Grahame’s dad came home from World War II with a mind full of noise and trauma that he tried to quieten with alcohol. When his efforts failed he became dangerous, and so in the late 1950s Grahame and his siblings were removed from their parents’ care and sent to a Presbyterian children’s home in Western Australia.
Grahame was 10 years old when he arrived at the home. Having lived his whole life in a small country town it was a big shock to encounter the chaos of communal living and the brutal discipline of the home’s manager, Mr Angell.
‘We’d come from the bush and we didn’t understand how things [worked]. There were a group of us washing his kombi van and he said we had to use some elbow grease, and I said I didn’t have any, and he said, “Don’t be smart, don’t you understand plain English?” Because he was a Pom, I said, “We only speak Australian”. Well, I got a good hiding for that.’
Grahame quickly learned to fear Mr Angell, and the fear made him vulnerable. John King, a staff member who lived at the home, saw this vulnerability and exploited it. He stalked Grahame for a while then one day grabbed him.
‘He carries me up to the top of the hayshed’, Grahame recalled, ‘and then got his penis out and then told me to play with it’.
King forced Grahame to strip while he masturbated. Then he shoved Grahame to the floor and ejaculated onto his chest.
‘And then wipe it off with hay and then say, “You say nothing otherwise I’ll report you to Mr Angell”. Because he knew very well I was frightened of him. And that’s what he did and this went on for probably about two or three months. Maybe eight episodes. Then all of a sudden he disappeared.’
While the abuse was happening, Grahame’s mother had separated from her husband and applied to welfare for state housing, hoping to make a safe place for her kids to come home to.
When Grahame read his state ward file years later he discovered two things: his mother’s applications had been rejected and the government had paid a significant amount of money to the Presbyterian Church to keep him. He was furious.
‘If they had’ve given her a house and paid her the money that they’d paid to the Church we could have lived together. Stayed together. But they’re so mean and hard – anyway, that’s how it is. I’ll never forgive them for that.’
Grahame stayed at the Presbyterian home for three years. He returned to his mother’s care a shy, socially awkward boy who no longer felt any emotional connection to his family. He didn’t tell them about the abuse.
In fact, Grahame kept it to himself for most of his life. The first time he ever talked about it was only a few months before his session with the Royal Commission. He’d seen something on TV about a support group for victims of child sexual abuse. He spoke to them and they recommended that he contact the Commission.
‘Had a good chat over the phone and he then put me on the list for a hearing. He said a lady would phone me in three or four days just to see if I was alright, and I told her I was fine. A little bit stressed but fine.
‘About a month later something just hit me like never before. My chest was so tight I thought I was going to have a heart attack, and a ball of knot in my stomach. I couldn’t get any sleep and it just felt like having a nervous breakdown, which I’d never had before so I went to see my family GP.
‘And he checked me over and physically fine. I told him the whole story. For the first time. Anyone. He was so good with it all. After many tissues later I felt so relieved. I walked out of his office like a ton weight had been lifted off me.’
All his life Grahame had thought that seeking help and talking through the abuse was a sign of weakness. Now he has a better understanding of his injuries and a deeper sense of compassion for himself and other survivors.
‘What I do now – something I’ve never done before – is see the pictures of the old folk … that it’s happened to. And they just look like everyday people. And I’m thinking to myself when I walk down the street and I see some poor old bugger, he might be homeless now or whatever – I think, “I wonder if he’s one of those people?” And people say, “Look at that silly old bastard”. But you don’t know. Now I sort of read between the lines a lot.’