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Marty Tom's story

In a written statement and his private session, Marty described what it was like growing up in children’s homes. In total, he was in residential care for eight years. His memories ‘are marked by sexual, physical and emotional abuse, neglect, excessive child labour, and neglect of education’.

Along with his two brothers, Marty was ‘deported’ from Ireland in the 1950s and arrived in Australia as part of the child migrant scheme. His mother had died some years earlier and his father agreed to his children being placed in orphanages on the proviso that they all stay together.

At the time of his departure, Marty had been in two homes: one run by the Nazareth nuns; the other overseen by De La Salle Brothers. His sisters had already been separated from the boys, and one day Marty was told by someone that his two brothers had ‘been picked’ to go to Australia and that he ‘might as well go too’.

After a six-week voyage, the boys arrived in Western Australia where they were picked up and sent to a Christian Brothers home. Shortly afterwards, Marty was deemed too old at 13 to stay there and was transferred to a different boys’ home.

Distressed at again being separated from family, Marty was put to work on the farm associated with his new school where he undertook hard physical labour. He received only two years of education and was told he was ‘incapable of understanding academic work’.

‘The limited education and lack of training I received in institutional care not only damaged my confidence and self-image, it also restricted my opportunities in life, and limited my choices throughout my working career.’

He also experienced sexual abuse by two different Christian Brothers, as well as a volunteer staff member and some older boys. One of the Brothers would call Marty up to his desk in the classroom and ‘work his hand inside my belt and down my pants’ and ‘fiddle’ with him. At these times Marty felt ‘powerless to do anything to stop him’.

Another Brother sexually abused Marty ‘on a regular basis’ and even after Marty had left the home, the Brother sought him out ‘for further opportunities to molest me, and expose and masturbate himself in my presence’.

The volunteer staff member ‘always tried to get you on his own’ and was ‘a known fiddler’. Despite trying to avoid him, Marty experienced abuse by this man, as well as by some older boys.

When they turned 17, boys had to leave the home and were usually sent out to work for other farmers. Marty did this for very low wages for two years until he was taken by the farmer to town, ‘dumped’ at a boarding house and told ‘you’ll be right here’.

With little knowledge of the world, Marty made a resolution to get by on his own.

‘I thought, "Nobody’s going to put it over me", you know, so you had to be strong. You say you know, “How come you’re like you are today?” but geez, when you’ve been through a few things, nothing’s going to knock you down.’

Despite his experiences in the boys’ home, Marty thought his time there wasn’t as bad as accounts he’d heard from others who’d been sent there after him.

‘It was hard, but I mean it wasn’t anything that other kids wouldn’t have been doing on a farm anyway. You did your chores and the usual things. I mean, it was a bit rough. The weather was hot. The clothes were sometimes inadequate, hats and shoes and things like that were inadequate, but food – there was always enough to eat. Always enough to eat, it mightn’t have been the flashest, but we grew our own vegies.’

The Brothers, most of whom were about ‘six, seven years older’ than him, had no training, he said, and he drew a distinction between the two who’d abused him and others.

‘Not all the Brothers were like that. Maybe out of the 11 there might have been three or four that, well you just didn’t like or there was something about them, I don’t know. But the others tried their best to make it, you know, with what they had, tried to make it reasonable.’

Marty kept in touch with a lot of former residents of the home and did his best to support them. In helping others, he said that he ‘tried to mask the hurt, trauma and void in my life that was dealt out to me, but unfortunately the sorrow and grief of the circumstances never fades’.

He felt sorry for those who, unlike him, were alone. He regretted too that there weren’t more support services for the families of those who’d been abused. ‘The one thing I’ve been fighting for or trying to get recognised is what the partners and the wives have been through. There is nothing.’

Marty told his wife early in their relationship about his treatment in the home. He didn’t like it however when he went to reunions and former residents talked only about the abuse. Through the WA Redress Scheme he’d received $45,000 but he didn’t think much of the apology. ‘Words don’t mean much to me’, he said.

In the 1990s Marty met up with the sisters and brother he’d left behind in Ireland. Even though he thought the country was ‘claustrophobic’ and ‘couldn’t live there’, he felt the loss of ‘culture, traditions and customs of my land of birth’, and it found it difficult trying to reconnect. ‘The family should never have been split up.’

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