‘I haven’t cried since I’ve been five. I promised myself I’d never cry again’.
As a child, Gerard couldn’t understand his father’s rage and ‘overboard’ corporal punishment. As a way of rebelling against ‘ferocious’ beatings, Gerard began getting into trouble at school and at home. In the late 1960s, he was made a ward of the state at the age of 12, and placed in a government-run boys’ home.
There he was sexually abused by workers who did ‘all sorts of terrible things’. Sent to another Victorian boys’ home run by the Methodist Church, Gerard was ‘forced to go’ into a temporary care arrangement with a family where both foster parents ‘did atrocious things’ to him.
As a result of the abuse, Gerard kept running away and was eventually sent to a juvenile detention centre. Men would come to the centre and take boys, including Gerard out, and sexually abuse them.
At 14, Gerard was sent to a Salvation Army boys’ home where he stayed for three years. His pattern of absconding was repeated because of further sexual abuse and he was eventually confined in a youth prison. He subsequently spent long periods of adult life incarcerated for violent crimes. Jail and crime became familiar over the years and abuse was ‘second nature’.
‘You expected it’, he said. ‘If it didn’t happen, then you were wondering, what’s going on? You know, what do they want? It was frightening.
'And you know, I’ve had it explained to me that as a child, when night time comes and you put your head down, the adrenaline you’ve been running on during the day – and watch out for the enemy – it doesn’t shut down, so you’re running 24/7 adrenaline.
'It nearly destroys your life, but it turns you into – there is only one option and that’s to payback. You hurt me, I’ll hurt youse all. And unfortunately, now it’s rubbed off on my kids.’
While Gerard had contact with one of his children, he was estranged from the others because they’d accused him of sexually abusing them. ‘You know, you can throw an allegation at anybody, and to throw that allegation at me would be the most abhorrent thing you could do. So I disowned them.’
In the 1970s, Gerard made a report to Victoria police about the abuse perpetrated on him, but nothing came of the complaint which, he said, was ‘buried’. For decades he’d never spoken about it but then he met workers at a service set up to support Forgotten Australians. They’d been helpful and had stopped him as he was ‘about to reoffend’. The difference between them and other service providers, he said, was that he hadn’t felt judged.
‘Whatever they’ve been taught, the way they’ve been mentored or whatever, there’s a connection where they can make it easy to confide without fear of retribution. They don’t look down on you.’
Several years before speaking to the Royal Commission, Gerard made civil claims for compensation and received $10,000 from the Salvation Army and $17,500 from the Uniting Church. He also received a payment of $15,000 as a result of being sexually abused while in the Church of England Boys Society when he was 10 or 11 years old.
Gerard told the Commissioner that he remained ‘riddled with guilt’ because of the effects of his life on his children.
‘I can’t turn back the hands of time’, he said. ‘What I have done is what I’ve done … the cops and robbers syndrome. It’s just, it’s caused so much collateral damage. I mean, I’m sure youse are all parents. When our children do well we revel in their achievements. But when they do bad, you have to accept the guilt.’
He also wondered how much he’d ‘cost the community’.
‘The victims, you know, running into banks with guns and stuff, I must have just terrorised … I’ve never hurt no one, I’ve actually dropped money into people’s bags on the way out – doing it tough, mate! But still, I don’t think there’s a night goes by where I don’t give it a moment’s thought, think about how I’ve terrorised these people.
'But you know, I got involved with terrible stuff. I can’t change it.’