At the age of three, Iain and his siblings were ‘found on the streets of Fitzroy’.
The children were separated, with Iain and his sister being taken to an orphanage run by the Sisters of Mercy, while their brother was sent to a nearby Christian Brothers boys’ home.
Through the years of the 1960s that Iain remained in the orphanage, he didn’t ‘ever remember going to school in there. I can’t remember where the classroom is or even being in a classroom’.
In a written statement and in his private session at the Royal Commission, Iain recalled being ‘subjected to awful abuse at the hands of the nuns’ while he was in the home.
‘Throughout my time there, I was subjected to regular physical, sexual and psychological abuse and was exposed to much brutality. Because of this abuse and my anxiety, I was a bed wetter which caused me to get regularly into trouble with the nuns.’
Iain was also sexually abused by a person he suspects was a Christian Brother from the nearby boys’ home.
‘The male, he used to come through the dorms at night. I can’t identify that male ’cause it was at night. The only thing I could identify was what he was wearing was a long black robe ’cause where my bed was, was a large window similar to that, and the light shined in the window. That’s where I got the figure from, and he used to come in virtually a couple of nights a week and sexually molest me, and then go. And this went on for a couple of years.’
Iain was ‘too scared and anxious to divulge my secret to anybody at the orphanage for fear of retribution’.
He was already coming in for severe punishment for wetting the bed. This included being given a ‘belting’ by the mother superior and locked in a cupboard for hours, after which he’d be forced to wear girls’ clothing.
‘I was always told by these three nuns that I was born in the gutter. “You’re just a gutter boy”. I had that belief till I was – I still believe it till today.’
Were it not for his sister, Iain said ‘I suppose I wouldn’t be here now’. She protected him where she could, and though they lost contact for several decades, they recently reunited.
‘She always apologises to me. She thinks it’s her fault, but it’s not. She did her best.’
For several years from the age of eight, Iain spent time with a married couple during holidays. He remembered these periods as happy and would become distressed when it was time to return to the orphanage. The couple gave him new clothes which Iain would ‘never see again’ once he was back in his dormitory.
At one time the couple asked to adopt Iain, but were told it wasn’t permitted because he had parents. From the time he was taken into the orphanage he didn’t see or hear from his parents, but when he was about 12, they were asked to come and get him and his sister as the orphanage was closing down.
The children returned to parents they didn’t know, who were ‘alcoholics’ and ‘criminals’.
His sister, then aged about 13, ran away and a year later Iain did too. ‘I went back onto the streets, back to where I originally came from, which was Fitzroy. On the streets again, where it all started.’
For two or three years he lived on the streets and in the late 1980s spent about six months in jail. After his release he worked in various jobs but finding employment was then, and continues to be, difficult because of his lack of education.
In about 2010, Iain was trying to find photographs of himself from the time he was in the home. He was referred to a Catholic welfare agency and told them ‘general stuff’ about his childhood. They suggested he contact staff of Towards Healing to discuss receiving an apology and financial compensation.
When Iain went to the offices of Towards Healing, a mediator took notes and a subsequent meeting was arranged between Iain, another man and two nuns from the Sisters of Mercy.
‘They asked me my history and what I was doing now and my financial situation, which was non-existent. Virtually they said, “Well we’ll send you an apology”, which they did. They offered compensation of, first offer was a lawnmower. Serious. A lawnmower. Because I did a bit of gardening, ’cause I’d given my history. “To help you with your financial difficulty, we’ll offer you a lawnmower.” I laughed at that one, said, “Don’t insult me”. Then the next offer, they rang me: $2,000. I rejected that. They rang me again, and then my financial situation was just, [they] offered me $5,000 and at that time I had to take it ‘cause I needed it.
‘But when I made these statements with these so called Towards Healing, I wasn’t offered a counsellor. I asked if I could bring a lawyer. “No you’re not allowed to bring a lawyer. Not allowed to bring anyone to these interviews”.’
The apology, when it came, was written on a small piece of paper and was seen by Iain as ‘pathetic’.
Iain believed they were ‘more worried about paying me off to shut me up’, and that they knew he was in difficult financial straits and would ‘take what they offered’.
He didn’t ‘feel like there was anything achieved at all’ through the process. ‘My voice wasn’t heard. That’s why I’m doing it now, so someone can hear it.’
He described feeling guilty and depressed for years because of the abuse in the home. He has a dislike of authority figures, as well as problems in his personal relationships.
‘I’ve had female partners but coming down to the intimate parts, doesn’t work. I thought, nah. It’s the touching part, nah, impossible, can’t handle it. I’ve had probably three or four girls and it’s virtually the same so I’m a loner by myself and that’s the way I’m staying. I’ve always been by myself as far as I’m concerned, ’cause I lost me sister for probably 20 years.
‘Twenty years we had no contact whatsoever, didn’t know where each other were. But we’ve finally caught up somewhere along the line, not long ago, and me brother yeah, found him, he was virtually the same. I actually got a family, or some good family. A couple of nieces now, they’re real good, probably the only ones that got an education I think.’