Gerry Bernard's story

Gerry was put into state care in Melbourne in the 1940s when he was very young. He told the Commissioner, ‘The welfare, or whatever they call themselves, come into our house one day and took us away. I didn’t see any of my family for quite a few years after that’.

Gerry said that the state-run homes were brutal places.

‘There was one particular fellow that was there, his name was Owens. He used to wear a big square gold ring on his left hand. If you done the wrong thing, or he reckoned you’d done the wrong thing, he would always backhand you in the face, cut your eyes or your mouth or whatever.’

Owens also liked to punish the boys by making them stand outside the door for hours on end. On one occasion he forced Gerry to stand there for six days, with no breaks other than to go to the bathroom or sleep.

At 13, Gerry was moved to a boys’ home run by Franciscan Brothers. He said it was the ‘most evil home I’ve ever been in in my life. They couldn’t keep their hands off you, they were always mauling you and touching you in the showers. If you were in what they called the dormitories you were pretty well safe, but if you were in an area called the wing, which was separate rooms, they’d just do anything to you’.

Gerry said that while he was staying in the wing he was raped by one of the Brothers. Gerry never knew who the man was because he would come into the room in the dark with his face obscured by his hood.

‘They’d make you take all your clothes off, then they’d attack you. First time it happened I was that ashamed you couldn’t tell the kids. If you did they’d give you a name; it weren’t very nice. The second time it happened I said to myself, I’ve got to tell somebody. I told another priest what had happened. Couple of days later I was called down to the office. There was two priests there. They said that I was spreading rumours or whatever, that it never happened to me.’

The priests then forced Gerry to bend over a chair and caned him on his naked buttocks. He said, ‘It took me eight days before I could sit or lay in a bed properly’. Gerry didn’t try to report the abuse again. In the following months he was raped three more times by the same hooded Brother who entered his bedroom at night.

Gerry said that the Franciscans not only brutalised him physically and psychologically, they also denied him any chance at a good education. When he told the priests that he couldn’t read or write, ‘They’d just smack me in the face and tell me to get to work’. To this day, Gerry is unable to read and write. He said it’s a fact that has always embarrassed him and held him back from achieving success in his work life.

Gerry kept the abuse to himself until a few years ago when he decided to speak out after having a chat with a mate who had also been abused as a child.

‘It was more or less the same as what had happened to me only he was in a different home. He said, “Why don’t you tell your family?” He said, “It’s not your fault. They’re the shame, not you”. And all these years I blamed myself.’

After that Gerry complained to the government about the abuse he’d suffered at the state-run homes. They organised some counselling for him but nothing more and he’s not heard from them since.

With the help of some lawyers, Gerry also approached the Franciscans.

‘They said they didn’t believe what had happened at the home but if I was to sign these papers they’d give me $5,000. I said I can’t read and write. I said, “You people had a school but you wouldn’t teach me”. They just didn’t want to help me at all … One of them said, “I was there for three months and I never heard anything”. I said, “Because you didn’t want to hear anything”.’

Gerry refused to sign the papers during the meeting. A few days later the Franciscans sent a representative to Gerry’s house. He told Gerry that the $5,000 was a ‘really generous offer’ and if he signed the papers he could get the money right now. Gerry refused. He has since tried to get in contact with the Franciscans but hasn’t heard anything back.

Gerry is no longer reluctant to tell his story. He said he wants to speak out on behalf of all the people who were abused in homes, including his sister who died in a home when she was young.

‘And that’s how I feel now. I don’t care if I go public or whatever. I don’t care who knows about it. If it means helping other people, what they went through, I’ll do anything.’

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