‘When anything went wrong, I got the blame for it.’
Johnno was five years old when his brother died. Because they’d been playing together at the time, Johnno came to bear the blame for his brother’s death and he became the target of his father’s violence. He often ran away and believes he was placed in care because he was deemed to be ‘uncontrollable’.
Made a ward of the state of Victoria he was about nine when he was sent to a youth training centre in the 1950s.
Johnno hated every minute he was there. The workers were cruel and the boys were rough.
‘You had to be tough, you had to know what you were doing.’
Johnno witnessed several boys being sexually assaulted by the workers. He absconded as many times as he could, but was always caught and brought back.
When he was 10, Johnno was cornered by one of the workers who grabbed him by the crotch and dragged him into an empty room. Johnno thought he was going to be sexually assaulted but another worker walked in and he was allowed to leave. After that he armed himself with makeshift weapons that he planned to use if he was ever touched again.
A few years later he was moved to a boys’ home in a different town and was again physically and mentally abused by the workers. He remembers being taken to a shed across from the property where he was severely belted.
‘They used to hit you over the head and again and again … It was more like a concentration camp … You’d go in and come out worse than you were before.’
Several weeks after he’d been there, Johnno was cornered by three older boys, Kenny, Sam and Walter. They were aged in their mid to late teens and Johnno knew that Walter was the son of one of the cottage parents.
When they tried to rape him, Johnno fought back, but he was forced to masturbate them and perform oral sex. Two boys held him down while he performed sexual acts on the other.
He first disclosed the abuse to his cottage parents, but was told to shut up and stop making trouble. Johnno then went to the superintendent of the home, Nelson Bridges, but he didn’t want to hear anything about what had happened.
‘From that day onwards, I said nothing.’
Johnno stated that he continued to be a violent and aggressive child because it was all he knew. He didn’t want anyone near him and often fought back against workers. In the mid-1960s when he was 16, he successfully escaped from the home. No one seemed to care about his departure.
At 17, he was imprisoned for a time. He described himself as an alcoholic and drug addict who was violent and caused fights. When he was released from jail, he applied to join the defence forces but was initially rejected. In the mid-1970s he was successful in his application and he’d since had a long and successful career.
Nevertheless, he’d had difficulty at times following orders from superiors. He’d struggled with alcohol and drug use, but stated he’d been clean for many years. He’d been married several times and has been with his current wife for over 20 years.
Today, Johnno still has vivid flashbacks and nightmares. He’s engaged in counselling, which has been helpful and he described being very protective of his children and grandchildren.
He never reported the abuse to police in large part because he doesn’t want people to know he was abused.
‘I’m a tough guy, and for people to know that about me … That can’t happen.’