Lyle was removed from his family’s care after his mother threw him as a newborn baby into the Murray River and he had to be saved by his nine-year-old sister. His sister hid and cared for him in a doss house in the bush near the family home, but after six months Lyle was discovered ‘in a pretty awful condition’ and placed in a boys’ home run by the Sisters of Nazareth in Victoria.
Lyle told the Commissioner that in addition to regular beatings, he was subjected to sexual abuse by other boys and by one of the nuns, Sister Bernadette, who enlisted other children to hold him down during the assaults.
Lyle also witnessed the nun’s assaults on other children. ‘I think the hardest part is just to hear all the screaming’, he said.
After misbehaving at school assembly one day, Lyle was taken by Sister Bernadette into a classroom and severely physically assaulted. He said he was all right when he went in, but that afterwards he needed surgery in hospital for head injuries. ‘I had to relearn everything’, he said. ‘I lost everything – memory, the whole lot.’ Staff from the home told doctors that Lyle had fallen off the monkey bars in the playground.
In 1970, a year after the assault, Lyle moved to a Catholic boys’ home where he was sexually abused by two religious Brothers. He didn’t report the abuse because he was scared of being punished, and abuse was so entrenched in the place there was no one to whom he could report it. Visitors to the home were rare, though occasionally government workers ‘used to go through just to have like a walk-around, check the place out a bit, and see how it was all set up – and that’s about all’. Lyle said the cuts and bruises on children were obvious, but no action was ever taken and on one occasion when a boy did show an external visitor his injuries, he was later severely beaten.
When he was 12, Lyle was sent back to his mother. He hadn’t been home long when he was raped by his 17-year-old brother. Lyle’s screams brought other family members who called the police and his brother was charged and convicted, and sentenced to two years in jail.
After running away from his mother’s house, Lyle was placed in a third boys’ home. It was 1973 and he was 13 years old. He wasn’t allowed to leave ‘care’ before the age of 19 and until he’d finished a trade. As soon as he could, he took off from Victoria and worked his way around Australia. He got married at 20 but the relationship didn’t last, and in the mid-1990s he reconnected with a woman he’d known as a teenager. They’d been together since. ‘Both of us were doing it rough’, Lyle said. ‘That’s when the alcohol and the marijuana stood in’, but he said they’d ‘supported each other big time’.
Lyle said for decades he didn’t tell people he’d grown up in boys’ homes. ‘The first time I did let someone know they looked down on me in a real funny way, you know, and when they called me a “dirty, little orpho-boy”, I thought, what?’
Lyle was upset that the people into whose care he’d been entrusted had let him down and that no one else had ever thought to check up on him and the other children.
‘The signs were that bloody obvious it wasn’t funny, you know what I mean? I mean the abuse was there. You could see it in every kid’s face. As soon as a government official turned up, it was like, you know, yeah, the anxiety was just so much. “Help me, help me, help me.” But nothing said, you know what I mean? All standing there like little numbies, like they used to call us.’