The man in charge of the dairy at the Salvation Army boys’ home that Mac was sent to as a 15-year-old in the early 1970s, was known as ‘Boss Len’. Because the cows had to be milked at 4 am, Len resided on the property in quarters close to the boys’ cells, and he used this proximity and isolation as an opportunity to sexually abuse them.
‘During that period he had access to all the boys so to speak’, Mac said. ‘On regular occasions he’d come up – I don’t know how many boys it was. Of a night he’d come up, open the cells, go up to his quarters and he would give us alcohol and cigarettes, then abuse us. What he personally done to me was oral sex and masturbation, and not quite sure what else because most of the time we wouldn’t remember what had happened.’
Mac said the abuse stopped after he was taken to a Melbourne hospital with stroke-like symptoms. The illness wasn’t severe, however it was decided that Mac shouldn’t return to the dairy and he was sent to work in another section of the home. His new ‘boss’ was ‘a fantastic guy’ and Mac found working under him a positive experience, though his impression of the home remained – that it was more ‘like a concentration camp’ than a training facility.
Mac didn’t tell anyone about the abuse by ‘Boss Len’, partly because he was allowed out of the home early for good behaviour and didn’t want to jeopardise his release. He also feared he wouldn’t be believed.
In the years afterwards he always worried about mentioning it to anyone in case people thought he might be an offender himself. ‘The reasons you don’t come out with it, it’s a lot to do with children, like if you told someone you were molested as a child they might think you are one, and not trust you round their children. You’re not, but that’s how you think. It’s a common thought. It’s the reason you don’t say anything … It’s a psychological thing –whether they trust you round their children, which is a terrible feeling. It’s not really good.’
Mac’s first disclosure was to his daughter one night in the early 2000s when he was drunk. His daughter was outraged and encouraged him to report it to the Salvation Army. Mac did so and was told there were no records to confirm that he’d been in the home as they’d all been destroyed. Mac was able to produce a letter his sister had written to him with the address of the boys’ home and a date stamp from 1971.
Seeing this, the Salvation Army asked Mac to go to the now repurposed boys’ home, accompanied by their lawyers, and to re-enact what had occurred. Mac did so and soon afterwards received $35,000 on condition of a signed deed of release. The Salvation Army also provided eight sessions of counselling, but it wasn’t clear if they were for therapeutic purposes or so that a psychological report could be submitted as part of the claim process.
Mac said he was told by the Salvation Army that he was the only one who’d made a complaint about ‘Boss Len’, a statement he thought was unlikely. He never felt like he was believed by the Army’s staff and no apology was offered, something that still upset him.
‘The Salvation Army couldn’t even turn around and tell me that they were sorry for it happening to me’, he said. ‘It wasn’t the money so much, it was the sorry, that they couldn’t even say that, which is terrible. Sorry is not that hard of a word to say.’
As a teenager and into his early 20s, Mac self-harmed and he still struggles with ‘an alcohol problem I’m trying to deal with the best way I can’. His marriage broke up and his wife ‘went through hell with me’, as did his children.
Part of the reason for coming to the Royal Commission, Mac said, was to speak for those who couldn’t. ‘I’m thinking about the people who can’t come forward or who have committed suicide. I’m speaking on behalf of those – to help guys that have passed on and can’t come forward. To get to the bottom of it so the future of children don’t have to suffer like I did. That’s about all I can say. It’s all about coming out in the open and try and stop all this abuse that’s been happening with children in the future.’