‘A lot of it I’ve just wiped from my mind. I have a lot of pictures. It’s like, I couldn’t even tell you my teacher’s name even though there was people there was good to you and that. But in the cottage I used to try and sleep of a night time but I would get woken up, and things would happen that, you know, you just don’t want to explain or even talk about.’
Ken’s mother grew up on an Aboriginal mission in New South Wales and later moved to Victoria with her husband and children. Ken and several of his brothers were removed from the family when they were very young and placed in a Melbourne boys’ home that was run by the Methodist Church.
In the 1960s, Ken was sexually abused at the home over several years by a man who worked as ‘a cottage parent’, and would come into Ken’s bedroom and fondle his genitals.
Many other boys experienced sexual abuse by the same man. ‘I know that for sure, ‘cause as you do, you try to stick together in the homes’, Ken said. ‘And when you run away with a couple of the kids that you know it’s been happening to them, and they talk to you about it, but they won’t talk to anyone else.’
Throughout Ken’s childhood, he had several admissions to juvenile detention centres and was considered ‘uncontrollable’.
Potential foster parents would sometimes come to the home with a view to taking boys out, and Ken recalled one experience where a foster parent said, ‘I’ll take the one looks like a chocolate bar’.
‘You just look at them and smile, and off you go with them’, Ken said.
In 1978, when Ken was 17, he was sent to Pentridge Prison. He has had numerous convictions and periods of incarceration since then, and spoke to the Commissioner from jail. His first disclosure of abuse was to the Royal Commission. He has never reported it to Victoria Police, nor made a civil claim for compensation.
He recommended that people caring for children be carefully screened and ‘go through more than a fine sieve’ to prevent abuse.
‘It’s sad that it’s still happening today because even in jail today we hear stories of things that are still happening in boys’ homes and that … To have an understanding and a knowledge of what these kids are going through can help, because if you don’t understand what you’re looking after and trying to help, then there’s no good doing it because they overlook you and they treat you like a shadow.’
While in jail, Ken said that following creative pursuits has become essential, and has ‘stopped me going over the balcony’. This has also given him a connection to his ancestors.
‘Coping with life has been a part of my life, and growing up the way I have in the system, it either makes you or breaks you, or makes you a better person. I’m surprised that I’m still here today – but it’s like I’ve got a strong willpower and a strong mind, and it’s not my time yet.’