‘My IQ was very high. It was the most important thing that I had. I always was, like, top of the class. And fast. Really fast. I was the fastest kid in Victoria. No policeman could catch me.
‘I prided meself on that. And they just kept taking things away.’
In the early 70s, when Keir was around 10 years old, his mother put him into state care. ‘She couldn’t handle me anymore, pulling out her hair, and I just virtually did what I wanted, I think … It’s hard to explain. My mum’s not a bad person. She just didn’t know how to take care of us.’
While his siblings stayed with their mother, Keir went to a government-run residential facility in an inner suburb of Melbourne. It housed about 20 boys, many of whom had been labelled ‘uncontrollable’. ‘When it got out of hand they used to sedate us. They used Largactil, Valium, Serepax.
‘I realised there was something going wrong with me because I was stupid. I couldn’t think properly. So I stopped taking the tablets. Got a group of the other kids to stop taking them as well. So we hid them. Things got a lot better after that.’
When the boys played outside they often encountered Mr Stenley, a man who lived on site. ‘Mr Stenley was a great bloke. Do anything for you, gave you cigarettes, stuff like that. And Stenley was a sleaze. He manipulated you with kindness.
‘He introduced us to port. Would get us pretty pissed. Now, the thing that’s always worried me is that we used to come back pissed, and no one ever picked it up.’
Keir was sexually abused by Stenley several times, until the day he ‘went too far’. Keir said he belted the man and then reported the abuse to staff.
‘There was two officers there that I got on really well with, Maria and Les. And I sort of told them stuff without telling them details. I found out why later but at the time I couldn’t understand why no one was listening to me. And it got to a stage where you just didn’t tell anyone after that.’
Keir also attempted to tell the matron. She called him a liar and dragged him out of her office by his hair.
Keir said it was ‘no big secret’ that officers were sexually abusing children at the home. ‘It just went on all the time’, he said.
A couple of years later Keir was sent to another government facility in Melbourne. It was a violent place where boys were physically and sexually abused by both staff and each other.
It was also here that Keir was given electroconvulsive therapy.
In his early teens he decided to contact Les, the staff member he liked from the first home.
Les got permission to take Keir out for the day, and took him to the pub. When they went out a second time, the same thing happened.
‘But he didn’t count on me getting so drunk. I’m hurling me guts up and he said, “Take your pants off, and get the pressure off your guts”. This is in the toilets of the pub.
‘He grabbed me, and as he grabbed me his finger went into me bum. I sort of screamed the joint down and people come in to the toilet area. He’s going, “He’s alright, he’s just sick”, and no one thought it was weird for me to have me bloody pants down. I don’t understand it.’
Les tried to stay in contact after that but Keir said he’d ‘had enough’.
He left school as soon as he could but remained in state care. He said his life then started to follow a pattern: get a job, get in trouble with the police.
‘I started lashing out at people, too. It was like … it was the last fight you’re going to have so you’d hit them harder than you could, stuff like that. I was pretty vicious. But the wife settled me down, the kids settled me down. I got quieter.’
Keir said he was very strict on his children, as well as being over-protective. ‘What I’ve done is done the opposite. I drove them away.’
It was only recently, when Keir was sent back to prison, that he decided to talk about the abuse. ‘It was getting to me that, “You’re going to keep making the same mistakes. You’re not going to fix it, you’re just not going to fix it”.’
He’s never been interested in reporting the abuse to police or getting counselling. ‘I don’t want to go through any more shit. It’s bad enough talking to you guys.’
But, with the help of the legal service, knowmore, he is looking into a claim for compensation.
Keir had some definite recommendations for the Royal Commission. ‘First thing, no family members working in the same institution. Even in jails, same deal … If you stick family in a joint like that, they all cover each other up. Whether it’s bashings, whether it’s sex, whether it’s whatever.
‘Second thing, night supervision. Night supervision should never, ever be one person. And definitely not two people from the same family.’
His final suggestion was simple: ‘Stop treating kids like crims. Not every kid’s a liar.’