Jed was only four years old when he was sent to a government-run orphanage in rural Victoria. Still, he remembers the moment vividly. ‘I chased the taxi up the road’, he told the Commissioner.
What hurt the most, Jed said, was being separated from his siblings. Some were sent to live with relatives and some were sent with him to the orphanage, but he wasn’t allowed to associate with them.
After these initial traumas, Jed’s early years at the orphanage were bearable. Then in the late 1950s, when he was about nine years old, he was moved into the older boys’ section.
Over a period of about two years Jed suffered multiple attacks. One time three boys grabbed him in the toilet block and sexually abused him. Another time he came back from the toilet to find a boy in his bed. ‘He grabbed me and he put me head on him. I bounced out of bed and that was that.’
The worst offender was a boy named Len, who would wait in the toilet block at night and grab the younger boys. He got Jed three or so times in the block and once in a paddock.
There was also a staff member that the boys all distrusted. ‘He got me into bed and he tried to touch me’, Jed told the Commissioner. ‘And he put me hand on him. That was when I was about 11.’
Not long after this incident the staff member suddenly left the orphanage. Years later Jed ran into him. ‘I was still a bit green then. I was probably maybe 18. He just said, “The police said I couldn’t be around boys any more”. So I think I wasn’t the only one.’
By this stage Jed had been out of the orphanage for a year. He was working hard and drinking hard. ‘I was pretty haywire, pretty screwed up in the head.’ Alcohol was how he coped with the bad memories, but it also got him into fights, worsened his depression and kept him isolated. He didn’t talk about the abuse with anyone.
It was Jed’s hobbies that brought him out of this dark time. As a young man he started boxing at the local gym, getting his aggression out in a healthy way instead of brawling in the street. Then he started taking a day off work here and there to do painting lessons. Eventually this helped him to give up the drink.
‘I took on art and just found another way. I just didn’t have a lot of time for [the drink] because I’d wasted all those years.’
About four years ago Jed decided that he was ready to speak about the abuse. He mentioned it to his wife who was very supportive. Then he sought out a support group for people who grew up in orphanages and got some counselling through them.
Jed also contacted a lawyer who helped him make a claim for compensation. It ended up being a long, drawn-out and confronting process. Jed said that the lawyers for the other side were hostile and at one point when he described being attacked by Len they implied that the incident was his fault, saying ‘You shouldn’t have been in the paddock’.
In the end Jed received about $19,000 after legal fees were taken out. From the start of the negotiations he insisted that what he really wanted was an apology. To this day he hasn’t received one.
Jed continues to paint. The support group has chipped in to help him buy the supplies he needs. He said he’d like to see other survivors given similar support to help them improve their physical and mental health.