‘When a little kid goes to bed at night, they need to be able to feel safe, not afraid like I once was.’
Lesley’s mother abandoned him soon after he was born, and he spent all of his childhood in care. In the early 50s, at the age of nine, Lesley was sent to a Christian Brothers orphanage in Melbourne. Over the next six years, he was repeatedly physically and sexually abused.
Sometimes a young man who was a former resident of the orphanage would come and take one or two boys out to the movies. ‘On the times when he and I were alone he would try to touch my genitals and put his hands under my clothes to do this.’
When Lesley was around 11, Brother Mitchell discovered him masturbating in bed. ‘After he caught me, he told me to go to his room. He told me that I should not be doing this, but then said he would show me how to do it. Brother Mitchell then touched me on the penis and masturbated me. This happened several times with him.’
Lesley was in his early teens when a young woman who worked as a cook at the orphanage asked him to her quarters. She pretended to need help with some gardening, and offered him a cool drink inside. ‘Then she began to undress me and dragged me into her bed. She put my penis inside her vagina. She said she was trying to teach me the facts of life regarding sex.’
Another Brother would tell the boys jokes before lights out, then take anyone who laughed or talked down to his bedroom. ‘He would then make us bend over and pull down our pants, and he would use a strap to beat our bum.’
One of the senior Brothers was ‘especially cruel’. ‘He beat me very badly on many occasions. He would usually punch me with his fists.’
There was no way Lesley could report any of this abuse. ‘I could not speak up in an environment like this about such matters.’
Lesley did not have a single visitor during his time at the orphanage. The Brothers knew this, and the cruel senior Brother would put him at the front door on visiting days to watch for other boys’ parents. ‘This hurt and upset me deeply and was a constant reminder of my lack of family ... I think he enjoyed watching my misery.’
Although Lesley was very creative and wanted to go to art school, this was prevented, and he was told ‘that I was not educated enough to do this with my life. I feel very bitter about this because I know that given the right opportunity I could have made something of my life’. Instead the Brothers sent him to a factory to work on a production line.
‘I deserved better than what I got. I didn’t ask to be put in a home. It was just the way my life turned out and it was ruined. I should have been given some compensation to help me go back to school or train to do something I wanted to do ... so I could have a career and a satisfying life.’
Having been treated so badly growing up, Lesley found it hard to know how to treat others well.
‘You’re treated really hard ... and you’re pushed to a limit, and you sort of become very aggressive, you know? That’s the person that comes out of you when you’re married ... and exactly what happened to you, you start doing to your children. You don’t realise it, but you are.
'My wife was noticing it, and she turned around and she said, “You’re starting to be like you are in the orphanage, you’re treating the kids like they’re in the orphanage”. ’
In his 30s, Lesley decided to change his name ‘because my life had been shit for so long and I just wanted to make a clean break and start again’. Very recently Lesley has started seeing a psychologist under a mental health plan, and he also attends a service that supports Forgotten Australians.
A few years ago he received an apology from the state regarding his time in care, and ‘a keyring from the government’. He was not impressed.
‘I did not think the apology was worth the paper it was written on. After everything that had happened to me while I was in care, a piece of paper is not going to fix the pain of my experience.’