‘Back in those days getting the strap or cane was part of living.’
Gary was sent to a boys’ home in Scotland in the mid-1950s when he was eight years old. There he was beaten regularly for minor offences. He was also sexually abused. When he complained about the abuse he was called a liar and strapped in front of the other children.
At 14 Gary was put on a ship and sent to Australia as a child migrant. He thought he was finally escaping the harsh life of the children’s home. But when he arrived in his new country he was put to work in rural Western Australia, along with other migrant kids, in a farm-based institution where life proved just as miserable as in Scotland.
Gary was employed at the dairy. ‘I just had to get up at four o’clock in the morning sometimes’, Gary told the Commissioner, ‘middle of winter, go out in the paddock and get about 50-odd cows in’.
Life was hard, the food was bad, and as a ward of the state Gary discovered he could not leave the institution.
The gardener and handyman, Rod Wormall, befriended Gary. Wormall was in his late 30s. ‘I had lived in institutions for much of my life and never had anyone who cared about me like he did. He would give me cigarettes and alcohol, and seemed like a great bloke.’
‘When he asked me if I wanted to get out of the place I just thought he was somebody who wanted to help me out … being a mate. After a couple of months I found out what he was really like … I think he was just getting me into the groove of being his toy boy.’
When Gary was 15 Wormall woke him after midnight one night and said, ‘Come on, we’re going’. The two fled the children’s farm and made their way north of Perth to live with friends of Wormall. ‘We had a room we shared together. There was only one bed.’
Within a few nights Wormall began touching Gary. Gary pulled away and Wormall desisted. The pair moved on, this time to find work in the south-west of the state. Again, Wormall found them a room to live in, with just one bed.
The sexual abuse began again and escalated. Wormall began rubbing his penis against Gary. Then he forced Gary to masturbate him. ‘I was frightened of him when he got like that, and was afraid he would hit me or worse, and that he would abandon me. I was in a strange country and I knew nobody.’
After a few months Gary made some friends at his workplace. He told them what was going on and they agreed to offer him accommodation so he could escape Wormall. ‘I left a note in this little hut we had, that if he ever tried to come and see me again I’d kill him. Which I possibly would’ve done.’
Gary did not think to report the abuse at the time. ‘I s’pose I didn’t understand. Being 15 years old I just thought, “It’s finished, water under the bridge, I’m out of it now”.’
In the months since he’d fled the children’s home the police had been looking for Gary. They finally caught up with him. ‘I thought they were going to take me back, put me back in an institution again.’ But Gary’s friends stood up for him, and as he had a steady job and somewhere to live the welfare department left him where he was.
A year or two later Gary met and married the woman he would share his life with. They are still together and happy. But Gary has mostly tried to bottle up his past. ‘She knows bits and pieces. It’s something I can’t sit down and talk about because it brings back too many memories. I tried to talk to my wife a couple of days ago. I just started crying for no reason.’
Gary is slow to trust people, especially men. He was very protective of his own children, and continues this vigilance with his grandkids.
Gary admits he drank and smoke too much as well. ‘Something I started doing to try to forget, and it just sort of stayed with me.’ He has struggled with depression and sleepless nights at times.
Gary has not been to counselling, but had the chance to tell his story when he approached Redress WA seeking compensation. He was granted a sum much less than the maximum available. ‘When they gave me that amount I thought, "That’s an insult".'
In recent years, with assistance from the UK government and Child Migrants Trust, Gary has returned to the UK and been reunited with his siblings. He is now in regular contact with them and the experience has helped him open up about his past.
‘Talking about this now – it’s a bit of a relief.’
‘I’ve got my family behind me. I was thinking twice about coming here, but I thought, “No, I’ve got to do it”.’