Gerry’s young mother gave birth to her first two children in Melbourne, but couldn’t afford to look after them. In the mid-1960s ‘there was no child endowment or nothing’, so the babies were made wards of the state and sent to different homes.
Tracking down information about his family history and institutionalisation has been a ‘nightmare’, but Gerry understands that he grew up in more than 20 facilities in Victoria and New South Wales. He said that ‘some institutions were alright’, and that ‘there were a lot of good house parents’. He also said that he ‘went through a lot of dramas’ in other institutions because some people ‘didn’t care’ or ‘were really rough’.
When Gerry was about 10, he lived in a home in the Southern Highlands. He remembers being ‘assaulted by a few staff members’ and said that he ‘got whacked across with a cane, corporal punishment, really hard’. The children there were ‘used for slave labour’ to scrub floors with toothbrushes or cook meals for the other children. ‘But nobody cared’, he said.
Gerry was also put on medication which used to send him ‘mental’. ‘I didn’t want to take medication’, he said, ‘but we weren’t in a position to refuse it. We had to do what we were told to do’. At a reunion years later, a former worker told him that he and some other children had been used as ‘drug guinea pigs’.
While at this facility, the school principal locked him in a storeroom. Gerry said, ‘That’s the reason I ended up in the psych hospital because I kicked the door to get out’. Not yet a teenager, he spent the better part of the next two weeks in an adult mental health unit. Towards the end of his stay, Gerry woke up to find a large man on top of him. The sexual abuse happened in the dark, so all Gerry knows is that the man was a middle-aged patient who smelt of cigarettes. He disappeared when Gerry woke up.
The next morning he told a male nurse, who dismissed it by saying ‘it’s the medication you’re on’. Gerry spent the next night very agitated and unable to sleep. He thinks that he later told the principal who also wasn’t interested.
When Gerry left care in his mid-teens, he had to fend for himself. ‘When they released us from care, they gave us nothing’, he said. ‘They never done nothing for us. They just let us go.’ After a brief period back with his family, he ‘grew up on the streets’ and lived on his own for a long time. He was married for over 10 years, and spent a number of years living in his car.
The sexual abuse left Gerry with an inability to trust people. ‘It’s hard to talk to people’, he said. ‘I’ve got no trust. Just fear.’ He is particularly fearful of doctors and hospitals, and has no trust in the medical system. He recalled a time in the 80s when he jumped out a hospital window and ran away. ‘That’s how scared I was’, he said.
About five years ago, Gerry met with a solicitor to seek victims of crime compensation. He said that ‘I had to write statements which I couldn’t write. My writing’s very bad’. Lacking proof and a police report, his application was denied.
Nowadays, Gerry has some contact with his family, and a dog which brings him joy. He also has support from CLAN, the Care Leavers Australia Network, which has helped him track down his files. His hope is that the government can make long overdue change so that the next generation of kids are safe.
He believes that ‘you can only go forward … there’s no point looking back’.