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Harvey's story

Harvey was born in a Salvation Army hospital for unmarried mothers in Melbourne. It was 1930 and his mother was 16, with nowhere to live, no income and no family support. When he was one month old, Harvey was made a ward of the state under Salvation Army care. He didn’t see his mother again.

As a baby and small child he was looked after in various foster homes, returning to a temporary facility between each placement. Eventually he was sent to a Salvation Army boys’ home. He arrived there when he was eight and stayed until he was 14.

By the time Harvey arrived at the home, he was already showing the effects of a childhood spent moving between institutions.

‘You would say that you didn’t have any focus on life, because you didn’t know what was ahead of you and you didn’t like what was behind you. So you’d sort of be in no-man’s-land, and that’s how I felt.’

The boys’ home was very tough. Discipline was strict and physical, and psychological abuse part of the culture. Harvey remembered meal times, where the 150 or so boys had to eat in absolute silence. ‘If one talked he would be taken up to the top where the officers were, given the strap in front of the other kids, and then told what a useless piece of flesh you were and that your day would come – that you’d finish up in jail. That was your future.’

Help didn’t come from anywhere, he said. ‘If you were going to get a punch in the nose, you copped it … You didn’t have anywhere to run. There was no support, so you learned to be – what would you say? – streetwise. You had to be mighty cunning to survive. And as you got older, you had to be more cunning.’

When Harvey was about 11, he slept with about 20 other boys in one of two dormitories separated by a small bedroom for the officer on duty. The dormitories were locked at night. They shared a toilet but there was no hand basin, so if you were thirsty you had to drink from the cistern that supplied the urinal. It got very hot in the dormitories, Harvey recalled.

Between the ages of 10 and 12, Harvey was abused by several of the night-time supervisors. Other boys were as well, he recalled. ‘The officer would wait till everyone was asleep, and then he’d go and pat one of the beds. And that would be the victim’, he told the Commissioner.

Harvey described being taken into the officer’s bedroom. The radio was on, and he’d be given ‘a lolly or some bloody thing’. Forced masturbation and oral sex then occurred. ‘I can remember that you’re sort of frozen in fear … you couldn’t speak’, Harvey said.

‘Then [the officer] would say “Now, you go back to your bed. One word of this and you’ll be in big trouble.”’

Harvey was sexually abused in this way two or three times by one officer, and several times more by another. The boys were also abused in the showers by one of the staff working there. As he got older, it stopped happening.

‘Mostly they picked on the kids that were roundabout nine or 10. Because once you got to 13 or 14, you were starting to get a little bit more aggressive, and knowing what was right and what was wrong’, Harvey explained.

When he was 14, he was sent away to do farm work – long hours and meagre wages and under threat of being arrested as a felon if he ran away. He remained officially a charge of the home until he turned 18.

At that point, he told the Commissioner, he had very few options. He was too old to do an apprenticeship. He had no references. He had no information about his family. ‘The minute you said you come from a boys’ home, there was no way you could get a job in the bank’, he said. He tried to join the police force but was turned down because his feet were misshapen after years of being made to wear shoes that were too small.

Harvey worked on farms in Victoria and Queensland, and eventually settled in a small Victorian country town. He met his future wife there. ‘She was a turning point’, he said. ‘Got the hatred out of me, got me on the right track.’ Their very happy 42-year marriage ended in 1999, when she died of cancer.

Harvey never told his wife about the sexual abuse he’d experienced. He didn’t tell anyone until 2008, when he lodged a claim for compensation with the Salvation Army.

‘If I’d told anyone in those times, I’m afraid I wouldn’t be here talking to you today’, he told the Commissioner. ‘That is the truth. … If you’d gone to the police, you would have got a hiding there, and then you would have gone back to the home, and then you would have got another hiding there.’

And there was no one else he could tell. ‘I never had a visitor. Nobody ever came to visit me. I was there [at the home] with no outside contact. … Nobody came from the government or the Salvation Army to ask us how we were, or ask us if we were happy.’

Harvey’s claim was settled in 2010 with a payment of $37,000, of which around $10,000 went to lawyers. What he really wanted, he said, was a proper apology. The Salvation Army promised him that a representative would deliver an apology at the settlement meeting, but that person never turned up.

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