‘You do have these peaks and troughs. Sometimes you get extremely busy in what your day to day life is and other times you have something that will trigger what’s happened in the past. You’ll see something on television, you’ll read something in the newspaper about a little boy being sexually molested and things like this, and it’s horrifying to go back through it.’
As a 12-year-old, Finn had no warning that he was about to be made a state ward. One minute he was in school surrounded by classmates; the next he was summoned to the principal’s office to find two policemen waiting for him. Finn was told to go with the officers and within a few hours appeared before a magistrate who made him a ward of the Queensland State. Two years earlier in the late 1960s his mother had died, and although his father was an alcoholic, there’d been no concern raised before about Finn’s care.
‘I’m before the court, made a ward of the state, taken down to the police cells’, he said. ‘When they closed the door I started yelling and screaming: “What are you doing this for? Why am I here?” And then I yelled and screamed and cried, and then I heard my father’s voice. He was in the drunk tank two cells down. And I screamed out to Dad, “Come and get me. Come and take me home. I don’t like it here”.
Two days later I was escorted from watch house cells to [a] receiving depot as a ward of the state, and that’s where it all started.’
Taken to a Salvation Army boys’ home, Finn had no contact with his family for years. Looking back he said boys like him were preyed on by Lieutenant Palin precisely because he knew they’d have no one to tell about the sexual abuse.
Finn was in the home for three years and estimated that within that period, he was abused by Palin 150 times. Within a few weeks of the first assault Finn reported Palin to Captain Barnes, saying the lieutenant ‘did bad acts’ to him. ‘What I got was a flogging’, Finn said, with Barnes telling him that his staff ‘would never do such a thing’.
Finn didn’t disclose the abuse again until after he left the home at 15. He was working and had been billeted to live with an older woman. After she expressed concern to a man she knew from church who worked in child protection services, Finn was asked about what Palin had done. ‘Within a week I was gone’, he said.
In 2008, Finn reported Palin to Queensland Police, a process he described as positive and supportive. In the years after leaving the home, he’d been charged with various criminal offences and the police told him that if they pursued a case against Palin and it came before the court, he’d have to be prepared to have his credibility tested. For that and other reasons, Finn decided to let the matter go.
Around that time, he made application to the Queensland redress scheme and received $29,000. He also received an ex-gratia payment from the Salvation Army of $80,000. The money, he said, was better than nothing, but there was no amount that could remunerate him for the damage Palin caused.
In reflecting on the abuse, Finn attributed its effects as leading to the breakup of his marriages and an estranged relationship with his children because of the way he was as a husband and father. He hadn’t told his children about the abuse, but had disclosed it to his siblings.
Finn’s sister and two brothers had been deemed old enough to look after themselves and weren’t admitted to institutional care. This created a gap in their later relationship and although they were supportive, Finn said it was impossible for people who hadn’t been through experiences like his to truly understand.
He’d made friends through a support group but said that, at 74 years of age, he was struggling with his physical and mental health as well as financial and accommodation insecurity. When he’d left the boys’ home, part of his wage had been garnisheed to be put into a trust fund, but he’d never seen any of the money. After he wrote a letter of complaint in 2014, the Queensland government sent him $197.50, an amount calculated by converting £98 and 15 shillings. Finn was still pursuing payment of the wages in contemporary equivalency.
‘I believe that 15 to 20 weeks wages back in 1959 should be worth no less today. In other words, it should be at today’s basic wage, 15 or 20 times. It’s what they should have paid me … If not, how about 54 years of compound interest on £98/15? I could go that path.’
Finn told the Commissioner that he got through difficult times by adopting a conscious attitude of living one day at a time. ‘What happened five minutes ago, I cannot change’, he said. ‘But what happens in the future, I’ve just got that to look forward to on a daily basis. Not tomorrow until it becomes today. And any time I get through the day and go to sleep at night, and I don’t have any horror stories in my dreams or anything, I find that one day at a time works for me.
‘There’s a lot of people can’t get over or can’t move on from the events of the past. I can move on but they’ll always be there and they’ll always come back in one way, shape or form no matter what I do. So I have to live with the situation. I can’t change the past.’