‘I’m glad it’s getting out in the open ‘cause it’s been a lotta, lotta years.’
It was over 60 years ago that Martin was in an Anglican home for boys in Melbourne. His dad put him there after his mum left the family.
Martin showed the Commissioner a photo of himself as an undersized 11-year-old, to illustrate what ‘heroes’ his abusers were.
The home was run by the ambitious Reverend Baker. His wife was the matron. The second in charge was a man called Reverend Gleason. He had a cane that he used on the boys at the slightest provocation.
‘Baker didn’t have much access to us but Gleason would have us all in the back room, settin’ us all out.’
Reverend Baker started a choir with 10 of the boys. He was keen to be promoted in the Church and the more he was in the limelight, the further up the ladder he went. So he’d push the choir to sing during services, some of which were broadcast on the radio. ‘He used that as his propaganda to get himself up the ladder.’
Martin was unlucky enough to be head choir boy.
There were three services a day, so three times a day the boys had to change into cassocks. Gleason was always there to lend a hand.
‘This bloke was front and centre puttin’ it on you. His hands was going everywhere. And we were just standing there like that. “Yes sir, no sir”.’
At night in the dormitories, things were more terrifying. No one locked the doors. And boys started complaining about strangers feeling them up. They were told that it was vagrants coming in off the street.
‘But you don’t come in off the street and start fondlin’ the kids. And there was kids complaining everywhere. They were that petrified, you couldn’t tell anyone.’
One night Martin saw a figure moving between the beds. He snuck out and grabbed a broken broom handle. He was about to stick the handle below his bed to store as a weapon.
‘Out came these hands. Well I took off ... I run down the stairs to the big boys and hid under one of the big blokes’ beds.’
The next day he talked to his older mate Michael, who told him it was Gleason sneaking around. ‘He was doing it all along.’
Martin believes that Reverend Gleason was training new boys. ‘He had his, excuse the expression, bum boys and he was probably trying to groom us younger kids for his likes … When it did start to get heavy on me … I bolted a couple of times. I just had to run.’
The punishment for running was getting tied to the bed, belly down. Martin wrote that Gleason would ‘walk past and whack us at will saying “let this be an example”. A lot of the boys had bleeding from the anus as a result of being abused – I think it was more rape with a cane to tell us who was boss.’
Gleason would find excuses to isolate boys and brutalise them.
‘Kids were getting badly hurt from Gleason. He would make out that they fell over. He had his story down pat. And then send them upstairs to Matron Baker. She was doing all the running repairs. It was ridiculous.’
Reverend Gleason ruled the roost. ‘Once he had you cowered, he more or less just led you around like a little lamb.’
The boys talked in low voices about what they could do. But there was nothing. ‘You couldn’t talk to anyone, no one’d listen to you … They virtually give you a backhander and said to you “stop lying”.’
But eventually Martin got out. He’d complained to his stepmother about having a sore bum where he’d been whacked by Gleason. ‘I was still bleeding where he used to use this stick on me ... to straighten me out.’
His step mother took a look at him. A month later he was back at home. Home was a crowded terrace house in a rundown area, but Martin was glad to be there. He was 13.
A few months later, at his father’s insistence, he started work.
Even though Martin had escaped Gleason, he continued to feel the passivity that Gleason had instilled in him.
When he was about 28 he went through a violent stage. It lasted about five years. By then his relationship had ended, he was homeless and committing offences.
Martin has not made any formal police reports or applied for any redress or compensation. He was just glad he got clear of the home.
‘I still have dramas about it … When this came up this week I said, since this has been reignited I’ve had buggers of a night in bed. You’re reliving everything, it keeps comin’ up. You can’t bury it altogether.’
Martin revisited the site of the home a while ago. It’s now a housing development. He saw that the street had been named Gleason Avenue.
‘And I thought, “This rotten mongrel, he’s done all that to us and they name a street after him”.’