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Iain's story

When eight-year-old Iain was on the ship taking him from Britain to Australia in the 1950s, he asked someone what language Australians spoke. He didn’t know anything about where he was going, just that he’d be riding a horse to school every day and that it would be a huge adventure.

There were mysteries back in England as well. Iain was not an orphan but he didn’t know his parents. He still doesn’t really know why his mother gave him up or who his father was.

Iain’s glowing vision of Australian life faded quickly. He was sent to a Catholic institution in a small Western Australian town where he was soon told by the Brothers that no one wanted him, that he was useless and that he would amount to nothing. He heard this message again and again over the years, like a mantra. Iain says this psychological abuse affected him deeply.

‘All day, every day … You don’t get over it, no way in the world.’

Three years later, when Iain was 11, the abuse by the Brothers became sexual. One night one of the Brothers came to his bed in the dormitory, put his hands under the blankets and started fondling him until he got an erection. Then he left. Iain was completely confused. The same Brother came back a week later and tried to do it again. This time Iain told him to ‘fuck off’.

He reported the abuse to two other Brothers but they told him he was a liar. He saw the same Brother abuse another boy. The following year he saw a child his age having sex with a much older boy. He realised that sexual abuse was happening all around him.

‘We were abused sexually, physically, psychologically and nobody cared. We used to tell people about it and we were the worse for mentioning it, you know? “Fancy saying that about the Christian Brothers. You ought to be ashamed of yourself”.’

‘I often thought the only reason we’re still in the home is because we were a meal ticket for them. They were getting money from the government to look after us and from the Catholic Church as well. So they were all living high on the hog while we were down here ...’

The abuse continued even when Iain was sent to live with a family for a two-week holiday. The wife sexually abused Iain but under threat from her he didn’t report it.

When Iain was 14 he was sent to work on a farm outside the home. ‘Up in the morning at five, finish work at seven and they paid you bugger-all.’

He suffered incredible hardship there. The kids worked seven days a week and were given very little. Iain worked at the piggery and often stole the pig food for himself because he was so hungry.

It was basically slave labour, Iain said. Other kids worked cleaning and painting and building. ‘And if you didn’t do it, you got a hidin’.’

When Iain left the home he was determined to get on with his life and put the brutality behind him. Work was a saviour for him and there was lots of it back then.

But even though he tucked it away and didn’t turn to drugs or alcohol, the early damage had left its mark. Iain got married and had children but struggled socially with people who weren’t family.

He didn’t know who he was, or even if his name was real. He worked where he could be alone and not have to talk.

Years later, when he was in his 50s, Iain’s life changed radically. He discovered that he had two brothers and other close relatives in the UK. He went over to meet them.

‘I came to realise that I was somebody … There were other people apart from me that were thinking about me, you know? ... There were all these people in England.’ Iain gets a free airline ticket every two years to visit his step-brothers as part of the UK redress scheme for child migrants.

Iain says it’s in his DNA to survive and move forward but he still struggles socially and he still has a lot of things ‘built up’ in him that he can’t bring out.

‘I look back and think, if I’d had a proper family what could I have achieved? … They put this feeling into you that you’re useless.’

Iain’s hopes for the Commission were, ‘Just recognition that we’re here … All us kids have gone through all this, and for somebody to do something … Everybody’s sort of sticking it in the too hard basket’.

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