Hughie grew up in Victoria in the 1980s. His father was emotionally distant and his mother ‘was very troubled’. When he was quite young his parents divorced and his mother remarried. Hughie did not get along with his stepfather, and so when he was approximately 10 years old he was placed in a boys’ home run by the Christian Brothers. ‘I’m not quite sure how to explain it. An expendable kid. I didn’t fit in with my mum and my stepdad.’
One of the careworkers at the home was Ronald Flake, ‘a nasty piece of work’ who ‘would have been in his 40s’. Ronald Flake worked a rotating shift. Sometimes he was there during the day, and sometimes at night.
Hughie had always had a rebellious streak. ‘I just stood up for myself. I was always brought up “got something to say, say it”. It’s just how I’ve been all my life.’ Ronald Flake did not take kindly to Hughie’s rebelliousness, and had violent methods for keeping him in line.
At first Ronald would physically abuse Hughie by beating him. ‘I don’t know how long after when I got there it just escalated. First time when I thought that was not right, they had cubicle showers … and I must have been mucking around or doing something and he came in and gave me a hiding. Dragged me out of the shower naked and gave me a hiding in front of everybody.’
‘The more I rebelled against him the worst it got … From dragging me out of the shower, to beat me, to beat me while I was in the room, to actually come into my room at night.’
Although all the boys at the home were afraid of Ronald Flake, sexual abuse was never discussed and to this day Hughie doesn’t know if he was the only boy abused or if there were others. ‘I thought it was just me because I was so rebellious. I stood up for myself. And the more I stood up for myself the worse it got.’
Ronald Flake abused Hughie regularly for about six months physically, sexually and psychologically. He would torture Hughie emotionally by saying ‘stuff like “no one’ll believe you, I’m the authority here. What I say goes” and make you feel like it was your fault’.
At the time Hughie had enormous respect for one of the Brothers at the home, Brother Singleton.
‘It had gone on for about a month and I didn’t know what to do. And I really liked and respected Brother Singleton … One day I said “Look I don’t want to go back to the place. I’m being hurt there”. And he didn’t believe me and that shattered me … He gave me a queer look and said something to the effect of “You sure you’re not just imagining this? Are you just being an attention seeker? Is this just a ploy to move into another unit, another house?” I denied it and said no. And that was it. That was the entire conversation.
‘I told my father and he didn’t want to know about it … I went there for a weekend visit, stayed home for the weekend and I said on Sunday “Look, I can’t go back. I don’t want to go back. I’m being hurt there”. And he said that he was getting into a new relationship with his new wife and he didn’t need this bullshit and grab my stuff and go … I was 11.
‘I went right into physical exertion. I went to the gym, I swum 40 laps of Olympic swimming pool every day. I surfed every day. I built my speed and I built my strength up to defend myself. I thought that’d be the only thing to do. If I could defend myself in a fight or anything I’d be safe.’
Eventually Hughie was moved to a different unit and Ronald Flake no longer had access to him. By that time, Hughie had developed a deep mistrust of authority. ‘I hated authority and I was very vigilant. And I still don’t sleep properly.’
Hughie left the boys’ home at 16, spent some time in a youth training centre and went hitchhiking around Australia. He got into trouble with the law, lived on the streets, got involved with motorcycle gangs, became addicted to drugs and alcohol, and has spent the past 15 years in and out of prison.
He suffers from anxiety and has trouble with relationships. ‘I’ve never really been open in a relationship or been able to talk to females. Like I’ve never been violent or anything like that, but it’s the emotional attachment that I’ve always pulled myself back from.’
Hughie has never sought compensation for the abuse or reported Ronald Flake to the authorities.
‘I could never face him … I hope he’s dead and God’s judging him.’
He has trouble talking about the abuse but has received counselling for his drug dependency while refusing to take anti-anxiety medication. ‘I treated my anxieties with drugs and alcohol for so many years … I spent 25 years on drugs. I want to spend the next 25 years without them.’
Hughie has children of his own and is committed to making them proud. ‘I’ve matured and I’m sick of being this angry person. I’ve got to set an example for my kids and I’ve got to do it for myself.’
Hughie and his mother have remained close and he recently developed a strong relationship with his stepfather. ‘We’re both growing up and he’s getting old and I love him to death now.’ His biological father has since died.
As a victim of child sexual assault, Hughie believes in ‘educating the people in authority to actually listen and believe when a kid reaches out, because it’s so hard for a kids to do that. And when they finally got up the guts to do it, to actually look into it. They could be saying something about your best friend but it has to be looked into. When I wasn’t believed I was devastated, I hated authority. I rebelled against it every chance I got. And that’s how I was until I was about 35’.
‘Ninety nine per cent of us have spent most of our lives rebelling against everything because we felt forgotten, we felt betrayed.’