Gary arrived at an Anglican boy’s home in Victoria in the late 1950s as one of the youngest boys there.
He remembers it as a spartan place with strict discipline and staff members who were hard and tough, ‘but you knew where you stood’. Things changed a few years after his arrival when Frank Baxter became the activities officer and housemaster. Baxter sexually abused Gary and many other boys before his eventual dismissal.
‘The four years he was there I was frightened all the time’, Gary said. ‘It changed my whole life, how I viewed people, how I saw life.’
Gary said Baxter would take boys to his private quarters to shower. He gave special privileges to some boys who often mistook the sexual behaviour for love.
Gary told the Commissioner that Baxter sexualised everything. Each day he’d sit in a chair in the communal bathroom and watch as the boys showered, making crude and suggestive comments about their bodies. He was often aggressive and would hit boys with a cricket bat or anything else that was to hand.
The sexual abuse also took place in the dormitory. Gary was woken one night by Baxter grabbing his genitals under the bed clothes. He screamed and Baxter tried to tell him he was having a dream.
‘I said, “No, leave me alone”. He was fishing, and next time, the kids who didn’t scream, I heard them, and I’d know Baxter had caught them.’
Gary said boys from the home attended the local state school, but didn’t socialise with other students outside school hours.
‘We just went there and went back to the home. It was a very closed society. We had to be controlled everywhere we went.’
There was no one to tell about the abuse. In his early teens, Gary absconded from the home with another boy and they were caught by police stealing bread. The boys appeared before a magistrate and disclosed that they were being beaten at the home, but didn’t mention the sexual abuse.
‘Who’s going to listen to me? I didn’t think I had rights. Don’t forget: my parents didn’t want me, so what right have I got to stand up and say anything?’
Increasingly, boys at the home were confiding in the cook, a woman they called Granny James. Gary said he found out after he left the home that Granny James travelled to the Anglican office in Melbourne one day to report Baxter’s behaviour and request his removal. She waited there two days until anyone would see her.
Soon after her trip, Baxter was dismissed. ‘I can’t remember any day I’ve felt more liberated than the day he came in and told everyone he was leaving’, Gary said. ‘The whole joint erupted.’
Adults who worked in the boys’ home were described by Gary as being generally good, but weak in character.
‘If another staff member said anything, Baxter’d just dominate them. He’d say, “I’m in charge of these kids. You can’t tell me what to do”.’ Gary said someone should have done something long before Granny James made a complaint.
‘The ones with the worst education knew. The cook and the kid.’
Gary said he couldn’t remember dreaming of a future when he was a child. ‘There was nothing there. Every day it was just, “How am I going to get through the day?” What sort of mood is he in today?’
When he left the boys’ home he didn’t trust anyone. ‘I was always looking for the negative. That was my starting point, because I can understand that. I can relate to it. Anyone being nice to you though, you don’t want that. That’s scary. That’s when you have to go back in your cave and hide.’
Several boys who were in the home spoke in later years about reporting Baxter to the police. Gary said he wasn’t sure if he’d also make a statement. If he did, he said, he’d make it clear that he wasn’t attacking the boys’ home.
‘They looked after me, and that’s all I knew. They did the best they could, and I’m not blaming them. It’s not their fault my parents put me there.’