One of the few memories Kenny has of the UK is a kind lady – ‘I don’t know who she was’ – who would visit him at the orphanage where he’d lived since infancy. Together they would sit underneath an oak tree and feed the squirrels.
Kenny was seven years old when he was given a number to use in place of his name and told he was going on holiday for six weeks. In fact, he and other children were being sent by boat to live on the other side of the world. He remembers that during the journey ‘we were looked after by nuns, and we come via the Suez Canal’.
When he got to Australia in the early 1950s he spent two years at a Christian Brothers boys’ home in Perth. At nine he moved to a different Christian Brothers orphanage, where he was put to work on the property but given little in the way of education or everyday life skills. ‘I hated it. I absolutely hated it.’
The Brothers would sexually abuse the boys in their beds, putting their hands up inside their blankets to fondle them. One Brother would abuse them in the piggery, another in the dairy, as well as the boys’ dormitories and their own quarters. ‘We didn’t know what to do ... We had no one to complain to. It was a closed shop.’
Cruelty and physical abuse were common too, and Kenny still suffers from injuries one particular Brother inflicted upon him all those years ago.
‘What really upsets me ... I know this for a fact, the police knew what was going on and they did nothing. They totally ignored it.’
Sometimes he would be sent to spend time with a family in a regional area, and one night was sexually abused there too. ‘I was scared, I just froze in bed, the light was out. I don’t which member of the family it was, or someone went in there. And I didn’t dare say nothing.’
After leaving the orphanage he was placed with a farming family, who were just as cruel as the Brothers. After getting in an altercation he was told to leave, and hitchhiked to the coast to find work. ‘That changed my whole life.’
He didn’t like to stay in one place for too long as ‘I just wanted to be on me own’, and moved about doing seasonal work. ‘I couldn’t hold a steady job because of me upbringing.’
In the 1990s Kenny saw a media report about child migrants on the television, and called the toll free number provided at the end. ‘That’s how I got the ball rolling’. He went through the state redress program, receiving over $40,000. The Christian Brothers compensated him with a smaller amount which they paid him ‘bit by bit’. A few years ago police contacted him asking if he wanted to press charges, but he assumes the Brothers who abused him would all be dead.
Kenny has trouble maintaining relationships with women (‘the worst part about it is when they ask to meet my parents, I have to lie to them’), and is disappointed that he never had children. ‘I’ve been deprived of all that.’
Aside from his sister and cousins, who live overseas and whom he visited through a government-funded initiative, he has not met any of his family. ‘I get depressed a lot. As you get older you got no one to turn to, you know.’
He once went and saw a counsellor, but ‘she kept repeating the same thing over, it was just the same rhetoric, over and over again’ and he figured it was a waste of time. ‘I thought well, I’ve managed to get on with my life on me own. I’m very independent.’