‘Even for us today being this age, I call us fellas the survivors you know, even with my sisters and that, we all survived you know, like ‘cause we’re still here. A lot of other people are not so lucky.’
In the area where Justin now lives he sees a lot of people who’ve been affected by their experiences as children in Queensland boys’ and girls’ homes.
‘[They’re] institutionalised’, Justin said. ‘I still got brothers – I call them brothers from the homes – and yeah, they can’t live a normal life outside the jail. They’ll get out for a couple of weeks and then they’ll go and do a job [crime] or something and just sit there and wait for the police to come. They don’t hurt anyone; they just rob someone or something and just sit there and wait to get taken away. And then they’re happy. But that’s their home. And to me that’s really sad.’
As a 10 year old in the 1960s Justin was placed in a Methodist boys’ home after he’d repeatedly wagged school. While he was in the home, he was sexually abused by Dennis, one of the staff members.
The first time Justin was abused, Dennis got into his bed and ‘started to grope me’, but when he was disturbed by the manager doing nightly rounds, he left.
This happened a second time. ‘Approximately a month later, Dennis gets into my bed and rapes me’.
Justin ‘was shattered’ after the attack. ‘I just went inside myself, brother. I didn’t know what to say and I met a few of the boys that were getting done over by this bloke, and he come back for seconds about two or three weeks later and I was just so petrified you wouldn’t believe it. I’m lying there you know and I’m just waiting for it.’
As Dennis was again about to get into Justin’s bed, one of the younger boys in the dormitory started screaming in his sleep and the manager came running. ‘He’s just started screaming and to me today I don’t know if it’s God’s intervention or my spirit people, but he saved me. I’ll always remember this kid.’
Dennis wasn’t caught that night but several days later Justin and some other boys informed the manager and his wife they were ‘being molested’ by Dennis. The boys were told the matter would be dealt with, and a day or so later learned that Dennis was leaving.
‘It was a big relief and then a month later this bloke’s walked through the door of the home. I just stopped when I seen this bloke [Dennis] and I said, “They lied to us” ... and that’s when I took off.
‘I just couldn’t trust them, people in authority and church – especially church you know. They’re preaching to us to go to church one day and the rest of the week they’re all arseholes as far as I’m concerned, and never to be trusted, anyone in authority or church or anyone. Even the police, we were petrified of the police because we were home kids and they aren’t going to listen to us. That’s what people say to us: “Why didn’t you go to the police?” I said we were home kids you know, we had no rights.’
After running away, Justin was picked up and spent several weeks in a youth detention facility before being returned to the boys’ home.
Before the sexual abuse by Dennis, Justin had regarded the home as ‘a godsend’ as it was the first time he’d had his own clothes and good food. The home’s strict routine meant that boys did homework whether or not it was assigned by their school and this meant ‘home kids’ were often a term ahead of other students.
After leaving the home at 15, Justin went straight into a job. He’d been ‘no angel’ in his life, he said.
‘I done a lot of bad things in my life and I’ve answered to them all, paid for them all but it’s still there. It’s a memory thing I keep you know, especially, I don’t put myself up high because it’s a long way to fall. It’s a long way to climb back up, especially in a small community you know. Everyone knows everyone and I try and do the right thing.’
Dennis has previously been a heavy drinker and used drugs, but a counsellor at Alcoholics Anonymous helped him ‘look at myself’. The support of his wife has also helped, as has helping out siblings and others in the community.
Justin said he tried not to think about the abuse or dwell on negative things. ‘It’s there all the time, but it’s like watching a movie and it’s like reruns. And I learnt in the end, they said, when you get sick of watching that show, change the channel.’
Through the Queensland redress scheme, Justin received an initial payment of $7,000 and a subsequent amount of $22,000. At the time it was ‘like winning the lotto’, but he considered the money ‘not enough for the nature of the crimes I endured and having my life stuffed up’. The apology letter he received ‘was like an insult to my intelligence’.
Justin felt neither government nor church authorities had taken responsibility for the abuse of him and others in the boys’ home. ‘I think they’re all accountable for a certain degree of accountability and a duty of care to us whether they knew about it or not. It’s not my fault that the flow of information stopped there and they didn’t get it. But in the end they knew something was going on. Well this is how I see it.’