Johnnie had an ‘extremely sad’ childhood. His parents died when he was a baby and his older brothers deserted him. In the early 1940s, he was placed in state care and sent to an orphanage in regional Queensland. He stayed there until he was seven years old.
In the late 1940s, he was moved to an orphanage in a different town. He didn’t attend school but was forced to work on a farm and eventually moved onto the farm when he was 10. He slept under the house and got up at four in the morning every day to get the cows in for milking. He said he was forced to eat food he didn’t like and was strapped regularly by the workers.
Johnnie can’t recall the name of the matron of the orphanage, but she was a ‘cruel’ woman. He remembered her regularly punishing him and she would sit in the bathrooms while the boys were showering. On one occasion, the matron approached Johnnie and sexually abused him.
‘If you don’t have a proper wash, look out. She said, “You see this thing there?” and she grabbed me by my [penis]. “You got to wash this properly ’cause if you don’t wash it we’ll cut it off”.’
The abuse occurred several times during the three years he was at the orphanage. Johnnie couldn’t tell anyone what happened because ‘there was no one to tell’. He recalls trying to get the Welfare to remove him from the orphanage, but was told there weren’t ‘any more options’ for him.
In the mid-1950s when he was 14, Johnnie left the orphanage and moved back to his home town. His remaining family still lived there, but they refused to help him find a job or a home to live in. He doesn’t know why his family rejected him. Instead he went to work with farm animals and he has spent most of his life working on cattle stations.
Johnnie married his partner in his 20s, and they had several children together. His son was taken from his care because there were allegations of neglect, but Jonnie said these were ‘untrue’. It caused great sadness in the family, Johnnie and his partner separated, and he lost contact with his children.
When he was in his 30s, Johnnie remarried. His partner had several children from a previous relationship and he cared for these children as if they were his own. He and his partner were together for several decades before she passed away in the mid-1990s. His stepchildren have since passed away and Johnnie said he still grieves for them.
Throughout his adulthood, Johnnie had been estranged from his family but he recently reconnected with his son, now aged in his 50s, and they enjoyed a good relationship. However, he continues to experience depression and flashbacks, and has had serious health problems, including several heart attacks.
It wasn’t until the mid-2000s that Johnnie first disclosed the details of his abuse. He engaged lawyers and received a small amount of compensation through the Queensland redress scheme. Johnnie never reported his abuser to the police because he couldn’t recall her name.