‘He would have sex with anyone, anything at any time.’ That’s how Fergus Martin remembers his foster father. He also recalls that the man terrorised the other five children in the house as well as his wife. ‘He used to beat her up. He’d often come home drunk after work and beat her up, and scare us kids.’
Fergus’s mother had died when he was six, and the children were taken into care in Adelaide. After a short stay in a boys’ home, he and his three brothers were made state wards and fostered by Eric Johnson. Another two children joined the family later. ‘They may have been his kids by other women … His wife was a beautiful woman, a wonderful mother – but we found out later he didn’t even consummate the marriage.’
‘I felt that he was preening me or preparing me,’ Fergus says. ‘Before the age of 10 he started to hug and kiss me, stick his tongue in my mouth.
‘And then when I was a bit older, 11 or 12, he would demand that I come into his bed. ‘Cause he and Mum weren’t sleeping together; she was in the next room … Then he started to touch me and expect me to touch him. He wanted some intercourse of some sort but I just refused that. I was living in complete fear.’
The other children were also targets. ‘When we’ve talked as adults, we realised being touched inappropriately was happening to everyone, absolutely.’
The realisation may have taken decades but the effects could be seen much sooner. Fergus was so disturbed as a teenager that he was sent to a psychiatrist for regular sessions, and one of his brothers started having sexual intercourse with other children by the age of 12.
Fergus tried to alert welfare officers when they came to check the children. ‘This was when I was about 12 … I tried twice but they said, “That couldn’t happen”. After that I gave up.’
This was also the year that Johnson insisted on adopting Fergus and his brothers. ‘Supposedly I had a choice, but it was no choice. If I said no, he threatened to throw me out in the street … He was a very controlling man.’
Outwardly, his foster father was ‘a pillar of the community … an elder at the church’, which discouraged Fergus from trying to expose him: ‘Back then, that sort of thing wasn’t talked about.’
Escaping at 18, Fergus went on to have a successful career. He married and had children. But he believes the abuse he suffered crippled his emotional responses.
‘What had happened to me as a child pushed a lot of my feelings to the inside; therefore I wasn’t bringing that out and being the father I needed to be with my own kids. I had trouble showing them affection.’
Some years ago he sought victims of crime compensation but was not impressed with the amount he received. ‘It was traumatising filling in the form, so we kept it very basic. If they knew the full truth, there’s no way that we would have got that pittance.’
One of his brothers went the same route, after the procedure had changed to a panel examination, and he was granted five times as much. Fergus says he plans to seek a review of the compensation.
After that, he doesn’t intend to brood. Now in his 60s, Fergus says, ‘I still want to power on. I want to tell the story, get some things dealt with and move on’.