Fred William's story

‘When the police came to our house … and took us away I have never been as frightened as I was then. All I can remember is that I tried to run away and cried out for my dad who was away working on the railways at the time. It was difficult to understand what was happening, and these men in uniform were very frightening, and to this day I still have phobia towards these people.’

Fred’s mother ‘was a drunk’, so he and his siblings were made wards of the state and placed in South Australian children’s homes in the late 1950s. ‘The reason given for admission was that we were charged with neglect and being under unfit guardianship.’ Fred was eight years old.

‘What happened to us in the next few years had a profound effect on my life and though I have managed to survive these many years, I know that the pain could have been lessened if someone had only listened more closely and at least believed some of the things we were trying to tell them.’

When Fred’s father visited on weekends Fred told him that he was being physically and sexually abused. After his father wrote a letter of complaint, he was told not to come back. ‘I remember how sad I was … I believe that my dad was a good man and if he had been given the assistance he needed … [we] would have had a very different life.’ Fred never saw his father again.

The boys’ home that Fred was sent to ‘had a mix of orphans, neglected kids, uncontrollable kids and remand kids, aged between six and 17’. Because the nearby reformatory was overcrowded, older boys from there were transferred to the home too.

‘Within a week of being placed in [the home] I remember the first time I was sexually abused by [an] older kid … and how he and two of his cronies dragged me into the toilet and held me face down and he had his way with me … and I remember how much it hurt me. His words to me afterwards were, “If you dob on me, I will beat the crap out of you and let the others have you”.’

When Fred told the matron at the home about the sexual abuse, she told him that he ‘mustn’t tell lies about the other boys, otherwise I could get into real trouble and get the cane’.

‘It is difficult to explain how traumatised a little boy can be when being sexually abused by the older kids, not only because you were frightened, but because you thought this was the norm, and the shame and humiliation of it was enough for you to keep quiet.’

Staff at the home were aware of the intimidation and abuse of the younger kids, but chose to ignore it. ‘I was told by one senior screw it prepares you for when you grow up, and only sooks complain. Good advice for a 10-year-old.’

The sexual abuse continued until Fred was 11, because ‘those who abused me were transferred, and I started to learn how to protect myself’.

Fred told the Commissioner, ‘the thing that I missed the most was I never really had a childhood, or the love and care that a normal child would expect. Instead I received nothing but cruelty and sexual abuse … Where was the compassion and understanding from those who were supposed to look after me and give me guidance?’

The physical abuse that he experienced at the home was even more distressing to him than the sexual abuse. ‘The canings that took place … were cruel and sadistic when administered by certain senior officers … Many of the boys had their hands injured and … needed medical treatment … When you were caned across the bare backside … you couldn’t sit down properly for days.’

The mistreatment was exacerbated because of Fred’s bedwetting. ‘Being only eight years old … you become an easy prey for the predators that saw bed wetting as a weakness … What didn’t help was that the screws would rub your nose in the wet sheet and call you a dirty little bastard.’

When Fred was released from care, he was ‘full of fear and mistrust of people in general and didn’t think I was of any consequence to anyone because I had been brought up in an institution by people … whom I believe didn’t really care what happened to me. I want you to know what it’s like to be afraid to hug and cuddle people because you think they may harm you physically and sexually’.

‘If there is a heaven and a hell, then those who abused us and took away our innocence, I hope you rot in hell … and I make no apologies for this statement … It is my hope that you will understand the pain and suffering that a lot of children went through and are still going through … I believe you can overcome any adversity, but you can never wipe away the memories of a lost childhood, but you can learn to live with them as I have.’

Fred came forward to the Royal Commission because, ‘I just want people to know, and I think that you people are the last chance I’ve got of telling my story and getting it out there … I’m not saying this is going to stop what happened to us ever happening again, but at least it will go a long way … I hope’.

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