Henri was born the youngest of seven to a violent father who regularly beat the children and their mother. In Perth in the early 1960s, when Henri’s mother became seriously ill, he and his siblings were placed in state care. ‘I became a ward of the state at one years old … ‘cause my mum couldn’t look after the whole seven of us ... Mum used to get all the belting from my dad. A lot of belting.’
As a young child with an intellectual disability, Henri was moved around various different facilities. One of the first children’s homes he was sent to was run by the Christian Brothers. While living in this home Henri had to perform hard labour and was regularly punished for the slightest misdemeanour. He was also sexually abused by one of the Brothers and an older child.
‘I remember one day in [the home] I got the cane for doing something wrong … I used to get a lot of canes. And one kid … he says “Come with me” so I went with him. And then he did it to me. But he was only [a kid]. But I couldn’t tell Brother Hanley, ‘cause if I told Brother Hanley I would’ve got the cane …
‘And then Brother Maguire took me into the room … Then he pulled his cock out in front of me and then he kept playing till they knocked on the door, and then he put me in the cupboard.’ Henri never told anyone about the abuse at the home for fear of further punishment.
In between children’s homes Henri was returned to his parents, where his father continued to physically abuse him. ‘Half of the time I was in and out … At that time when I was a kid I used to get belted from my dad. Go back in the home, get the cane again. All through my life in my childhood, getting beltings, beltings and beltings.’
At 12 Henri was sent to a state-run facility for children with intellectual disabilities. One of the supervisors, Robert Castle, used his position to arrange for Henri to be alone in the shed, the store room or the shower block where he would rape him.
Castle would also try to force Henri to have sex with other boys at the home. On one occasion, Castle raped Henri while forcing him to rape another boy who had such a profound intellectual disability he could not even speak or ‘mumble’.
Castle was not the only staff member to abuse children at the home. Another man once forced Henri to perform oral sex when he was 13.
During this time, a boy in the home who was aware of the abuse suggested Henri run away. He agreed and ran to the police station where he reported the abuse. Although the police were nice to him, they did not take his complaint seriously and returned him to the home where Castle was waiting.
Castle continued to abuse Henri until he returned to live with his parents at the age of 16. It was around this time that Henri received his pensioner concession card. A doctor in the city gave him an examination which revealed severe damage to his anus requiring medical attention, resulting from years of abuse.
His disability combined with a poor education meant Henri had to teach himself basic life skills to survive. Over the years he’s found it difficult to find employment but gets by on his disability support pension and casual work.
‘I had to look after myself, be my own independent. I do my own cooking. I haven’t got nobody to look after me … I was brought up too fast. I had to come a man at the age of 13. I had to come a man. I had to learn how to swim. I got chucked in the river ... I was only nine years old. Got chucked in the river. I had to learn to swim. I had to learn how to ride a pushbike.
‘I had to teach myself. Mother couldn’t teach me how to ride a bike. I taught myself. I even taught myself how to drive a car ... Well, I haven’t got a licence but I can drive a car. I can drive a motorbike. I taught myself. Nobody didn’t teach me nothing.’
Henri’s parents have since died and he has little contact with his siblings. He never married and lives alone with his dog, whom he loves like a best friend. He never disclosed the abuse to his parents but recently made a statement to the police in spite of being intimidated by them. ‘I get a little bit scared of them. I don’t know why.’ He has yet to hear back regarding his report, but he has obtained his welfare records and is currently working through them.
Even though his brother lodged an application with Redress WA and encouraged him to do the same, Henri never sought compensation, believing no amount of money could compensate for the abuse he suffered.
‘I’ve been traumatised the rest of my life. I can’t get out of my head. I never can. I never can get out of it. I never will.’
Henri enjoys listening to music and spending time with his dog, and has benefitted more recently from support from Relationships Australia. Nevertheless, he has frustration over his past and concerns about his future.
‘Why did it have to happen to me? Why me? ‘Cause I was a little boy who became a ward of the state at the age of one years old … I didn’t ask to go into a home. I got forced to by the court, became a ward of the state at the age of one years old right to the age of 18. I wasn’t my mum or father. None of them were. I didn’t have no respect from no-one.
‘I just wonder what’s gonna happen in the future, what’s gonna happen to me in the future?’