At the age of eight Frank Winston ended up in a Sydney orphanage.
‘Things must have soured between Mum and Dad, and she began refusing him sex’, he wrote in a statement to the Royal Commission. Young Frank slept in his parents’ bedroom: ‘I had witnessed sexual activity many times between my parents, not understanding what was going on … I saw him beg her for sex in tears.
‘Finally, my parents had a big row that became violent. He had his hands around her throat, my siblings were punching him and screaming at him … She then told him to leave the home. He cried deeply, begging for her mind to change, but to no avail.
‘He got his things together and walked out of our lives forever.’
Life for a single mother with small children in the late 1940s wasn’t easy. ‘Hunger! I was always hungry … My pants were an old pair of my father’s ex-army khakis with the legs cut off, wrapped around my tiny waist with one of his ties … We didn’t go to school very often that I remember.
‘Mum always had money for her cigarettes though.’
Eventually the authorities took an interest and the children were removed. After a couple of boys’ homes, Frank and his older brother ended up as state wards at a Marist Brothers’ institution. The sexual abuse forced on eight-year-old Frank was the main reason he still suffers nightmares nearly 70 years later.
‘I had awful experiences at that orphanage. From daily bullying and physical assaults to sexual assaults. It started in the first two weeks I was there.'
'An older, bigger boy would come to my bed well after lights out and begin whispering that he was just going to root me. He pulled my pyjamas down and tried to penetrate my rectum, but it was too painful, I yelled out.’
His attacker satisfied himself between Frank’s buttocks: ‘He would wipe as much of the mess away as he could with a cloth he always brought along.’
Frank never got a positive identification: ‘He may have been one of the other inmates, or someone who worked at the orphanage … I have my suspicions.’
Some years later there were “inspections” from Brother Murray. ‘I had a pain in my stomach … another boy said I should go and see Brother Murray … He laid me on his bed and took my shorts off. He produced his electric razor, then switched it on and massaged my entire stomach and groin area, right to the base of my penis and underneath my testicles.
‘It’s only in recent years I’ve wondered if he was testing my ability to have an erection.’
A week later Frank woke to find the blanket and his pyjamas pulled down, and Murray shining a torch at his genitals. ‘He said softly and accusingly, “You haven’t been playing with that thing, have you?”’
There was a similar incident a few nights later, then Murray stopped. But another Brother accused Frank of telling other boys about the “experience” with Murray.
‘And he got this fierce look on his face – I was kid of about 12, I was terrified – he demanded I keep quiet, or “You’ll get a damn good thrashing and you’ll get the boot”.
‘I kept quiet but I was thinking, “You can’t give me the boot, I’m a ward of the state!”’
But only until he turned 16. Straight after his birthday, Frank recalls, ‘I was given a suit smelling of mothballs, a shirt, socks, no underwear, a suitcase and five pounds – and told, “Bye and good luck”.’
After years working in various cities, Frank moved to Queensland and eventually married. However, the union foundered and Frank found himself in sole charge of his little daughters.
The youngest, now a mother herself, came with him to the Royal Commission. ‘He’s been an amazing dad. He raised my sister and I on his own. Dad went to extraordinary lengths to make sure we didn’t have the life that he had.’
Frank has never considered approaching police or the Marist Brothers about the assaults. ‘It’s not fair that, for the sake of one or two bad Brothers, the rest should come under a cloud of suspicion’, he says.
Nevertheless, the bad memories continue to cause distress. He says he has sometimes woken with injuries due to punching furniture in his sleep.
‘We were always told that, as men, we should square our shoulders and get on with it”, Frank concludes. ‘That’s how we were taught – don’t whinge, don’t complain about anything.
‘But that doesn’t make it go away.’