause that was our little world in the home ... So we didn’t know anything about any of that, but now I do, it’s a crime. But I knew it wasn’t right.’
Edgar never disclosed this abuse to anyone at the home, because Tillett was ‘the boss’ and he did not think there was anyone else he could talk to. He also knew that a younger boy had a bad experience when he reported being molested, with the matron he disclosed to slapping his face.
When Edgar was in his 20s he re-visited the home because he was very angry and wanted to inflict physical violence on Tillett. He spoke to a woman who said that he was not the first ex-resident to return looking for the former dormitory master and he must have been a bad man.
Since then he has tried to attend reunions but couldn’t stay there long – ‘you only go back to where you like, eh?’
Edgar never made a police report, and Tillett is now deceased. A support organisation for people who had been in care as children helped him access compensation from the Church regarding his experiences in the boys’ home, which he received in three separate amounts totalling less than $20,000.
He was not represented by a lawyer during the claim process, and is dissatisfied with the amount he received considering the impacts of the abuse, including on his education.
‘My main thing was, when he was doing all that stuff to us how could we possibly as children go to school and concentrate and do your work to have a decent education, to go and get a decent job to earn the money so you don’t have to go and ask them or anyone else for money.’
It has been difficult for Edgar to trust people, and ‘I can make friends but not keep them’. Having grown up in homes he did not know how to be a parent, but he and his wife got through raising their kids the best they could. Although his life has not always turned out the way he hoped, ‘I don’t mope around and say I hate this, I hate that. You just get on with it’.
He went to counselling for several years, but has finished with it now. ‘I want to get on with my life. You know, when you’re in the twilight of your years you want to be happy – not thinking about all this.’
Whenever Edgar finds things hard he tries to remind himself that there are people worse off. ‘I seen on the TV years ago, over in Africa the kids were starving and there was no water, and a truck was going along and the kids were like little chooks picking up bits of grain and eating it. And I think, well we’re not too bad after all ... There were plenty of times I felt down, and I kept thinking about them ... Well, that’s how I got through anyway.’