Herbert Arthur's story

Herbert’s violent father deserted the family in the mid-1950s. His mother moved them to Sydney but she struggled to provide for her large number of children. When he was six years old Herbert and most of his siblings were taken by state welfare workers and placed into care. Herbert began a childhood blighted by physical and sexual abuse in a string of boys’ homes across New South Wales.

Herbert was put to work every day during his first placement at a cottage-based institution in the Southern Highlands. He was sexually assaulted ‘twice a week for six months’ by a man who molested him while Herbert was on his knees scrubbing the floor.

‘After a couple of months I started kicking out, trying to get him off me, you know’, Herbert told the Commissioner. ‘And they shipped me out.’

Herbert spent nearly four years at a home in the Blue Mountains. Here he was sexually abused by the superintendent, starting on day one. ‘The same happened in there. He took me and gave me six of the best with the cane and then he did what he did.’

While in this home Herbert excelled at sport. One day at a local oval he was suddenly hugged by a large woman. It was his mother, who had been looking for him. Herbert would not see her again for many years. He learnt as an adult that she had kept searching for him, but Herbert believes he was deliberately moved to a different institution whenever his mother came close to locating him.

He began running away from the homes, hoping to reunite with his mother in Sydney, but not really knowing how to find her. He was always picked up by police and returned to care. ‘After what happened I didn’t trust anyone.’ Herbert never told the police what he was going through in the homes.

Herbert was sent to one institution on the Central Coast where his time was filled breaking rocks. Herbert ran away again and lived for months on the streets before being picked up and placed with a very strict foster family. Herbert disliked this placement almost as much as the institutions.

In his late teens Herbert was sent to a boys’ home in Northern New South Wales. This was the worst of them all. ‘It’s like walking from this world into another world that’s going four times faster. And you do everything at quadruple time, and all army style.’

The place was run along military lines with strict discipline, regular inspections and parade ground drills. The staff were all brutal. The supervisor was Mr Carlton. ‘Every bloke that went to his office, when they came out their hands were like golf balls.’

Mr Buckley was ‘about 20 stone’. ‘He used to bash you with a chair, not for any particular reason or anything.’

Herbert was sexually abused by an officer named Dennis Pratt. As a punishment the boys were locked in a solitary confinement cell they called the ‘black hole’. ‘One night I woke up in the black hole and he was helping himself to me …

‘I was in the black hole for a week and Pratt came up every day … I was 17, but I couldn’t fight him off.’

Herbert was trapped in the home for nine months. ‘The other things that went on you just don’t want to know about. It was a hell hole.’

At 18 Herbert finally returned to his mother and his many siblings. ‘You can’t be separated for 10 years, 15 years, and then come back and expect to be a normal family.’ By this time Herbert had serious anger management problems as well as trust issues.

‘I wasn’t brought up; I was bashed up. That’s the only way I can explain it.’ His time in the homes taught him how to fight, which landed Herbert in trouble as often as it has saved him. Although he worked hard over the years in various building trades and operated heavy machinery, Herbert was also involved in crime and spent time in prison.

‘I hate society, and I hate politicians … if I had cancer and I knew I had three months to live I’d go and shoot the bloody lot of them, that’s how much I hate them …

‘I never bought a newspaper in my life. I don’t want to know what’s going on out there, until it comes into my world.’

Herbert has never had counselling and had not revealed his childhood sexual abuse to anyone until his approach to the Royal Commission. ‘I was married 22 years and I’ve never spoken to no one about it in my whole life.’

Despite his problems Herbert’s children have all done well in life. Herbert remains in contact with them and takes joy in his grandchildren. Though he has tried to suppress memories of his past, these days they are never far away. Niether is Herbert’s anger.

‘Every time I see [my grandkids] I think back to what happened to me – gotta say if someone touched them, I’d kill ’em.’

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