Graeme Michael's story

‘I was taken, as a two year old … by the police … in front of a judge. I was charged and found guilty of being a neglected child. They charged children back then. So I was found guilty and then I was instantly made a ward of the state of Queensland and sent to [an orphanage]. So that was my first criminal conviction.’

In the late 1950s, when a doctor incorrectly diagnosed his sister as being malnourished, Graeme and all of his siblings were taken into care. When his aunts arrived at the courthouse to try and get the children back, they were told that it was too late. They had already been made wards of the state, ‘and that was it’.

All of the siblings were taken to the same orphanage, but they were forbidden to talk to each other. ‘We didn’t actually get to grow up together. So we don’t know each other. We’re all a bit dysfunctional.’ When he was seven, Graeme was fostered, and remained with his foster family until he was 18.

Graeme told the Commissioner, ‘It’s not that you get used to it, but … I can’t change it … There’s no dealing with it. It’s just there. I mean, I still have the nightmares. I still don’t sleep. So, it’s never going to stop. I mean … I was dressed as a girl for three and a half years’.

Later, when he asked his foster mother why they had dressed him like a girl at the orphanage, she told him ‘in no uncertain terms, they couldn’t afford boy’s clothing and I should have been fucking grateful for it’.

Graeme was subjected to physical, emotional and sexual abuse at the orphanage. ‘The thing is … it was a daily, hourly, minutely, secondly, thing. It was your life. I can remember stuff that two year olds shouldn’t remember.'

'They’d lock you in the closet. Pitch black, and it was up to them when they’d let you out. It could be half an hour. It could be an hour. It could be more.’

The priest who sexually abused him had ‘pets' Graeme said. 'He had his favourites … I was one of his pets. I was one of his favourite boys. He’d take me up into this room and … yeah’.

‘I was treated like a girlfriend, you know what I mean … There were kids he treated well, but used, and there were kids that were beaten, and used, that weren’t like, favourites, if you can work that out’.

The priest wasn’t the only abuser. Graeme remembers being in an office and ‘there was more than one person there’. Graeme couldn’t report the abuse because he was told, ‘You tell anybody, and God will strike you dead’.

As well as the sexual abuse at the orphanage, ‘there was maggot food … there was beatings. There was a lot of, “Take your pants off”, like, to get belted … I went to psychiatrists and that years later, and they associated it directly back to [the orphanage]’.

Once he went into foster care, Graeme was sent to private schools, but he failed.

‘Only because I knew that I wasn’t worthy, because that’s all we were told … I mean, I lived in fear of authority and then I got out of there and got sent to a school with priests that were just as bad as [those in the orphanage].’

In foster care, Graeme was told, ‘in no uncertain terms, that I wasn’t theirs. They owed me nothing. I’m nothing and I’ll never be anything’. Welfare workers were aware of how Graeme’s foster mother treated him. In his records it states, ‘[The foster mother] was very dominating and Graeme was very scared.’

Graeme asked his foster mother why they dressed him in girls’ clothes, why they had their faces pushed into maggot-ridden food, why they were locked in closets and why the priests sexually abused him, and ‘the Catholic thing was, “If God can forgive them, surely you can”. That’s all she ever said to me’.

As an adult, Graeme used alcohol and marijuana to cope with the memories of his sexual abuse. ‘They created a mini-society of dysfunctional people … we’re all not programmed properly.’

When Graeme started seeing psychiatrists. They said, ‘“That’s why you don’t sleep. That’s why you have nightmares. That’s why you don’t like sex. That’s why you don’t have a wife. That’s why” … and I went, “Oh, is that right” … and jobs’. Graeme has never been able to fulfil his highest potential in his chosen profession.

Graeme told the Commissioner, ‘I think every human deserves to start on the right path and then it’s up to them whether they fuck up. You don’t fuck it up for them and then tell ‘em to keep going … Society’s got a lot to answer for if that’s the way you treat your own … I [don’t] feel like I grew up in … one of the lucky countries. I just don’t get it’.

The one thing that Graeme believes he did learn from his traumatic childhood, is how to be a good parent. ‘I don’t give a shit about myself because nobody else did. But I adore and live for my daughter. I treat her the way I wanted to be treated.’

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