For his first 12 years, Lincoln lived in the United Kingdom in an orphanage run by the Sisters of Nazareth. ‘They were the cruellest and most vicious people God put breath in.’ Cold and hungry most of the time, Lincoln was frequently beaten by the nuns, including on one occasion when his hands were hit so hard with a cricket stump he needed skin grafts. The nun told hospital staff that Lincoln had fallen down the stairs but the attending doctor didn’t believe her and said the injuries were consistent with an instrument being inflicted with great force. No further action was taken however and, ‘It was swept under the carpet’.
In the late 1940s, Lincoln was one of many boys sent to Australia as part of the post-war child migration scheme. ‘I was never so pleased in my life. I thought, “nothing could be worse than here”.’ Arriving in Western Australia, he was driven to a Christian Brothers boys’ home where his clothes and possessions were taken and he was immediately put to work.
For the next seven years he received no education and was made to work as ‘slave labour’. Boys were herded to the local quarry and in bare feet ordered to labour with pick and shovel lifting huge boulders and sourcing raw materials for the buildings they then had to erect. They chopped timber for makeshift scaffolding and mixed mortar by hand. There was no machinery nor regard for the boys’ safety. They couldn’t have given two stuffs what happened to us. … I can honestly say that place was built by slavery. … The Japs had nothing on them.’
One day, Lincoln went to Brother Gregan who was in charge of the boys’ home and asked if he could learn a trade. He told the Brother he didn’t want to be a labourer for the rest of his life. ‘Without a word of warning he split my head open and laid into me. I’m lying in a pool of blood and the language that come out of that animal’s mouth was worse than a trooper. He said, “Get back to your pick and shovel you shit house, you bloody maggot”.’ Rendered unconscious by the assault, Lincoln was ‘patched up’ by some nuns but wasn’t taken to hospital. ‘I’ve still got a scar I’ll take to my grave.’
Lincoln told the Commissioner that in addition to beatings, hard labour, cold and hunger the boys were subjected to frequent and sustained sexual abuse by visiting priests and resident Christian Brothers. Children had no one to tell about the assaults with a succession of visitors ignoring or not questioning conditions within the home. Lincoln was sexually abused by Brothers Street, de Santo and Caballo over many years.
After leaving the home in the early 1950s, Lincoln said he never again set foot in a church. His working life had been spent on cattle and sheep stations throughout Australia, and he now had his own place in the city surrounded by friends. He used to smoke and drink too much until his doctor told him he’d be dead within a year if he didn’t stop. ‘He put me on the straight and narrow. Thirty to 40 years ago he stopped me. I gave up smoking and I gave up the booze.’
By way of compensation, Lincoln received $25,000 for his time with the Sisters of Nazareth and $40,000 from the Western Australian government for his years in the boys’ home. He thought it unfair that the amount allocated by the state government for compensation was effectively halved with a leadership change. ‘I don’t think they’ve got any idea of what we went through.’