Harvey Martin's story

Harvey was still an infant when he and his older siblings were removed from their grandmother’s care and made wards of the state. He doesn’t know much about his parents or his early years in care, and was separated from his brother and sister.

As a very young child in the mid-1960s Harvey was placed in a Catholic orphanage in regional Victoria, which was run by the Christian Brothers. Each Brother carried a heavy piece of wood wrapped in leather, with which they would belt the boys for even minor misdemeanours. He remembers having red marks and welts on his body from these beatings, and thinks he received more severe punishments for being Aboriginal. ‘I’d cop it badder than other kids being the colour I are.’

The Brothers and other kids would make fun of his skin. ‘They mentally abuse you by doing stuff like that ... They try and take the black out of you to make you white.’ He remembers once painting himself white ‘with old lead paint’ to look more like them.

When Harvey was around nine years old he was sexually abused by Lee Newman, the son of their dormitory manager Mrs Newman. Lee was in his twenties and lived upstairs in the dormitory, going out during the day.

One night Lee came to Harvey’s bed and told him to come upstairs. When they were alone in a room he offered Harvey a dollar to fondle his penis. This happened at least two or three times. ‘He just said, “Don’t tell anyone”.’

A short while after this Harvey was summoned to the head Brother’s office and questioned about Lee. ‘I didn’t know what was going on, he started asking me questions.’ Thinking he would be in trouble and get a beating he did not disclose the abuse. Soon afterwards the Newmans left and he did not see them again.

Harvey stayed at the orphanage until his mid-teens. ‘When I got out ... I didn’t know any blackfellas, I didn’t even know my own sister.’ He then made contact with his siblings and found out about his country, spending some time with his Aboriginal family.

Although he felt accepted by his immediate relatives, he did not feel the wider community accepted him as he did not grow up there. ‘Because you never lived there it’s like you’re not part of their family thing ... Us people who have been taken and try and get back, then getting door shut in your face by your own mob.’

This was very difficult for him and he has spent most of his adult life in Melbourne, including time on the streets where ‘I feel accepted ... It was like the people I was meeting were in the same position as I was, it was like we all been abused ... We do everything, we look after each other’.

When he was 15 years old Harvey told his friend about Lee, as this boy had also been sexually abused in another institution. Later he told his wife, and then his children when they became adults.

He did not report to police, but recently received a phone call from an officer in a sexual assault unit asking him about his experiences at the orphanage. At this point he did not wish to discuss it, but may consider doing so in the future.

Harvey always tried to teach his kids the value of family. ‘That’s one thing I wanted to do for my children ... Show ‘em the things what I didn’t have, and just show them that you got a family, always stay together and be strong and respect each other, and don’t abuse people.’

His wife has been a consistent source of support over their three decades together. ‘I got a strong woman, a very strong woman. We’ve both been through hell with it and back ... She’s had a hard life, that’s why we stick together like glue. We didn’t want our kids to go through what we went through in our lives.’

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