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Josh Michael's story

In the late 1960s Josh and his family emigrated to Melbourne under the assisted migration scheme. Josh remembers himself as a happy six-year-old who loved roaming the migration camp, blissfully ignorant of the trauma his mum and dad were going through.

‘My parents were having financial problems and my father became suicidal. I didn’t know that he’d been put in a psychiatric hospital for a little while after trying to take his life. My mother really couldn’t manage.’

Josh’s mother ‘spoke to somebody or somebody spoke to her’, and Josh was made a ward of the state. He spent a short while at some boys’ homes before being sent to live with a foster family.

Josh cannot remember his foster father’s name or face. ‘That is a psychological thing, because I don’t want to know. My brain just won’t let me remember it.’ But he does have vivid memories of what his foster father did.

‘The father at this family was very loving, which followed on to him being very touchy, fondling me. I had to bathe every evening because I was a good little child. And the father would then start washing me, more and more intensively around my genitals and then one day I had to wash his penis.

‘And it went from there one stage further over time, till it came to the point where I had to put his penis in my mouth. But I did not like this. Didn’t like it at all. I knew there was something wrong with it. So one day I just refused, because I didn’t do it. Wasn’t right.

‘And the next thing I knew there was this clip … to the side of my head. And when I woke up this person was having sex with me. I was over the side of the bathtub. And he told me after that if I was to say anything he would beat me to death.’

All of this happened while Josh’s foster mother was in the house. He believes that she must have known that something awful was happening. ‘Because I screamed. I shouted and screamed and that kind of thing cannot not be overheard, I believe. And she also was the one which nursed me back to health.’

Despite his foster mother’s silence and his foster father’s grim warning, Josh reported the abuse to his teacher.

‘She didn’t believe me. She took a yard ruler and told me I was a lying, ungrateful urchin and she beat the hell out of me with that, on my backside. Well, she must have said something to this father because by the time I was back again at home, he came running into the bathroom and he beat me so badly that I couldn’t go to school for over a week.

‘And when I could go back to school … he put his arm around my neck, shoved me up the wall and told me that if I was to say anything to anybody he was going to kill me. Now I believed that. I was just to simply tell them I fell down some stairs.

‘And since then I’ve lived in fear. That was it. After that there was nothing I could do, nothing I could say, no one I could talk to so he just had his way any time he wanted.’

Josh stayed with the foster family for about a year before he was returned to his parents. By then he was a very different boy.

‘I started to become a recluse, made my own little world in my own mind and I closed myself in it. So I was put in a children’s hospital because I couldn’t trust anybody and any attempts at trying to comfort me I would always react violently.’

Things got worse as he got older. ‘I was a loner, aggressive, angry. I couldn’t really open up to my real self, if you wish. There was this, like a barrier in my way always.’

But Josh was determined to make a better life for himself. As soon as he was old enough he got a job, escaped from the ‘brutal’ neighbourhood where his parents lived and built the foundations of what would turn out to be a long and successful career.

His personal life was more complex. One marriage fell apart and a second almost followed suit. A few years ago Josh and his wife were ‘half an inch away from getting divorced and parting our ways, because at that time I had different views on things. I was constantly angry, upset, over little things really’.

Then, for the first time in his life, Josh started talking about the abuse. He spoke to his wife and to a counsellor. This act, he believes, saved his marriage.

‘Things would have gone downhill if I had not eventually told [my wife]. But after that things started going uphill also. So even though it was very difficult for me – I didn’t go into great detail but she understands a lot more now why I behaved the way I did.’

It also saved his life.

‘If it wasn’t for the counsellor, Paul, I would not be talking to you in this room today … All of this stuff just needed to come out, let my mind heal a little bit. After that, things went well.’

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