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Edgar Paul's story

Edgar was born in England in the mid-1930s. His parents separated just before the outbreak of World War I. His mother worked but his father turned to alcohol and Edgar was ‘shoved from pillar to post’ and then ‘dumped on’ his elderly grandparents.

By the time Edgar was in his teenage years, his grandparents had ‘got too old to look after me’ and his parents began to look for alternatives. An internationally renowned secular foundation that looked after underprivileged children was offering English children an opportunity to migrate to Australia. Edgar’s mother and father decided that Edgar should go to Australia and attend a residential school and children’s home in regional New South Wales.

‘They must have seen it as a heaven-sent opportunity to palm me off … The idea of going out to the home and having a good life and all the stories that I was told – it seemed the answer to all the problems. It was the beginning of all the problems.’

Edgar arrived at the home when he was 14 years old. His mother had migrated to Australia too, and shortly after he started she came to visit him for a weekend. Her visit drew attention to Edgar and once she left he became a target for abuse from one of the staff at the school. The man began to randomly inflict brutal physical violence on Edgar.

‘He belted the bloody daylights out of me. And that started it all off. Every opportunity after that, if I did anything wrong he’d thrash the bloody daylights out of me and then gradually this sexual thing came into it. I think he got an empowerment from it.’

The man coerced a couple of older boys, other residents, to be active participants in the sexual abuse of Edgar and three other younger boys, also targeted by the man.

‘He found some like-minded boys and they used to play sex games and we were the subject of the sex games. It sort of started off bad enough and then got progressively worse.’

In a written statement Edgar submitted to the Commissioner, he explained that, ‘Attempts were made to make me join in their games, I resisted at first but the caning got worse so I gave in, I had been beaten into submission’. The abuse was extensive and horrific.

The sessions of sexual abuse by the man and the older boys occurred weekly for many years. The older boys also raped Edgar most nights, one or other taking turns. The man also kept physically abusing Edgar. On two occasions Edgar was beaten so brutally he was hospitalised. The principal intervened in these instances and the severity of the beatings reduced.

Edgar was also sexually abused by a man who ran a holiday house that the school regularly used. Edgar and all the children were looking forward to a holiday but Edgar’s excitement was soon quashed.

‘It rapidly became obvious that [the man] was more than a passing acquaintance of [my abuser] … he gave me 10 shillings and said he was looking forward to when we came again. I wonder how many boys had been introduced to [him].’

Taking an opportunity that occurred when he was acting as altar boy at the local church, Edgar told the archdeacon about the abuse.

‘I tried to speak to him but he wouldn’t have anything said against the home and … I think he was shocked about what I was trying to say, possibly even disbelieving and not able to cope with it … It never got any further …’

‘There was absolutely no one … there was no one in the home you could speak to … If you wanted … to report it to the police [this] would necessitate going into town’, something that required permission from the principal. The principal also read all the boys’ letters before they were sent, vetting them for any complaints about the school.

Edgar stayed at the school until he was in his late teens and the abuse continued throughout. As he grew older he went out working, on apprenticeships and in labouring jobs, and his abuser would frequently seek him out at his workplace, request Edgar accompany him and drive him to a remote location and abuse him. Edgar’s employers would always allow Edgar to go with the man.

When Edgar wanted to join the defence forces before he was 21 years old, the school wouldn’t sign the required consent forms. Edgar had to return to the home where the sexual abuse occurred again. He finally fled the school and took work that involved travelling which enabled him to sever ties with the school completely.

The impact of the abuse has been significant. Edgar has difficulty trusting people, forming intimate relationships and has had periods of depression.

‘I buried the memories as deeply as I could. It was about 16 years before the nightmares abated. In the present day, one would seek medical advice, I had nothing to turn to.’

In preparing for his conversation with the Commissioner, Edgar wrote down the details of his abuse.

‘I couldn’t talk to anyone about what had happened, I found it easier to put it down in writing … Brought back a huge amount of memories but I’m glad it’s out in the open.’

He experiences vivid flashbacks and was plunged into anxiety when he inadvertently stumbled upon a photo of his abuser in a history of the school.

‘As I turned the page over, I was met with … a full page of the face of [my abuser] – I’ve served in some fairly grotty war places and I’ve been frightened while under attack, but never have I felt fear like I felt that day. I got up, I shut every door. I locked the front door, I locked the balcony door. I grabbed a bowie knife, I headed for the bedroom and I think it must have been 30 or 40 hours later that I crept out.

‘I was convinced he was in the building, he was in the flat, he was going to come and get me and this time I’d kill him if he came anywhere near me … I just feel physically sick even now, and this [abuse was] 60 years [ago].’

Edgar hasn’t disclosed his abuse very often and, before the Commissioner, hadn’t revealed it in over 60 years. He hasn’t received any specialist counselling but has reconnected with a group of people who have had similar childhood experiences. He draws great strength from them and from a couple of trusted friends.

Edgar told the Commissioner that his records note that soon after he had begun at the home, his mother wanted to take back guardianship of Edgar. The authorities said that as he was a ward of the state until he was 21 years old, ‘there was nothing she could do’.

‘So, she carried on with what she was doing and gradually we drifted apart and nothing came of that. That was one of the sadnesses of life that the home brought about.’

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