Kirk Graham's story

Kirk’s mother died when he was very young, and his father found it difficult to take care of the children alone. Struggling to cope with his loss, Kirk would wag school and go into the city looking for his mother, not believing that she had died, or sometimes he’d go out to the cemetery to visit her grave. ‘And then I just got so used to wagging school, and I just didn’t want to be around all the other kids and that.’

He started getting into trouble and spent time in a couple of youth detention centres in the 1970s. At 12 he was in court charged with minor criminal offences. On the suggestion of a youth worker he was sentenced to three months in a Salvation Army boys’ home in suburban Sydney. The first night he spent at the home was terrifying, and much worse than his experiences in detention.

‘The showers had no partitions and we couldn’t take a towel in either. When we got out, the officer made me show him every part of my body, including making me spread my butt cheeks.’

Once lights were out in the dormitory ‘things got even stranger and scarier’. Kirk could hear other kids moaning and screaming in their beds and ‘it didn’t take me long to work out that they were being sexually abused’ by older boys – ‘I knew there was something very wrong with that place’.

Captain Blacker was the manager of the home. One day he took Kirk on an errand in the minibus, ‘telling me everything would be alright as long as I fitted in’. At the same time, Blacker ‘put his hand on top of my thigh, right up near my crotch’.

On another day Blacker ordered Kirk to go down to the back shed, which was used for storage. When Kirk got there, an older boy, James, pushed him to the ground and pulled his trousers down.

‘He was sticking his fingers up my anus and had my penis in his mouth at the same time. And it hurt.’

As he was being assaulted by James, Kirk looked up and saw Blacker standing in the door way. ‘He had his penis sticking out of his pants and was masturbating.’ It was clear that this attack had been orchestrated by Blacker.

This incident left Kirk constantly fearing further sexual abuse. ‘Every single night was a nightmare as I didn’t know what they – including James and the captain – were going to do to me.’

Not long after this he was told, without any explanation, that he could leave the home before the three months were up. Kirk returned to his family a very different person – angry, distrustful, and not wanting the company of other people.

About 10 years ago Kirk applied for his Welfare file, which included a letter from Blacker to the magistrate. The captain suggested that Kirk be returned to his family, stating: ‘I am sure the lad has not wanted to allow any of us to “reach” him. He has no reason to dislike the place or the staff’. This letter greatly upset Kirk and ‘I still feel ill reading that’.

At one stage Kirk ‘smoked so much pot’ that he had ‘psychosis or something’ when he gave it up. ‘I just woke up one day, I didn’t know who I was ... I knew there was something wrong. ... Who knows, maybe all this comes back to this stuff [abuse] hurting inside.’

A ‘late starter’ to parenting, he now has young children and this helps him keep on track. ‘Some days I just don’t want to get out of bed. And I have to because of my kids.’

Some years ago ‘when things first started coming out about that place’ in the media, Kirk’s brother asked him if he had experienced any abuse at the home. ‘I denied that stuff happened, due to embarrassment.’

More recently a man he had known when they were both in care rang him up. ‘He said, “Look, I’m going to the Royal Commission. I know you’ve been inside.” He tracked me down through Facebook, and eventually he found me. And I just shrugged it off to him, I’m going, “Nah mate, nothing happened to me” ... The stuff that’s happened to him is insane. So that sort of prompted me a bit, but at the time I said, “No”.’

Kirk didn’t tell anyone about the abuse until last year, when one of his own children was sexually abused. First he told his girlfriend and then his brother. He knew he needed to talk about his experiences further and he started counselling, accessed through a mental health plan. He is on antidepressants. He is now engaged with a legal firm regarding action against the Salvation Army, with his barrister telling him, ‘You’ve got a case, you should not let go of this’.

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