Harold James's story

Harold never knew his biological parents. Born in the UK in the mid-1940s, he spent 12 happy years in a series of Barnardos homes. ‘Heaps of kids to play with’ he said. ‘Had a fabulous childhood there.’

Then one day some of the staff arrived with an offer that changed Harold’s life.

‘They came to us one day and said “We’re having a party go to Australia. Is there anybody interested in wanting to go to a party to Australia?” Well: a kid, a party. Who doesn’t want to go to a party?’

On the strength of this misunderstanding, Harold made it all the way to New South Wales where he was put into care in another Barnardos home. Very quickly Harold realised that this home was not at all like the ones he’d known in the UK.

‘When I asked if we are going to have our toys that were packed when we were in England … I was told that I was a little pommie bastard and nobody wanted us over there and nobody wants us over here.’

Punishment at the home was dished out by ‘a callous bastard’ named Peter Hinde. That punishment was always sexualised.

‘If we got into trouble we’d be sent upstairs and he’d bend you over and – “Drop your pants” – and he’d start squeezing your buttocks and that and then just when you think things are going to go away “Whack” you get hit with this size 11 sandshoe.’

Sometimes, in the midst of all the brutal physical and psychological abuse, Harold would encounter abuse of a quieter kind. This abuse was inflicted by a female staff member named Doreen. She would fondle Harold while forcing him to touch her breasts. Being stroked by Doreen one minute and bashed by Peter Hinde the next left Harold feeling ‘quite confused’.

Things didn’t get any better when Harold, now 16, moved to a different Barnardos home. Here he encountered housemaster Brian Fordham. ‘He would come to the toilets and he’d remove the louvres on the toilets and he’d ask us if we were going to masturbate and could he watch.’

Fordham would also take the boys out for driving lessons and use the opportunity to rub their thighs. Harold might have reported him if he’d had the chance but ‘he was the boss. Who do you report it to?’

Harold left the home when he was in his mid-teens and got a job on a farm. He was, however, still officially under the guardianship of Barnardos and so would check in every now and then with a Barnados officer named John Wallace. Arriving one day to report, he knocked on Wallace’s door then opened it.

‘Walked in, took one step and with that got one almighty punch in the face. What I did see was two sisters, their names were Thompson, the Thompson sisters, both completely naked and he was naked from his shirt down.’

Sometime later Harold left the home for good. He built a successful career, married, maintained an amicable relationship with his ex-wife despite their divorce and raised a confident, caring son who makes him proud.

He credits much of his success to the influence of Mary and Kevin McLachlan, the foster parents who cared for him on the weekends and holidays when he was a teenager. To Harold, Mary and Kevin will always be ‘Mum’ and ‘Dad’.

For most of his life Harold kept quiet about the abuses he’d witnessed and suffered. Then, when he was in his late 40s he received a phone call from Ben Thompson, brother of the two girls who had been abused by John Wallace. ‘He said to me, “Harold, did you see my sisters?” And I said yes.’ Harold relayed the incident he’d seen and also went on to tell Ben about some of his own experiences of abuse. It was the first time he’d mentioned them to anyone.

Wallace was charged with offences against the Thompson sisters. Harold testified. It was a crushing experience. ‘Barnardos had hired the best silks that money could buy. And I walked out of there feeling like absolute mud.’

Wallace was found guilty but the magistrate said that ‘because it was so long ago the public could not be served’ by sending him to jail.

‘He’d brought a letter from his doctor saying he didn’t have long to live. But then when we went outside the court, we were all shaking our heads wondering what the hell happened to us, this guy comes out in his wheelchair, hops out of his wheelchair, leaves the oxygen behind, goes down and jumps in this car.’

After that, Harold just wanted to move on and never speak of the matter again. But one thing held him back and motivated him to come forward to the Royal Commission.

‘I just get frustrated that I can’t just move on with it sometimes. I feel like I’d like it to just go away forever. I guess, because I remember this I haven’t let it go completely but I’ve sort of had that locked away in this little box in the back of my head, and if this hadn’t of come up and if I hadn’t spoken to some other people I may not have even bothered ringing up. But they said “Look, if you don’t, what’s going to happen to the kids in the future?”’

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