Close

Irwin's story

‘The disasters of the past can’t be fixed and the results of that disaster, that’s something I can’t ever fix … It took me a long time to recover my mental health. This is the first time I’ve ever been able to tell anybody about these things.’

Irwin came to the Royal Commission to talk about the sexual abuse he suffered in a juvenile justice facility in Melbourne in the 1960s, after he was placed there by the family doctor.

‘My parents, particularly my mother, were both afflicted with serious lifelong psychiatric illnesses requiring multi periods of psychiatric hospitalisation …

‘I understood this. I took up listening to classical music, I went on bike rides, just to avoid their on and off clashes. They never ever did anything wrong to me. It was between both of them. There was no abuse from my parents to me …

‘In August … my parents were again certified and both admitted to separate mental hospitals … Doctor McMahon took me to his house and then a fortnight later he said that “You’ll have to come with me” and took me on a trip via the children’s court and I waited in his car for quite a long time. He came back out and said, “All right” and then he drove me and … I ended up at the doorstep of [a] prison. I’d never heard of the place before. And he said to me as I was getting out of the car, “I’m sorry Irwin, you’ll only be here a fortnight. I’m sorry.” And I thought, “Well, it’s just a fortnight”.

‘I walked in the door and a man at the reception, first thing he said to me was “What are you in for?” What am I in for? Nothing. And then he responded to me, I can’t forget the words, he said to me, “You’re conning me”. I said, “No I’m not. I haven’t done anything”. ’Cause they’re just used to getting these criminals from out the back of police wagons. But I was delivered, special delivery. Irwin got specially delivered into what proved to be a living hell that I never recovered from …

‘To avoid anything like a prison like that, I would have worked two jobs. I was really eager to work. I was. And I was supporting my parents anyway, I supported both of them with income …

‘I had to witness pornographic exhibitions in that remand section, such as boys masturbating in front of me. At 14 I got a shock and a half. And the warders didn’t blink an eye …

‘The boys in the place went on a rampage. I got raped. All the boys were running around all the rooms naked, stark naked, and I had a youth on top of me ripping my pyjamas off, demanding anal sex … I was just, at 14, I couldn’t take it …

‘I was so shocked I didn’t say anything. I said nothing at all. I was stunned. And then that section was closed down completely and I was moved … I could hear boys getting bashed up in their beds at night and screaming. These kingpins they called them went around bashing up kids in their beds. Older ones. And then it came my turn and I just, I went to the warder and said you’ve got to get me out of here. I was really breaking down. I was having a breakdown with the situation. I was terrified …

‘At the hostel the director of the children’s welfare department of Victoria came along when I was 17 and a half, after spending two and a half years there, and he just came to my room and looked at the copy of the Beethoven’s number five, and then he said to the matron I shouldn’t be here in this place. He just had me released, just like that …

‘I had a breakdown … it was the isolation. After the hostel I lived by myself from 17 and a half until I had the breakdown, I lived in isolation. And then the worst came …

‘My mental health deteriorated. I tried to claw it back then it went downhill again … I spent a few decades in Victoria just convalescing and trying to piece myself back together again. It’s been a long, long struggle. I’m 67 and I’m only now coming back to life … The thing is that if I would have had a chance to have a life when I was a youth, if all these things didn’t happen to me, I would have had progress in my life but unfortunately it’s only come recently.

‘If someone has committed a crime I feel that they know they’ve done the wrong thing and … they have to be punished. I feel that is justice. But if a person has done nothing at all, even if it’s a health issue, young people shouldn’t be just thrown into prison.

 

‘I’ve had to cover up these things with nearly everybody, what I’m saying to you today. My relationships with any women, I’ve had to do all sorts of things, say that my parents died. I could never discuss the detention. I couldn’t say, I couldn’t breathe a word of that. I did say to a few people and they couldn’t believe it. They couldn’t. And that’s a long time ago, decades …

‘My wife is very supportive … I married late, when I was 36. We don’t have any children. About 30 years we’ve been married. And I’m just a human being that believes in doing the right thing and I’ve never been able to tell people, like I’m telling you, what happened to me.

‘I taught myself to play the piano … I went to classical music because I was a more serious sort of human being. I went to classical music because the joy was within you, it resonated. I just love classical music because it provides a companion in life for me.’

Content updating Updating complete