Hollis was part of a large, very poor family living in outback New South Wales in the mid-1940s. According to his welfare file, he and his siblings were taken into care due to ‘inadequate accommodation’.
‘Back in those days I didn’t think much of it but it’s only afterwards that things sort of come to you, you know. Why did they do it to me … took me away from my brothers and sisters, my mother and father, my aunts and uncles … that was the hardest thing.’
He was a ward of the state for almost 12 years. ‘I never saw my father again because he died when I was 18’, Hollis said.
Around the age of 10 he was put into a government-run boys’ home in the southern highlands, a place where there was little education but lots of punishment. ‘Being in the home you were only taught to do what you were told. If you didn’t do what you were told you got the cane so you didn’t argue the point much.’
A year later, after being moved to a home a few hours out of Sydney, Hollis was sexually abused by an older boy.
‘Was only the one time. I didn’t report it … but they must have got word of it somehow because it wasn’t long after that they moved him on.
‘I didn’t go to the police, I didn’t tell anybody. I was too ashamed, I suppose. That’s what I felt, you know.’
In the mid-50s Hollis was moved again, this time to a boys’ home on a farm, where he was told that he was useless and would never amount to anything. He remembered having to work ‘12 hours a day, seven days a week’, sometimes lugging 180-pound bags of wheat.
‘When I went to [the farm] I weighed seven stone, five ounces. I think when I left there I weighed 12 stone.
‘They kept me under their control till I was 21. My father wanted me to come home when I was 15, but I didn’t know this at the time.
‘But … they said he was too violent, he was a drunk, he’s a violent person, and wouldn’t let me go home.
‘I didn’t sort of realise till later on that they were using me.’
Soon after leaving the farm Hollis met his future wife, Elizabeth. ‘She completely turned things around’, he said. ‘I think mainly why I got on so well was her parents, uncles and aunties, they were great people ... and I had a family.’
‘My mum loved him’, Elizabeth said.
When Hollis spoke to the Commissioner, Elizabeth was with him, as she has been for almost 60 years.
He believes that the sexual abuse had little impact on him. ‘I just kept to myself. I did think about it sometimes and … I never let it get in my way or anything.’ But Elizabeth saw its effect, when Hollis would get moody or angry, and sometimes go for weeks without talking.
For six decades he never spoke about what happened to him. But recently, Hollis was finally able to tell Elizabeth about the homes.
‘Now he’s starting to talk about them and I think that’s helped’, she said.
‘I didn’t understand before but I do now.’
For Hollis, coming to the Royal Commission wasn’t about his abuse. ‘It’s in the past, you can’t do anything about it, just get on with your life.
‘But we might be able to change someone else’s, stop it happening to someone else.’
His recommendation was simple. ‘Not to split families up, that’s the main thing.’