Gregg came under the eye of children’s services when he was very young. His mother suffered from mental illness and left the family. His father remarried and told the children their mother had died. But he and his new wife were physically abusive to the children and the stepmother insisted they be sent away.
Gregg and his sister were sent to a state-run home in Melbourne in the early 1970s. The boys were separated from the girls and put in dormitories. The abuse from the staff there was horrendous.
‘I can remember the kickings. I can remember the physical beatings. I know I was raped several times. And it wasn’t just by one, sometimes it was three or four at the same time, doing it at the same time. I was only six or seven.
‘I remember people saying to me, “We’ve heard children scream”. And I say “No you haven’t. You haven’t heard the screams like I have”. We heard children screaming and stuff and we knew what was going on. But of course we couldn’t do anything about it.’
Staff took the children out of the dormitories at night to abuse them. Gregg remembers that after being raped one time he was bleeding and the staff just locked him in a cupboard and left him there for the night.
If any of the children tried to speak up they were threatened with being sent to a different – notoriously harsh – boys’ home, known to them as ‘prison’.
After about 12 months, Gregg and his sister were sent to another home in Victoria, where the children stayed in smaller cottages under the care of one or two adults. The physical abuse here was worse. Gregg was regularly beaten and kicked, and witnessed his sister and other children being beaten too.
They were deprived of love, as well as practical everyday care, such as being given a proper school lunch or medical treatment when they needed it. ‘We weren’t treated as a child, we were treated as some sort of sub-human … We never got anything.’
He also experienced sexual abuse here, which he reported to the woman who was in charge of the cottage parents. She too threatened to send him to the ‘prison’ home, a threat that still terrified all the children.
‘Why didn’t society listen to the children? Why were we treated like we were all liars? … We weren’t allowed to have a voice and when we did we were threatened, we were squashed or we were beaten. So we learnt very young to shut up.’
When he was in Grade 6, Gregg had his first consensual sexual experience with another boy, for which they were both beaten. He thinks his current homosexual orientation is a result of what happened to him in the homes – because of the abuse and also because he never had any motherly love, or any experience of healthy interactions between men and women.
The impacts on Gregg of his childhood sexual abuse have been severe. He has made multiple suicide attempts and had repeated admissions to psychiatric hospitals. He has been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, severe depression and panic attacks.
He’s lived on the street, in night shelters and in boarding houses and got stuck in a physically abusive relationship for many years, because ‘that’s all I knew – it felt normal’. During this time he developed a gambling addiction, which helped him block things out.
He receives counselling for that addiction, which is going well, and has become a Christian, which he said has helped him learn to forgive the people who hurt him. However he said what happened still affects him, and always will.
‘I want people who ran the homes to start taking responsibility … I want to see these people standing up and saying we did wrong by kids … They gave us a life sentence.’
Gregg doesn’t think he can be financially compensated for what he has lost. ‘How much are you going to pay me? What’s a child’s life worth? … I want my childhood back.’
He also said handing people a lump sum of money may not be the best way to help them, particularly people who are so damaged they have buried themselves in drink, drugs or gambling, like he did. He would rather see the government put systems in place to help state wards get back on their feet, get some training, or access medical help.
‘I’m not talking about giving us the world, I’m talking about giving us basic things that so many people take for granted.
‘You treated us like absolute scum, you bashed us, you raped us, you did everything to us, you took our dignity, you took our pride, everything. You stripped us bare … and I think, “When are they going to start giving us some sort of dignity?”’