Francis was 10 months old when his parents relinquished his care in the 1960s. Born with congenital foot and hip disabilities, he was placed in a state-run children’s home in New South Wales where he received cruel treatment from his carers. After he turned five, he was moved to a different facility where he was forced to do laborious jobs.
‘We were set to work constantly. I remember getting up at five [o’clock] to do the donkey, what we called the donkey, which was to stoke the boiler, get the boilers running for the hot water for when the rest got up. I was probably eight years old then …
‘We were given no education. We were worked as slaves, child slaves. The government didn’t have to pay cleaners to come in – they had us. You didn’t work, you didn’t eat. You didn’t work, you were beaten into work. We were trained to do the job thoroughly, professionally and quickly, efficiently.’
In addition to the work, Francis was beaten with the ironing cord if he misbehaved, was punished for wetting the bed by standing in a corner for hours flapping his bedsheets dry, and made to wear painful callipers. ‘I was made boots, special boots that laced up and had callipers on the sides and built up on that side and this side … They were that painful for me to wear I’d cop the beatings for not being caught with them out and on.’
From the age of 10 Francis was sent to another state-run home where the children were denied drinking water after 2 pm to stop them wetting their beds. The facility director would also make the children hand pick clover out of the lawns, clean the quadrangle cracks with a toothbrush and check the toilets of their peers.
‘He’d even have older boys go with you to the toilet to make sure that you didn’t have drink … Even to going and checking how much crap a person crapped on the toilet because this person would crap their pants. I was personally sent to do this job, to look at how much faeces this boy had passed in the toilet and report it back.’
At 12 years old, Francis was sent to yet another children’s home.
By this time ‘I had been so brainwashed into “I’m a piece of shit, sir. How high should I jump, sir. I’m useless, I’m no good, I’ll be just nothing” … There wasn’t a day went by that I wasn’t beaten up or in a fight … It was like a pecking order out of 60 chooks. Older boys picking on younger boys, abusing them’.
As a good-looking child, Francis received unwanted sexual attention from the older boys, who ‘did things to me that I didn’t know at the time was rape, I didn’t know at the time this is homosexuality … Older kids, 16-year-olds, some of them were monsters to me … I’ve grown into an ugly duckling but I was a pretty little swan’.
In addition to being abused by other boys in the home, Francis was also targeted by two adult men. One tried to molest him in his bedroom. The other, a man in his 40s, ‘was my teacher and when the kids on sports day were down on the bottom oval … he fondled me, you know. Because I wouldn’t do it back I get hit in the gut. And then he’d go off for a while and come back in and say, “Well, you gonna do what you’re told?”’.
‘[This] is only the tip of the iceberg to what I’ve had to endure in my 53 years and I’m still enduring it. I ‘spose when you’ve been taken away from your family and you’ve got absolutely no one to step in and be a voice to you, then you’re just open target to all comers.’
At 14 Francis was given the opportunity to move into a boarding house and start work. Because his disabilities were never properly treated he has experienced mobility problems his entire life which have progressively worsened.
‘Nothing by the government was done about this medically … The thing is, I’ve suffered 30 years of hospitalisation. I’ve never been out of an institution in my life virtually … All because of the care that was denied any child to correct problems that went on to be bigger problems.’
In the late 90s Francis sought counselling to deal with years of abuse and the mental health problems that ensued.
‘When I went to try and talk about this with a counsellor … I was told to get off the stage and stop my acting. Now believe me, if I was able bodied I may have dropped the bloke. I just wheeled away and never went back. Because my life hasn’t been no stage act. It’s been one of hardship, misery, struggling.’
Francis currently receives the disability support pension, which is barely enough for him to survive. In the 1990s he approached a lawyer for assistance in applying for victims compensation, but after paying the legal fees he never received any redress. He has good friends who sometimes give him money, which he finds shameful and embarrassing. He would like to receive compensation so that he can live more independently.
‘What I wanna see is that I don’t have to struggle to get a wheelchair, I don’t have to struggle to find money to keep a car on the road. I don’t want to live in a shoebox that I live in.’
Francis credits his good friends, his companion dog, his love of cooking and his faith in God for giving him the resilience to keep going. Regardless, he still experiences depression and often wishes he was no longer alive.
‘I struggled all my life, worked hard all my life. I’m getting at the age where I can’t do it anymore … I’ve asked “Put me to sleep, it’d be kinder” … The only reason I haven’t done it myself is because how selfish an act is that? How will my friends feel? How would they think of me? I’m a fighter.’