Foster’s father was a veteran of two world wars. A ‘very tormented’ and ‘verbally abusive’ man’, he was twice as old as Foster’s ‘chronic alcoholic’ mother. ‘It was an absolute nightmare at home’, Foster said. ‘Social standing was the most important thing for the old boy as I called him, and having an alcoholic wife, it was not good.’ Foster’s much older step-siblings had mostly left home, his birth wasn’t registered for a couple of years, and he believes that he ‘was not supposed to be born’.
His difficult home life, and his torturous time at a ‘pretty nasty’ boarding school, made Foster lose interest in his studies, and often run away. On top of this, the accidental death of a childhood friend, which occurred while they were playing together, left Foster deeply affected.
In the 1970s, 10-year-old Foster was placed in a psychiatric hospital due to ‘uncontrollable behaviour’. His ‘overriding impression’ was being left ‘dumb for days’ each time he was given an injection in the ‘treatment room’. Crying, he remembered being locked up with ‘really grotesque looking mental patients’ because a staff member ‘thought it was funny’.
‘It was a scary place,’ he said. ‘Even though people were medicated, there were people … wow. I was a big thing for my age, but I was petrified.’
There were ‘some incredibly generous and warm people’ in Foster’s unit, but there was also a hierarchy which gave ‘carte blanche’ to people like Evan Reynolds, a man capable of brutal and violent acts.
Reynolds was the ‘creepy’ middle-aged headmaster of the hospital’s school, a man who constantly had the ‘smell of beer on him’.
‘I can say, quite emphatically, he should never have been in that position ever … He should have been locked up’. Reynolds ‘was not to be questioned on anything at all … I mean the stuff that he did in an open situation was horrific’.
Foster remembered Reynolds punching a boy in the face. ‘The ferocity of it … I can still hear it, the impact, like a crack. And there was blood everywhere, and this kid was screaming.’ Seeing Reynolds bash this ‘tiny little bloke’ made Foster feel powerless. Rage ‘boiled up’ inside him, and he thought, ‘how can he get away with it?’
Foster was once bashed by Reynolds after he’d interrupted the headmaster sexually abusing a 12-year-old patient.
On occasions, Reynolds took Foster and other children he was abusing to a shopping mall. In the car, Reynolds ‘would put his hand on your thigh and sort of pat you, “everything’s okay”, and you would talk about it, “it might be a good idea if you don’t say anything”, and that was a regular modus operandi for him’.
Foster was sexually abused by two other males in the hospital. This happened once when a nurse lured him into a cupboard by saying other children were waiting inside for him. Another time, Foster discovered a teenage patient fellating a small boy who then needed to be looked after. That teenager would fondle Foster on car trips. ‘He wouldn’t leave me alone. He was really big. And he was violent, incredibly violent. And when he said … “I’ll kill you if you say anything”, I believed him. I believed it.’
Foster barely survived his experience in the hospital. ‘I sliced myself open because that was the usual way we dealt with things’, he said. When he left, he told no one about the abuse.
‘I never thought that I was important enough, or that what happened to me was important. That was basically the cold fact. And had I ventured that with my mum it would have probably destroyed her, and that was the last thing I wanted to do.’
Forty years later, after his mother had passed away, Foster mustered the courage to call the Commission. ‘And I’m glad I did’, he said. ‘I’m glad that I can … begin to cut the chains of this – what I call, a dead body around my shoulders.’
This ‘huge step’ opened a door for him. In reporting to New South Wales Police, he had a ‘really awful’ experience trying to give information to an ‘incredibly aggressive’ and ‘belligerent’ police officer, and is still waiting to be contacted ‘in due course’. He fought all the way to the Minister’s office to obtain his records from NSW Health. He sought legal advice about the feasibility of a civil case, and successfully applied to NSW Victims of Crime for counselling support.
‘Everything I’ve tried to do since [contacting the Commission] has been a real battle’, he said.
Foster’s experience of abuse left him with addictions, anxiety and depression, PTSD and an inability to trust people. Telling his story has also been a challenge because so much of his past comes rushing back at him. However, ‘crucial people’ have come into his life at ‘really crucial times’, and have provided support which has literally saved his life. Today, he is grateful that he has been able to speak up and ‘try and find some level of peace and recovery out of the whole thing’.
‘I’m not going to give up. Even if I fall down, I’m not going to give up ... I’m not going to give them the satisfaction of rubbing me out. I’ve got a voice.’