‘You don’t expect it to be a prison, you expect it to be a home.’
In the early 1960s, at the age of six years, Kenrick was taken from his parents’ care and placed in a New South Wales state-run residential home for boys. This was the start of Kenrick’s life in homes and reformatory schools around NSW. He has never known why his parents couldn’t look after him or didn’t want him.
At the first home, one of the matrons, and another male staffer, sexually abused him.
‘I didn’t want to be in this place and I couldn’t understand why I was there. I remember having panic attacks and shaking in bed and she [the matron] was always the one who’d come and help … made the situation worse.’
He was also sexually assaulted by an older resident boy in the showers at this home.
‘I wanted to get out of this place. It was killing me.’
After some months he was moved to an inner city receiving home for boys until child services determined what to do with him. One day in the playground of this home he was physically assaulted by a man, a stranger, who had access to the playground. Kenrick bears a scar on his arm from a cigarette burn the man gave him.
He ran away from the home, establishing a pattern that would continue until he was 18 years old.
‘I kept running away from the institutions because I wanted to go back home.’
As a result of his escape, he was made a ward of the state and sent to a third home. At this centre a male staff member took a special interest in Kenrick.
‘He says, “I’ve been reading your file, you’ve been sexually abused. What do you think of that?” I became squeamish ... about three nights later he took three of us down to the toilets while the rest were sleeping … and he proceeded to do things to us. I wanted to fight him but I couldn’t, he was too big. This went on for some time.’
Kenrick and the other two boys reported their abuse but the only outcome was that they were targeted by older boys and physically beaten.
At eight or nine years of age, he was transferred to another state wards’ home.
‘By this time I was a wreck.’
But Kenrick found this centre to be even more brutal. Physical abuse was normal, including punishments for bedwetting that included being tied to a tree overnight, and scrubbing concrete with toothbrushes. The culture was one of humiliation and intimidation. Kenrick stayed at this home for some years.
‘This is the part I’m finding … difficult, people find it hard to believe [our] stories … they put me through all these state ward homes and all the abuses kept happening, all the bashings kept happening till eventually the judge said, “You’ve run away that much we’re gonna put you in the delinquent homes” … And you know what … the state ward [home] was the school to teach you how to handle the delinquent side of it.’
‘Delinquent homes’ were institutional boys’ homes that looked after juveniles who had committed a crime, or, like Kenrick, ran away from residential homes repeatedly. He now had a reputation as a ‘manipulative runaway’.
This institution had a concerted militaristic approach, the days included marching and taking orders. Food deprivation, physical abuse and brutal, dehumanising tasks were normal punishments.
‘I tried to make complaints about the abuse … the more you complain the harder it got because their [abusers] mates would tell their mates and you were known as a “lagger”.’
When he was 12 or 13 years old he was transferred to a government-run home in the country where he formed a group with some other boys for safety against the abuse staff handed out. Kenrick and a couple of the boys attempted escape.
‘I wanted freedom … by then it was pretty well known that I’d been sexually abused and the older boys sort of thought, “He’s easier to get”. So [after he ran away] they caught me in the bush and the guy says, “We won’t send you back if you look after us sexually”. So they made us do that. And then they took us back anyhow.’
This institution was so nightmarish that one of Kenrick’s friends drank sulphuric acid to escape. His friend was 13 or 14 years old when he died.
Kenrick continued to abscond from the homes he was placed in. As he grew older, at one of the homes, he was told that that if he behaved he would be given the job of ‘dingo chaser’, someone who hunted down the children who escaped.
‘So, my payback to them was I behaved for six months … and I got to be a dingo chaser. I let go of every prisoner that ever escaped. And after that I jumped on a truck myself and escaped. That was my way of sticking my finger up at the system and saying, “This is for what you done to me”.’
He was, though, caught again. This time, the judge asked Kenrick why he kept on escaping. But he was ‘too scared to tell her.’ He was sent to a physically remote institution with much higher security. He was only just 17 years old.
In preparation for his transfer to the institution, he was strip searched, handcuffed and chained to the train seat for the entire journey. Once off the train, a pillowcase was placed on his head, and, still chained, he was driven to the home. The officer in charge said, ‘You’re now in hell. You’ll be going from here to a cell. You have no rights’.
Kenrick lived in a concrete cell with no amenities other than a stainless steel bucket. He was brutally punished, physically tormented, not allowed to speak for six months, not allowed to look sideways, had to march everywhere and stamp his feet to attention. He was also regularly sexually abused by one of the guards.
‘I remember when the door shut [to his cell], I felt good because no one … was going to touch me while I was in that room. But the funny thing I noticed straight away, you couldn’t hear a pin drop. I knew there were my mates there, I knew there were other prisoners there but you couldn’t hear a pin drop.’
He did try to report his sexual abuser to the home master.
‘But the home master said I was lying ... said I was sent to his reform school to be taught how to behave. When I left there at 18 years of age, for three months on the outside world, [a world] that I knew nothing about, every time someone would talk to me or call my name I would stamp my foot.’
He doesn’t blame his early years for the decisions he made in his adult life that have seen him spend long periods in jail.
‘We can’t be held responsible for ourselves as children. We can be as adults because I made bad decisions and I accept responsibility for that … I just don’t want to see what happened to me ever happen [again].’
Kenrick believes the homes were a ‘breeding ground for abuse’ and that comprehensive screening of people working with children is mandatory. He also wants all children who report sexual abuse to be believed.
‘You guys have got to start doing your job and start screening people before you give them jobs, pay more attention to the kids, listen to what the kids say. If they scream out “We’re being raped”, there’s got to be something wrong, systematically there’s something wrong with the system … We should look after the most vulnerable, our children.’