Harold John's story

When Harold’s parents divorced in the mid-1950s, he and his brothers ended up in a children’s home in an outer suburb of Melbourne. Harold was seven at the time. He lived at the home until he was 16, when he got a job and was moved to a boys’ hostel.

The children’s home was a harsh and violent place. Harold recalled a boy soiling his pants and having his face rubbed in the excreta. Kids were regularly beaten. ‘It was awful to see your brothers get a flogging and you couldn’t do anything about it – that was the trouble. And vice versa.’

Sexual abuse was widespread. ‘You could be walking down the hallway and you’d have one of those mongrels just preying on you, waiting for you to come down the hallway in the dark and they’d sort of just grab you and pull you round the corner or into a bedroom and things like that. And that did happen, that was quite common.’ At night, the door to the dorm would open and Reg Roberts, a staff member, would come in and go over to a bed. ‘You knew what was going on’, Harold told the Commissioner.

He recently obtained the records of his stay at the orphanage, as he wanted to know more about an incident that occurred when he was 12 or 13. The file was full and thorough in every respect except that one. ‘It had everything about all the years I was in the home – the only thing that’s not in it is that’, Harold said.

Harold was seeking more information about the sexual abuse he was subjected to outside the home. Boys were routinely sent to foster families for weekends. Sometimes it was a good experience. ‘This particular one, it was just something awful.’

It was the home of Tony and Susan Oliphant. Harold was sent there with a younger boy, Roger, who’d stayed with the Oliphants several times before.

‘This night we’d gone to sleep and of course I was woken by this bloke [Oliphant] having at my rear end. And I sort of woke and lay there just absolutely terrified. I couldn’t move.’ The next morning he asked Roger if Oliphant had done the same to him. ‘He said, “Yes, it’s happened before”. I said, “Why didn’t you tell me?” He said, “I’ve been too scared”’.

Oliphant sexually assaulted the boys again the following day. ‘He suggested we have a little nap in the afternoon before we headed back to the home … Exactly the same thing happened again. To both of us.’

After returning from the Oliphants, Harold didn’t know what to do. But after stewing over it for a week or so, he decided to tell a teacher he liked, Wilbur Jones. ‘He said, “Are you sure?’ I said, “Of course I’m sure, I’m sure it’s happened”.’

Reporting the abuse wasn’t enough to keep Harold safe. A few days later, he and Roger were sent back to the Oliphants for the weekend. Both boys were assaulted again. ‘The thing that disgusted me – we were sent back there. After telling them’, Harold said.

Harold again reported the assaults to Jones, who this time contacted police. Harold and Roger were interviewed, separately and together. It was an intimidating experience. ‘I was a kid, I didn’t know what they were talking about. It was just so embarrassing to sit there and look at them and not know what they were basically talking about, because they wanted to know every detail, understandably, and we told them.’

Harold and Roger didn’t go to the foster home again. As far as Harold knows, the police didn’t take any action against Tony Oliphant, who died some years ago. Harold hasn’t reported the abuse again and hasn’t thought about seeking compensation. He hasn’t seen a counsellor.

‘I’ve tried to handle it myself and that sometimes gets difficult. But I’m an outgoing sort of bloke and I’ve really tried – but every now then it bubbles up and bubbles up, and I might just be sitting at home with my wife or something and she’ll go “Are you all right? … So I don’t know whether I need help or whatever, I just want to handle it all myself, anyway.’

Harold has been happily married for many years. He met his wife through another of the families he had weekend placements with, ‘marvellous people that sort of took me in and was known as Mum and Dad to me. So I was one of the lucky ones’.

Harold said he has followed the work of the Royal Commission closely, and read the interim report. ‘Some of the stories in there – mine’s a piece of cake compared to some of those poor buggers. Look, they went to hell and back.’ One of his brothers, Richard, has recently submitted a compensation claim for abuse he suffered at the home. When Harold read his statement, it brought back painful memories. ‘It all keeps flooding back’, he said.

But with a successful working life, a long and contented marriage and ‘beautiful kids’, he feels he is generally managing well. ‘I’ve got out and had a bit of a dip in life’, he said. ‘I’ve made good – I’ve put everything behind me. I’ve tried to, anyway.’

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