Kirby’s family migrated from the United Kingdom in the early 1960s, and moved into a suburb of Melbourne. Unlike his siblings, Kirby had a difficult time at primary school due to his thick accent. Not understood by his classmates, and missing his friends back home, he couldn’t settle down and began to run away. He was deemed ‘uncontrollable’, and made a ward of the state.
Kirby was sent to a government-run reception centre in Victoria. Two or three times a week, a guard who was in his 30s would walk into Kirby’s cell at night and fondle him. While Kirby was shocked by this, the guard behaved in a matter-of-fact manner, as if it was natural, and did not threaten or mistreat him during the day.
After a few months, Kirby was sent to an ‘adventure camp’ associated with the reception centre. With about 10 other children, he spent the day building cabins and other structures for the bushland facility. At night, the children slept in huts which had no electricity or locks, and which were removed from the central and well-lit kitchen and guards’ quarters.
The guard who had abused Kirby at the reception centre was also sent to the camp. With isolated huts, and a facility that was ‘in the middle of nowhere’, the guard had greater unsupervised access to Kirby, and went to his room at night. The abuse progressed from fondling to penetration, and because no other child ever mentioned anything similar happening to them, Kirby thought that he must have deserved it. ‘I thought it was my fault. Part of the punishment.’
The abuse came to an end three or four months later when Kirby was sent back home. Despite running away again, once or twice, he was never placed back into care. He left school in his early teens and took up an apprenticeship which he did not complete. He left home in his late teens and worked in transport and construction, fields he would work in for most of his adult life.
In general, Kirby went on to lead a pretty ‘normal life’. He worked, played sport, socialised with friends, and got married when he was in his 30s. He has appeared in court for minor offences, but otherwise has had little involvement with the police or justice system. He has also suffered mild depression which he regards as nothing out of the ordinary.
Kirby did, however, carry shame about the abuse into his adult life. He managed it by trying not to think about it, but still feels that it impacted his life in two main ways. Firstly, he became a heavy drinker, and accepts that this was the chief reason his marriage came to an end. Secondly, he admits to being ‘biased against homosexuals’. ‘I can’t stand them’, he said. ‘If this didn’t happen to me, I’d probably be more liberal, but I just can’t stand them anymore.’
These days, Kirby keeps in touch with his siblings and children, has ‘slowed up’ the drinking, and describes his well-being as ‘generally good’.
Not one to believe that counselling can help him, he has nevertheless come to the realisation that the abuse was not his fault. Also, after making contact with the Commission, he was able to disclose the abuse to some family members who responded with shock and sympathy, and accepted that he was telling the truth.
Kirby, who kept the abuse secret for almost six decades, is now considering making a compensation claim against the Victorian Government.