Ian James's story

The first time Ian was found stealing a car, the police officer who caught him bought him a meal then called his dad and told him to come and fetch his son. When he was caught a second time, by a different police officer, the consequences were more serious. His dad told the officer that Ian was uncontrollable and he couldn’t look after him anymore.

‘The policeman came and told me you’re going to spend the rest of your life in jail getting fucked up the arse. To me that’s a pretty shitty thing to say to a 12-year-old kid’, Ian told the Commissioner.

It was the mid-1980s. Ian wasn’t sent to jail, but to a government-run training home for boys, in Melbourne. Looking back, he feels this was probably the best option for him at that point. ‘It’s been so many years that I’ve sort of worked it out in me own head, in a way. I’ve sort of come to the realisation that that was the best place for me at that period of my life.’

Boys at the training home lived in different units, mostly organised by age. Ian though found himself in a unit that included older boys. He believes it was mainly for kids who’d been sexually abused, and is not sure why he was placed there. The older boys would leave the institution for the day and return at night. In theory they were going to school – but, Ian said, ‘To me looking back now they were basically prostitutes’.

He described the culture in the unit as openly gay. ‘It was like a free love sort of thing. It was up and down all the rooms at night time, the staff member would sit in the office, he’d sit there with the light on so he couldn’t actually see out – and everyone would know when he’s coming, because he’d turn the light off. From what I saw in there, there was no forced sex – it was all if you wanted it; basically it was like that. That’s what I came in contact with.’

Ian remained at the home for some years. He ran away often. On one occasion he was picked up and returned by a known paedophile, who wanted to adopt him. When he was taken back to the institution after running away, he was physically abused by guards who were annoyed about the extra work his absconding caused them. ‘I’d already had plenty of floggings at home, so I was pretty used to it.’

He was also sexually abused but didn’t divulge the details of these experiences to the Commissioner.

Ian was eventually moved into another unit, in another part of the home. ‘It was a bit different there because they locked the doors. So people just weren’t wandering around everywhere. Yeah. [It] was all right. The boys were a bit bigger and a bit meaner but … There were some really good staff in there.’ He recalled excursions, and gifts of cigarettes. ‘In the end it kind of becomes your home.’

Throughout his time as a ward of the state, Ian was led to believe his mother had disappeared. But when he was placed in the care of a foster family, the file the social worker handed over to his foster parents contained an address for his real mother. ‘And [the social worker] said “We’ve had it on here the whole time. It’s been on his file the whole time”. I just want to know if that’s true, because I was told from day dot, “We don’t know where your mother is”.’

Ian has other questions he wants answered. As an adult, he obtained his welfare records, with the help of a law firm that was seeking compensation from the Victorian Government on his behalf. But much of the file was redacted. He would like to know what information was concealed, and why he wasn’t allowed to see it. The law firm didn’t pursue these questions, he said. Overall, he was disappointed with his legal representation.

‘It was a funny sort of a thing. At the end of it I sort of got the feeling that they were working for the government rather than for me. I don’t know why … I got $20,000 out of it, and signed a piece of paper to say that we admit nothing and you can’t come back at us again with any of this or anything like this.’

His lawyer told him he could reject the offer and ask for more, but Ian decided to settle. ‘It’s just the constant waiting and waiting, it just plays on your mind all day and all night, and in the end it was best just to get it over and done with.’

Ian ended up living with his mother for a while, in his late teens. But when he got into alcohol and marijuana she asked him to leave. As an adult he has spent much of his life in jail.

‘There’s been years and years and years of just homelessness - just rattling around doing burglaries, basically, just surviving … The only time I sort of go to prison was when I was tired and worn out from being out on the streets, and I’ve let myself get caught, basically, eventually.’ He is positive about his many interactions with police – they’re ‘excellent’, he said. ‘They’re a lot different now.’

His experiences at the boys’ home left him confused about his sexuality, he said. ‘[I] had to go through all the “was I gay”, “was I this”, “was I that”. … It’s also being attracted to children and younger people as well … It’s always there whether you’re acting on it or not.’ He has children of his own now, though his relationship with their mother has ended. He has had the opportunity to access counselling in prison but doesn’t feel he needs it.

‘I know myself pretty well and I’m starting to learn about the world too, what goes on. You try to be positive for the future – the only concern I have is leaving the kids behind; I feel concern for them but what can you do.’

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