Malcolm John's story

Malcolm’s father was a soldier who fought in World War II. After his discharge he returned to his wife and children in Melbourne. ‘It was just “You’re out of the army; get back to your life”’, Malcolm told the Commissioner. ‘There was no such thing as post-traumatic stress disorder or anything like that.’

By the time Malcolm was born in the early 1950s, at the tail end of the large family, his father had become an alcoholic who physically abused his wife. When Malcolm was four, he and his siblings were made state wards and placed in a government orphanage.

As an eight-year-old, Malcolm was moved with some of his siblings from the orphanage into a group home of about 10 children. It was managed by Peter and Beryl Johnson. The children were instructed to call the Johnsons Uncle and Aunty.

When Malcolm had been there for a few weeks, the matron from the orphanage visited to see how he was settling in. ‘I asked if I could go back to the orphanage’, Malcolm recalled. ‘She said why – I should be grateful. I said “Because I have to sit on Uncle’s knee and you know he rubs me with his stiffy” – and as soon as I said that she gave me a bashing, for saying that word, for saying “stiffy”.’

Malcolm got more beatings that day, from Beryl and later from her husband, when the matron reported the word he’d used. ‘Three bashings in one day for saying stiffy. Nobody considered why I was saying it, you know. The matron didn’t consider why I said that word, it was just I said that word … so I didn’t get to go back to the orphanage.’

Instead Malcolm spent the next eight or so years at the group home, where he was physically and sexually abused by Peter. He didn’t try to tell anyone what was happening. He felt the matron had ignored his complaint, and that anyone else would too. ‘That was it’, he said. ‘That was it for the rest of my life.’

As a 10-year-old, Malcolm got an early morning paper run. Peter’s job started early as well. When he got up, he’d come into Malcolm’s room, masturbate in front of him and ejaculate onto Malcolm’s face or elsewhere on his body. Malcolm hoped that if he weren’t doing the paper run the abuse would come to an end. So he invented an assault and an accident. His employer called the police. Malcolm intended to tell them about Johnson’s abuse but froze during his interview and was unable to. His paper run came to an end, but the sexual assaults didn’t. ‘The abuse happened the whole time I was there’, Malcolm said.

Other kids in the home were sexually assaulted as well, he said. Though they haven’t discussed it he’s certain his brother Alan, who was also at the group home, was a victim. ‘It’s like you’re sitting in your house and it’s raining but you can’t see the rain because you’ve got the doors closed. But you know it’s raining’, he explained.

‘Me and my brother haven’t even spoken together about this. We know it happened but we haven’t sat around and spoken about it. I’m nearly 64, he’s nearly 65 … I don’t want him to know and he obviously doesn’t want me to know, but we both know. And the same with all the other kids there. It sort of got to the stage where – you knew whose door he was opening, and you knew who was getting woken up. You could hear their voices. But we didn’t sit there and talk about it. But everybody knew, and it wasn’t just me – it was everybody.’

Speaking to the Royal Commission was the first time Malcolm had revealed his abuse in any detail. He has never had counselling. Three things have kept him going, he said. ‘First one is my kids. The second one is alcohol, and the third one is drugs.’ In recent years he has pretty much given up drugs, and he drinks much less than he did. He lives in regional Victoria with a partner he met some years ago. ‘We just hit it off’, he told the Commissioner.

He has not reported the abuse to police, and doesn’t intend to. Peter died not long ago. He lived in a home in the months before his death, which Malcolm considers a fitting punishment.

‘To me that was much better than going to jail, because he’s in the same situation as we were in … With someone bossing him around, telling him when he can go to the toilet, and when he can eat and when he goes to bed … To me that was really good. He probably wasn’t going to be sexually abused but he was going to be bossed around by other people all the time, you know.’

Malcolm believes that what happened to him could have been prevented if there had been more independent oversight of his situation. The only person to check up on him was the matron, who was friends with the Johnsons. ‘They all worked with each other’, he said. ‘My opinion in view of the whole thing is there should be other people that make contact with people in homes and institutions.’ As well, he said, children need to be listened to. ‘Nobody asks us questions. And we can’t say what we want to say because we know what will happen to us.’

Malcolm has had lifelong issues with authority as a result of his childhood experiences. ‘I just had to work for myself. I couldn’t work for another person. It even affected my marriage, I just couldn’t stand my wife telling me things all the time’, he said. ‘I’ve never been a law-breaker but I’ve taken a lot of risks in my time and I have seen a lot of things happen … There’s no point in going to police, or reporting things to bosses, because you think well, nothing’s going to happen anyway … You just lose trust in all authority, you know.’

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