Ian was seven years old in the early 1960s when he was made a ward of the state and sent to a state government boys’ home in South Australia.
There, he encountered physical, emotional and sexual abuse from the time he arrived until he was 16.
Physical punishment was routine. ‘The cruellest people I ever came across were in that place. One of them, Kennedy, used to carry a stick around. I once went to get more breakfast and he gave me three canes each side of my hand, because I’d wanted more. It was just like Oliver Twist.’
Ian told the Commissioner that Blackett, another of the men in charge, was the main perpetrator of sexual abuse. ‘He had a shed and it happened there. And when I was in the sick bay too, he’d come in at night. By the time he’d finished, I’d be in the foetal position on the floor, bleeding like hell, crying my eyes out.’
Ian doesn’t know if any of the other boys were sexually abused. They didn’t talk about it.
‘A welfare officer used to come, and there was a nurse, but no one owned up to anything. It was because of fear. I used to shake. I had no idea what to say.’
He says the fear has stayed with him nearly all his life. ‘The stigma, the terror, the horror and nightmares, I’d wake up with scratches all down my face.’
Ian absconded often from the boys’ home. He lived on the streets without support and on a couple of occasions tried to reconnect with his family. Each time, however, his father’s violence drove him out. At 16, he said, he was admitted to a psychiatric facility where he was drugged and raped. Although he was seeing a psychiatrist every second day, Ian didn’t feel like he could disclose the sexual abuse. Later, when he tried to report it, he was told the perpetrator had dementia and was too old to face criminal charges.
Ian also went to the police to make a complaint against Blackett. He was told Blackett couldn’t be prosecuted because two cases regarding him had already gone before the courts and ‘the defendants fell apart’. Ian told them, ‘Look at me. I’m not going to fall apart’. The matter wasn’t taken any further.
Ian’s had a lot of medical problems as a result of the sexual abuse he experienced, including needing multiple operations on his bowel to repair the physical damage. He has attempted to take his own life numerous times and has experienced ongoing mental health issues that he likens to a soldier returning from war. He smokes heavily and describes himself as a functioning alcoholic.
Despite attaining an education only to the level of Grade 3, Ian built a successful company which he runs with his son. He describes his wife, Julie, as his rock. ‘Everything changed because of Julie and my children and grandchildren.’
He recognises the many ways he’s been over-protective of them over the years, and says he was the one who enforced the rules. ‘The bad cop to Julie’s good cop.’ He has told them about the abuse and is proud and happy that he enjoys a good relationship with all his family. He’s also grateful for his faith in God, which he says has saved his life.
Ian is concerned that lasting changes still need to be made into the way child abuse is recognised and reported. He wants to see practical ways to increase understanding, such as educating children from pre-school age. He also wants to see a meaningful scheme of compensation. Most of all he wants the perpetrators held accountable. ‘As victims we have to go over and over it again. In my case, for more than 50 years.’