Keith Geoffrey's story

‘I don’t care how much this hurts’, Keith told the Commissioner. ‘I want it stated.’

At the boys’ home where he spent 14 years, the boys were constantly bashed, threatened and often starved. They were also frequently sexually abused. If they spoke up about it to anyone, they were severely punished. Fear reigned. Keith was told he would be fed to the pigs, of which he was terrified.

He had no contact with family members and knew nothing about his parents. Years later, Keith read in his file that his mother was denied access to him. In this brutal environment, he formed an attachment to a dog, Socks, who lived in the home.

Keith recalls an altercation he had with Ron Hammond, the then manager, a very cruel man. ‘They told me they owned me. No one loved me … I was curled up with Socks … and I said “Well, Socks loves me”. Well, two days later Socks had his throat cut … and then he [Hammond] tried to pass that off on one of the other boys. No one else had a knife but him.’

Keith grew up in the 1960s in country New South Wales. When he was about two or three, he and his sisters were put into a children’s home. There, a member of the clergy was the first person ‘to put something in my bottom’. After that, Keith was thrashed by the matron if he mentioned his bottom.

While still young, Keith was then sent to a boys’ home. The culture was extraordinarily physically and emotionally abusive. Beatings were common – to the point where the boy would collapse.

On weekend afternoons there were fellowship gatherings. Guests and ‘volunteers’ would attend, sometimes men accompanied by their families. These men were often paedophiles. If a boy went to the toilet, someone would be there to grab him on the way out. Keith recalls being raped once every two to three weeks. ‘You learned very quickly you don’t go to the toilet when those people were around.’

He was convinced the management and most of the staff knew about it. In fact, it was all a set up.

Excursions and outings were also often set up with paedophiles. For example, they used to go to the cinema where men would be seated in the front rows. They would lure the boys with lollies and then abuse them. Keith would escape the cinema and wait until everyone came outside. On one occasion, after witnessing the abuse, he and another boy went back and told Hammond and his wife about it.

‘She hit us until she couldn’t hit us anymore. Then he come out and finished the job because we could still walk. They didn’t finish until you couldn’t walk.’

The boys were sometimes segregated into those who got visitors and those who didn’t – the ‘orphans’. On these occasions only the ‘orphans’ would be taken out. Keith can remember a screening of the film, ‘Oliver’, where paedophiles were present. He tried not to be included by saying he wasn’t an orphan, he had a mother. He was told ‘No, you don’t’, and handed a letter, which was about six months old, stating his mother had passed away. Keith was devastated.

There were some people that were good to the boys. However, Keith knew that if he told them about any of the abuse, he wouldn’t be able to see them anymore. Once, when Keith escaped, he told the police he would be bashed at the boys’ home. The police told him he ‘deserved it’.

The boys didn’t talk about the sexual abuse much amongst themselves. They didn’t know the word ‘paedophile’ but they had a term for it, based on the nickname of a particular offender. Keith said the home was so small – only accommodating about 30 boys – that it was ‘under the radar’ and management could get away with anything.

When new managers took over, the abuse got worse. Picnics were arranged where paedophiles would attend. One in particular would take a boy away to a nearby house. If the boy caused any trouble, the man would simply take him back and pick someone else. On another occasion the boys went on an extended excursion, requiring a three-hour train trip. Two private carriages were booked for ‘volunteers’ who would attack the boys when they went to the toilets.

When Keith was in his early teens, he was told he wouldn’t be spending all his Christmas holidays with his usual foster family, the Dorans, whom he liked. Instead, he would be spending part of it by the beach with a man, Dean Freeman, who lived at the back of his parents’ house. He belonged to the Salvation Army and was friends with the new managers of the home.

On Keith’s first day there, Freeman tried to abuse him but Keith fought him off. ‘I cracked, I wasn’t going to have it.’ He raised such a fuss that after a few days he was sent back to the Dorans. However, when he returned to the home, Keith was bashed so severely by the manager he had to be hospitalised.

Keith was thrown out of the home when he was 16. He lived on the streets and later became involved in an armed robbery. Going to jail was a relief; it meant he was fed and housed.

After Keith met his wife, his life changed. They now have adult children, but he still sees sex as a ‘dirty thing’, which has put a strain on their marriage. His work takes him away on a regular basis, which Keith feels has helped. When his children were young, they used to ask about his parents. He would sometimes make up fictitious ones, protecting his kids from his own childhood.

Keith is still in touch with one of his sisters and has faith in Jesus, which has helped sustain him – but he doesn’t go anywhere near a church.

Over the years he’s had a number of breakdowns. One was when the Royal Commission was announced. However, this prompted him to talk about the sexual abuse for the first time in his life. He has now told his wife and children, who are all supportive.

He reflected on why he hadn’t ever told anyone.

‘Even being the person abused, you still wear … shame’s not the right [word]. It sort of is, but it’s not … If a mate found out that you’d been raped, right, and you did nothing about it, right. It’s worse than shame … like you should have done more to stop it. Why didn’t you do something? Why didn’t you go tell that copper? Why didn’t you do that?’

Keith is glad of the publicity around the Commission. The abuse is no longer a ‘dirty secret’. He’s currently considering his legal options.

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