James told the Commissioner that ‘I gotta be on my own’. This is why he lives in a caravan park, and not with Mandy his partner of almost 40 years. Mandy was still a teenager when she met James in the 1970s. Then in his 20s, he readily admits that she rescued him.
‘I didn’t know anyone who was straight; all I knew was other criminals, that’s it, you know. And she come into me life and then all of a sudden I just stopped. I just stopped doing what I was doing.’
Mandy persuaded him to move with her to country Victoria for a new beginning. ‘Then I started to meet people that had families. Then we had a child.’ James watched and learned, doing what those around him did. ‘That’s how I survived. Just followed what these others are doing with their kids, their families, and just do the same thing.’
James’ own experience of family life didn’t offer anything he wanted to replicate. He was the oldest child of parents who were ‘hopeless’. As a very young boy, James appeared in court to face charges of breaking and entering and stealing. ‘All I was stealing was food because I wasn’t getting fed at home.’ He was made a ward of state the following year, and placed in a government-run boys’ home in an outer Melbourne suburb.
‘I just couldn’t handle it’, James told the Commissioner. He was a bedwetter, and in his new environment the problem worsened. His nose was rubbed into the wet sheets as punishment, and he was picked on by other boys and the staff.
After being punished for bedwetting, James would run away and live on the streets until he got picked up again – a pattern that continued for more than a decade. Before he’d reached his teens, James was appearing in children’s courts in Melbourne and Geelong on charges that included breaking and entering, and arson. The magistrates never asked why he was running away. They just sent him back to the home.
‘And that was it. I’d get back, I’d get the strap, I’d get punished, I’d get a week doing domestic duties on my hands and knees mopping the floor … Then off I’d go again.’
At the home, James met Barry Kinter, an officer who was sympathetic and kind to him. Kinter gave him cigarettes and other little gifts, and told James that when he got married he would adopt him. ‘I thought that’s okay. I didn’t realise what he was up to.’
Kinter stayed in touch with James when he left to work at a youth training centre. He invited James out at weekends, and ‘started to play around’.
On their first outing, Kinter collected James from the home and took him to a drive-in movie. As soon as the movie began, he undid James’s trousers and molested him. ‘I didn’t know what to do. I just sat there watching the picture … I couldn’t do anything.’ Afterwards, Kinter apologised.
On the frequent outings that followed, James took one or two other boys with him, on Kinter’s advice. It was Kinter’s way of making sure he didn’t have the opportunity to assault the boys, James explained. The outings continued for a couple of years, until supervisors at the home put an end to them. James is sure they knew Kinter was a paedophile.
James continued to abscond from the home, so Kinter’s house became a place he’d visit when he needed respite from life on the streets.
‘I’d be on the streets for a couple of days, then I’d need something to eat or a shower, so I’d go around – he’d only cuddle me and kiss me, like he’d throw his tongue down me fuckin’ throat. I couldn’t really do anything.’
Eventually, James was moved to another home. There he was raped by a boy his own age. He didn’t report the assault. He didn’t report Kinter either.
Years later, when James and Mandy went to visit Kinter, they found he had a 14-year-old boy staying with him. Kinter told them a story about how the boys’ parents were having problems, so he was looking after the boy at weekends – taking the pressure off. ‘Mandy’d think, “He’s marvellous”. And I’m going, “No, he’s fuckin’ not”.’
James didn’t tell Mandy the truth about Kinter, and still hasn’t. Before coming to the Commission he had spoken of the abuse only to an Aboriginal legal service, and to the lawyers they referred him to. The lawyers sought compensation on his behalf and he was awarded a small sum – of which half went on legal fees. He has never had counselling and doesn’t plan to; he prefers alcohol and marijuana – ‘That’s what I use to cope.’
James didn’t get an education. He was sent to technical college at one point, but didn’t last long. ‘I couldn’t do the work. I didn’t know what they were talking about in the class.’ He’d go in the morning, hide out during the day and turn up in the afternoon for the bus ride back to the home. After a while he was expelled.
James has had unskilled work for years, but is now on a disability pension. He plans to have another go at seeking compensation, and hopes to be awarded a sum that will allow him to buy Mandy a house.
‘I can’t give her anything else. I can’t give her me, for instance. I haven’t been able to give her me. That’s what really hurts … I just prefer to be on me own. It’s sad, but, you know, I get pissed off when I go up there [to Mandy’s place], because I’ve given her nothing in 30 years, I’ve given her nothing but she still has me around.
‘She’s there still waiting, and I’m still there not giving.’