Herb’s father worked on the railways, or took on any job he could get, to look after his wife and large number of children. The family was always on the move, travelling around New South Wales, often living in their car, or in tents.
Eventually, some of Herb’s siblings were adopted out and he and others were placed in care. In the mid-1950s, when he was five, Herb spent two years in foster care and he told the Commissioner that he knows that at some stage he was in a receiving centre that was ‘pretty bad’, but he cannot remember much about it.
When he was 14, Herb was sent to a children’s home. He was poorly treated there, so he ran away. After a few months on the run, his father made him surrender himself to a juvenile detention centre that was ‘bad’. ‘They broke me wrist … one of the big kids done that. I was molested there, the first day I surrendered meself.’
On his arrival at the centre he was ordered to change his clothes. An officer took him and ‘stripped me off and touched me all over and everything else, and I never told anybody’. Herb was also sexually abused by other boys at the detention centre.
When three boys hit an officer with an iron bar and tried to escape, Herb was blamed because of his previous escape from the children’s home. He couldn’t understand why he was being blamed, and asked why he would try and escape when he’d surrendered himself in the first place.
The officers didn’t like him talking back to them, so he was subjected to ‘the silent treatment’ until he was sent to another detention centre, where he was again sexually abused. ‘One night, someone molested me while I was in bed and I never told anybody, but I don’t know if it was one of the inmates or the warden, to tell you the truth, but he was a mean man.’
The officer who molested him at the first centre was friends with the ‘mean’ officer at the second centre, so when Herb was playing sport one day, ‘they jumped on me collarbone and then I tried to get out of the game … and [the officer] tried to push me back on the field … [It] just happened that the local nurse was there and she said … “No, he’s not going back on” and they sent me to the hospital’.
When he was back at the centre, the officer tried to make Herb make his bed, but it was difficult for him with the use of just one arm. When the officer pushed him hard on his injured collarbone, another officer saw, and asked what was going on. This officer took Herb to his office and told him that it wouldn’t happen anymore. He never saw the abusive officer again.
After spending three or four years in the army, Herb married and had children and did quite well in the workforce, but the abuse he experienced had an impact on his adult life ‘a fair bit. I used to keep it to meself … I discussed it with one of me sisters who’s a social worker … but as far as I really … I did tell me wife once, but she just didn’t know what to say I suppose’.
As an adult, Herb thought about the abuse all the time. When he was in his 50s, he was diagnosed with major depression and was feeling suicidal, but instead of taking medication for it, he turned to alcohol. He is now dependent on both alcohol and marijuana.
He moved to the bush and is now cared for by one of his brothers. He used to be a people person, but ‘I’m a loner now’.
Herb told the Commissioner, ‘a duty of care they had. They were supposed to be looking after me … not going breaking me wrist, breaking me collarbone and whipping me round’.
Herb came to the Royal Commission after he saw information about it on his computer one day and saw ‘kids telling their story and I said, “I should do that” and when I looked right into it … and how to do it, I said, “Well, I’m getting to the age … that I’ll tell it now or it’ll never be told” … People like to get it off their chests’.