Marty’s father had fought in WWII and couldn’t get work afterwards. He became an alcoholic, and very violent. ‘He wasn’t a very pleasant man’, Marty said.
Marty grew up in the 1950s as one of a big family of kids, for whom getting enough to eat each day was a struggle. They lived in the country near Melbourne, and Marty remembered working as a very young child, picking potatoes, and giving the money to his mother. As a 10-year-old he started stealing and at 12 he was caught, deemed ‘uncontrollable’ and sent to a Salvation Army home for boys in Melbourne.
Marty hated life at the home and absconded regularly. Each time he’d be returned to the home and severely beaten – which meant that as soon as he could he’d take off again. ‘It was just a continual cycle’, he said.
His record of absconding meant he was denied permission to return home at Christmas and other holidays. Instead, he had to stay at the home. It was a much reduced group of boys staying at these times, and they all shared a single dormitory. Marty was sexually abused on many occasions during these holiday breaks, by two different Salvation Army officers.
Though they didn’t talk about it, he’s sure the other boys in the dormitory were abused as well.
‘[The officers] were predators’, Marty told the Commissioner. ‘Make no mistake – it’s a fairly strong word, but that’s what they were. That’s why you absconded, because those clowns were up to it all the bloody time.’
Physical abuse was common too.
‘When we talk about beating we’re talking about officers using their fists and punching people’, Marty explained. He recalled one officer in particular, ‘70 if he was a day, a weedy little bugger’, who would whip boys into submission with the cord from the iron. He’d go berserk, Marty said. ‘He was a bloody maniac.’
Marty left the home after 18 months and went to work on his uncle’s farm. ‘I always respected my uncle. He made me work like a bloody navvy but he was always a person I admired, because of his work ethic.’
It was the first time, Marty said, that he found himself in the care of someone he could look up to. Until then, ‘there was no one’.
Marty had left the Salvation Army home ill-prepared for life, he said. Though he had some schooling there, he was not given the opportunity to attend high school. In general, he believed that many of the lessons absorbed naturally in a family weren’t taught at the home.
‘[It’s] the preparation for adulthood: I think that it didn’t prepare people for how to handle money, how to handle relationships, with people, with women. It didn’t prepare people for getting a good job. Most people took mundane jobs working in factories … What you actually learned in the hostel was basically the art of survival.’
Marty explained to the Commissioner that even now he feels the stigma of his experiences there.
‘It doesn’t matter how old you get or how close you get to other people, there is still stigmatisation’, he said. ‘Even professional people struggle – you know, psychologists – they struggle to come to grips with the stories that are being told to them by inmates of institutions. So I find you become a very private person.’
Also a mistrustful one. ‘I don’t trust anybody’, he said. ‘If there’s one thing that irritates [my wife] more than anything it’s probably that.’ He also traces his dislike of authority and his difficulty expressing emotion back to his time at the home. ‘One of the biggest problems is that a lot of people who’ve been incarcerated find it very difficult to show emotions to the closest of people to them’, he said.
Marty has had counselling over the years which has been helpful. He has been married twice and is still in his second, happy marriage. He has five children. He received compensation from the Salvation Army for the abuse but said it was the minimum amount, because lawyers were able to manipulate his evidence to discredit his story.
He is critical of the Salvation Army’s approach to dealing with complaints, and said the legalist focus and effort put into uncovering inconsistencies would put a lot of people off. ‘You have to be specific about dates or will be deemed to be concocting evidence’, he said.
‘That’s a fear of a lot of people, because our memories aren’t great.’
The Salvation Army home where Marty lived has closed now, along with many other such institutions. Marty believes that had to happen, but he is concerned for the wellbeing of young people who need care today. He is distressed by the number of homeless and unemployed kids living on the streets.
‘These are the parents of tomorrow’, he said. ‘I just wonder, what does the future hold for them?’