Herb Louis's story

‘I cannot remember a single happy moment during my time in these institutions, and I still bear the emotional and physical scars from my experience. Nightmares and flashbacks still occur regularly.’

Herb was sent to a youth training centre in Queensland in the late 1950s, ‘after being deemed a “juvenile delinquent”, and my single mother was no longer able to cope with me’. He was there for two years before being transferred to a boys’ home. Both institutions were run by the Salvation Army, and ‘one place was as cruel as the other’.

In a statement provided to the Royal Commission, Herb wrote, ‘during my time at [the youth training centre] I was subjected to physical, sexual and emotional abuse at the hands of several officers’.

One ‘used to come to my bedside … offering me treats before taking me to his room and locking the door, where he would fondle my penis, perform oral sex on me and sodomise me. I remember this happening on numerous occasions. The last time I was sodomised … was Christmas Eve’.

Herb was always frightened at night, because he never knew when this officer would be on duty. ‘Each time I was tempted by the treats and hoped that the sexual abuse would not follow.’

As well as the physical and sexual abuse the food at the centre was ‘condemned and rejected fruit, vegetables and bread destined for the piggery’, and occasionally, tainted meat. ‘After meals, we had to say … thanks for the “pig food”.’

Punishments were harsh and frequent. ‘They made you believe in Christ, whether you wanted to or not. You had to go up … and confess your sins in front of everybody. If you didn’t have any, you had to make something up. Then you got flogged for it. It’s ridiculous.

‘You had to pull your trousers and underpants down, bend over and they’d … [whack] into you until your backside was bleeding … They didn’t care … This occurred whenever we did anything deemed wrong, such as talking during meals and laughing while working in the piggery. I found this punishment to be particularly degrading and humiliating’.

When he was transferred to the boys’ home, Herb experienced no further sexual abuse, but the physical abuse ‘can only be described as unimaginable … I had many nights when I was unable to sleep due to the pain following the flogging’.

Herb ran away but he was caught and taken back by the police. ‘I should have stayed where I was, because of the beating I got when I got caught. The police said on the way back, “We’re going to look into this”, but they never did. Nothing ever happened.’

As well as the flogging for running away, Herb was ‘made to sit for two weeks in the courtyard in the hot sun on potato sacks … given no water and allowed off … only to go to the toilet … Each afternoon, the boys would return home from school and jeer and laugh’.

Boys at the home were not allowed to speak to girls at school, and they were flogged if anyone reported them for doing so. ‘For many years … I was unable to pluck up the courage to look at or talk to a girl … Subsequently, I have had trouble maintaining relationships with women.’ Herb has had multiple broken marriages and currently lives alone.

‘Christmas was always a problem for me … as this was such a traumatic time for me, and I was unable to explain this to my family. I suffer from extreme loneliness … I remain cautious of people and have no real friendships, only acquaintances.’

In the early 2000s Herb received a payment of $15,000 from the Salvation Army for the abuse he experienced in the two institutions. Out of the blue, in the mid 2010s, an officer phoned and said that they were going to give him an additional $80,000.

At the time he received the second payment Herb was ‘doing it tough’. He said, ‘I need some counselling. “Oh, yeah, we’ll arrange this. We’ll arrange that”, but they never did … They said that they will pay for any amount of counselling, all at their cost’, but he hasn’t heard back from them.

Herb told the Commissioner, ‘Whether it’s 80,000 or eight hundred thousand million, it’s not going to take away your memories. I will live with those till the day I die. And many, many, many times I thought of suicide. Many times’.

Herb is taking a range of medications to cope with his experiences and he is ‘no longer suicidal’. He now thinks, ‘you get knocked down, stand up again … It doesn’t take the memory away. No. When I was younger, my escape was in a bottle’. He has his drinking under control, and relies on his prescribed medication.

‘[Those places] can only be described as “hell holes” … My life at these institutions consisted of work, detention, abuse and fearing, both day and night. We were not allowed to be boys, and I feel that I missed out on my youth. The brutal punishment, pain, suffering, sodomy and inadequate food that I endured has scarred me for life.’

Herb said that he came to the Royal Commission because ‘I want to see justice done. I’ve waited a long, long time for this to happen … I hope that [the Royal Commission] will stem this abuse that’s not only in Australia, but worldwide’.

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