Fred Michael's story

Fred’s mother died when he was four, and he and his siblings were placed into care. Fred spent time in three orphanages in Sydney, until he went into foster care in the mid-70s, just before his 15th birthday.

The first two orphanages were run by nuns who subjected Fred and the other children to physical and emotional abuse. ‘They’d just hit you for anything … Say something out of turn, step out of line … Everything was regimented … You weren’t allowed to talk. If you talked – well, that was it, you got whacked with a piece of cane, or a piece of wood.’

When Fred was 10, the orphanage he was sent to was run by the Marist Brothers. ‘It was just terrible, man. I mean, these guys were even worse than the nuns. They actually, some of them used fists on you … not just the cane, which was their favourite … or a barber strap, which was another favourite.’

Fred told the Commissioner, ‘I’ve even got marks on my face where I was actually hit by this one Marist Brother … he was a fruitcake … We had young Aboriginal boys living there and … he took particular liking to laying into those blokes … and then, if I stood up for ‘em, I’d cop it too’.

If the children had marks on them from the beatings, ‘they’d tell the people that we were supposed to go and stay with that weekend, that we’d played up and therefore we weren’t allowed to visit for that weekend. They would cover everything up, any way they could’.

When anyone visited the homes to check on the children, they were told to say ‘Everything’s good. Everything’s great’. They were given new clothes and good food while the people were visiting, but these disappeared once the visitors had left.

Fred’s dormitory master at the orphanage had a friend who would visit the home once or twice a year, and Fred believes that this man drugged him and sexually abused him on at least two occasions.

When the man took Fred to the flat where he stayed during his visits, Fred recalled, ‘He give me a drink and something to eat and the next thing I know, it’s night time and I’d wake up and, “Okay, we’ve got to go now. We’re running late, blah, blah, blah. You fell asleep”, but … after this happened, I’d always have a rash around my front, around my, you know, sexual organs, and a rash around my backside’.

When Fred showed the rash to his dormitory master, the Brother told him ‘it was a normal part of growing up’ and sent him to the nurse to put some cream on it. Fred also recalled having what he now knows to be urinary tract infections after these incidents, and he was told the same thing, that this was part of growing up.

On another occasion, when Fred was taken to a holiday flat with some of the Brothers, the same thing happened. He was given something to eat and ‘I don’t remember anything after eating, and same thing happened there, where I had this rash … my whole front was red … and the Brother then told me that that was sea lice … from the surf’.

Fred told the Commissioner that there was another occasion when he realised there was something odd about the man who visited the home. ‘I’m sitting on his knee and he’s reading this book, but then his hand the whole time was rubbing the top of my leg and near my shorts … near my underpants, and I noticed that all the older boys were looking at me funny.’

After this incident, the older boys began calling Fred, ‘Poofter Fred’. He didn’t understand what that meant. ‘I had no idea … but that became my nickname for all the older boys.’

Fred was placed with a foster family when he was 15, but the foster father reminded him of the Marist Brothers. ‘He would use hitting to get his own way, which put me offside with him straight away.’ Fred left the foster home at 17 after he finished Year 10 at school, and went to live by himself.

Although he was able to work in a seasonal job for some years, Fred is now on a disability pension, after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. ‘I don’t have relationships with people. I can’t form strong bonds with people. I have acquaintances … just acquaintances, you know. I’ve spent most of my life living by myself … I don’t sleep well at night. I still have nightmares …’

Fred told the Commissioner that he doesn’t know how he has managed to function over the years. ‘I just believe that … I don’t know … I feel for people, you know. I look at people and say, well, if I can help them in any way, I will … I just believe in people … but I don’t have that much contact with them.’

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