Laurie told the Commissioner he was four years old when he was sexually abused by an uncle and ‘it carried on when I went into the boys’ home’.
His father’s violence and mother’s lack of attention to their children had come to the notice of police and welfare authorities.
‘[My father’d] get on the plonk and come and knock me around ’cause I’d start crying, ’cause I’d hear him knocking her around – I was in the cot – so he’d bite his fists and knock me around with a clenched fist with the other hand.’
After his parents told a magistrate ‘we don’t care’, Laurie was made a ward of the state and through the 1960s spent seven years in several South Australian government-run boys’ homes.
He was about six when he was first placed in a home and while he was there he was sexually abused by other boys, who he thought were about 13 or 14 years old.
“The older boys would get you aside and say, “We’ll look after you, we’ll protect you” and stuff like that, but there’s a cost to that.’
There was no staff member Laurie could tell about the abuse and he was never visited by welfare workers or others outside the home.
‘The people that were running the place were like animals’, he said. ‘They used to whip people, and they were abusing boys themselves. I kept right away. They thrived in whipping people and terrifying us. I just kept right away …
‘They used to be drunk all the time. They used to get certain boys, like we knew that they were abusing, but I had my own situation I was dealing with. I was told to keep my mouth shut: “You want to be killed”, you know, that was where you were. It was a hellhole.’
Laurie was taken to see a welfare worker when he was about 14 and he told that person he wanted to go back to his parents. He’d been told for years that his parents didn’t want him and that it was they who’d put him ‘in the system’.
‘I just couldn’t wear that. It didn’t matter how bad they were or what they did to me, I just wanted to get back home.’
When he got home he ‘didn’t get knocked around ’cause I was bigger then’, but he experienced further sexual abuse by friends of his father, who gave him alcohol, drugs and affection, things he’d ‘had none of’ before.
At 18, Laurie left and lived with his girlfriend. They had two children and then in a later relationship, Laurie had several more children. He described the difficulty he’d had in relationships, starting with his first girlfriend.
‘I left her ’cause I couldn’t handle it anymore. I had a lot of girlfriends over the years and any time anyone tried to show me any affection, which is sad, I couldn’t reciprocate. So I blamed because of the boys’ home and also my upbringing why I could never ever show anyone any affection. Anyone got too close to me, I’d just say, “Get going. I can’t handle this”. That’s the way I coped, yeah, which is sad because I feel sorry for some of the girls over the years.’
Laurie only recently spoke about the abuse.
‘I was too ashamed to tell anyone in my family and I’ve only just started telling them now. They couldn’t believe what I’d been through, you know, ’cause I wanted to make sure that my kids never went into the system and I fought real hard to make sure it never happened, and it didn’t happen.’
He also told a counsellor who was associated with a job placement program he was part of. Although he’s seen a psychiatrist and psychologist, their work was largely focused on him getting employment, something Laurie didn’t feel able to do.
He’s been diagnosed with depression and is now taking medication. After several previous attempts to end his life, thinking of his grandchildren is what now keeps him going.
Laurie hasn’t made any reports to police but he is now considering making a civil claim against the South Australia Government.
‘There needs to be justice done’, he said. ‘Well, compensation for a start for what I’ve been through, and also recognition of what happens in the homes and how you were treated.
'The system in the 60s, I looked at it, ’cause when I seen these people that were drunk and they were whipping kids and I thought to myself, and I was only very young, I thought to myself, these kids are going to go straight from here to jail. A lot of them are going to get on drugs, a lot of them are going to commit suicide. There was no love, no affection, no guidance, because kids were getting abused all over the place in that place.
‘I was getting abused. I was told to keep my mouth shut if I didn’t want to be killed. I went in there at such a young age and I only went in there in need of care. I don’t know how they can put people in need of care in a place like that. You were in there with bank robbers and people doing, knocking cars off and all sorts of things …. I was just not looked after.’