‘I don’t have a lot of memories there. There were never any good memories … Probably the one redeeming little thing … when we were at class … if you did good work … they’d let you go out to the front and pick a little bit of toy out of a box of busted toys and bits and pieces. That was a treat for ya.’
Gerald’s violent, alcoholic father died when Gerald was six or seven, and his mother struggled to bring up her children. In the late 1960s, Gerald spent a year in an orphanage run by the Sisters of Mercy in Queensland. ‘I was a troublesome child … I was a bit torn up … I think I was around eight or nine.’
While he was in the orphanage, Gerald was subjected to physical, emotional and sexual abuse. ‘I don’t remember a lot … My psychologist says I have post-traumatic stress disorder … She said that I had to block stuff out … because it was too bad … I have memories of being held down on a desk, and the main thing I remember is the timber pattern.’
One thing that Gerald did recall was that the sexual abuse took place in a wooden building beside the church. ‘I have memories of always trying to stay clear of that alleyway between that church and the other building … If you go anywhere near there you’d get into trouble or be taken or whatever.’
Gerald and the other children were ‘treated like dogs. Getting whipped with sticks … I remember I was force-fed food that would make me sick. They’d stand over you and make you eat it and when you were sick they’d give you another bowl to eat and … you’d get flogged for being sick … because you’re making a mess’.
Sometimes Gerald would wake up in the morning and he would see a bed ‘and there’d be faeces all over … “Well, something’s gone badly there”. You might hear someone cry out in the night … Sometimes, you’d wake up and … you’d hear shouting … I don’t know what that was’. Gerald went to bed each night with the blanket pulled up over his head, ‘and hopefully you’d get left alone’.
Gerald told the Commissioner, ‘probably the hardest thing for me was the fact that I’d lost me father … and lost the rest of me family. And then, you know, to go somewhere like that and then to be treated like basically a throwaway, disposable thing or something … We were just treated as a bloody nuisance … You shut your mouth and hopefully you don’t get beaten’.
When Gerald returned home after a year, he was ‘never really normal’ again. ‘I was always angry … My mum said to me a couple of years ago, that when I was young she wasn’t even game to say good morning to me sometimes … ‘cause I was just so angry with the world … always bad anger problems.’
Because of his problems, Gerald has been unable to maintain relationships. ‘I can’t live with someone. It’s just terrible and I don’t want to get into another relationship with a woman now … I need that space. I need that freedom … I get stressed and I just get so angry … I’d rather be lonely and alone than be with someone and … have torment and anger.’
Although Gerald has been seeing a psychologist for his anger issues, they do not talk about the abuse he experienced at the orphanage, because he believes that talking about it exacerbates his problems.
Gerald came to the Royal Commission to get some closure. ‘Since I’ve heard about it, I’ve gotten worse ... I’m cracking beers at 10 o’clock in the morning … I don’t want to be straight. I look at the world and I’d rather be anaesthetised … I can’t anaesthetise meself enough. It’s getting worse. Now I take anti-depressants. I have marijuana every morning … I have pain killers for me back … I get addicted to pokies really easy too, because … I can forget about everything. It just sort of clears me mind.’
Although Gerald is waiting to hear from his solicitors about mediation with the Sisters of Mercy, he is not interested in an apology from them. ‘It’s not their fault. They weren’t there. They didn’t do it … There’s no way you can really apologise for it. I mean it’s been done and nothing’s ever going to change the way I am. Nothing’s going to change the way I feel about anything.’
Gerald told the Commissioner that he was going to come to his private session months before, but he wasn’t ready. ‘Even after I agreed, I thought, “What have I done” … I felt like changing me mind and saying … It’s just something that’s been buried for years … that I’ve never told anyone about, and it sort of eats away at you … I just wanted to try and get some closure … so that’s sort of why I came here.’