Leon was born in Tasmania in the 1950s, and after being taken into care at a young age lived in various houses and institutions. In some of these placements he was punished in cruel ways, including being made to eat mustard and being caned severely. ‘I’ve gone through hell. Upways, sideways, any way you look at it, it has not been easy.’
At seven years old he was placed with a foster family. Over the four years Leon lived with the family he was frequently sexually abused by his foster father.
‘I can remember what happened to me, but I can’t remember lots because I tried really hard, and I just can’t remember. It’s like the other part of my life was that I lived with a family in [town]. I see the curtains, I see the bed, the pillows, and all the horrible stuff, but I just can’t remember.
‘And I lived with this family and I was sexually and anally abused just repeatedly, like as if I was a dartboard having darts thrown at it.’
Leon did not report the abuse to anyone as he felt he had no one to tell. He remembers wanting to tell welfare about his experiences. ‘I keep thinking that I wanted to talk to them and when I did they didn’t want to listen to me.’ He did not make a report to police, and didn’t realise he could. ‘I thought it was normal. I didn’t know any different.’
After this foster care Leon was sent to live with relatives interstate, and this was a very good period of his life.
When he arrived, his aunty ‘just let me walk into the house by myself’, and ‘I just wanted to live there forever’. He had his own bedroom, and on the end of the bed was a ‘beautiful red cable jumper that my aunty had knitted. It had never once been worn, hadn’t been chewed on, peed on, nothing. And it was my brand new jumper. And I opened up the drawers and my aunty had gone shopping and bought me underpants, and singlets and stuff like that’.
Leon wasn’t sure how to deal with this kindness, or what was expected of him. ‘I would get up at five o’clock in the morning and go out and cut wood, ‘cause I thought that was my role. And aunty said “you don’t have to, get back to bloody bed. You’re not being punished for living here”.’
He felt loved and cared for, and began to attend school. ‘I can’t remember going to any other school [previously] but apparently I must of.’ His uncle bought him a bicycle, and he would go swimming at the local pool.
Leon recalls that at one stage, however, his aunty told him something ‘that got my blood boiling’. ‘She said “Leon, we’ve been looking for you for years”.’ He wonders how hard it could have been to find him.
When he was in his mid-teens his aunty died and his uncle sent him to a Salvation Army youth hostel. ‘I was devastated, I just lost the plot completely.’ The hostel was run by ‘an Irish bloke’ who would punch the residents as punishment, and Leon was also sexually abused during this period. He ran away from the hostel and spent some time living on the streets.
Leon got married as a young adult and his wife would often say ‘Leon, you’ve got to stop making us walk on eggshells around you ... and you’ve got to stop thinking the world owes you for what happened’.
When he was in his 20s his wife’s words prompted him to seek help. He saw a doctor who referred him to a psychiatrist. On the second visit this psychiatrist asked him if something had happened to him in the past, ‘and that’s when I opened up to him ... From then on it was just I needed to address those issues’.
Throughout his life Leon has struggled to feel like he belongs anywhere, has had trouble with personal relationships, and has had difficulties at work. Now he survives on a disability pension and does not like leaving his home. ‘It’s been a shit life.’
Leon made an application to the Tasmanian Redress scheme. As part of this process he received his welfare file, but was not given any support to deal with the contents. He still only has three photos from his childhood: one of himself dressed up for school, one of his dad, and one of his mum. ‘That’s all I’ve got to remember my past.’
He received a cheque for $16,000. ‘You know what it was like getting? A Medicare cheque. No letter, no signed, no nothing.’ His needs are ongoing but the money awarded to him has long since run out. He is disappointed that because he applied later in the scheme he received a much smaller amount of money, when he had not known about it earlier on.
Leon also received a standard letter of apology which he considers meaningless.
‘It was nothing ... All it was, I remember it was an A4 piece of paper with purple colouring around there, and just all this waffling on, and nothing to say “Leon, we’re sorry for what happened” ...
‘I didn’t get the compassion that I wanted ... You know what I was hoping? They would fly someone over, sit down with me, and talk to me. And say “Leon, what happened? Let’s go through your file, let’s talk” ... Someone to do something. But nah. Picked it up, signed for it, and that’s it.’