Mathias's story

Mathias has built up a tremendous amount of resilience for someone who had such a rough start in life.

In the late 1960s, when he was two, he migrated from Europe to Australia with his parents and younger brother. His father found work in Queensland but his mother had great difficulty settling as she couldn’t speak English.

Three years after arriving, they had a daughter and Mathias’s mother wanted to return to Europe but his father refused. His mother became addicted to anti-depressants and tried to kill herself, along with Mathias’s father and brother, with an overdose of pills. Mathias wasn’t home at the time.

After this, his parents divorced and his mother returned to Europe with his sister. His father turned to alcohol and Mathias and his brother were placed into foster care as wards of state. He was seven years old, and he remained in institutions and foster care until he was 18.

One of those institutions was a mental health unit of a hospital. Because of the neglect by his father, Mathias said, he was considered unmanageable and he was heavily drugged with anti-psychotics.

‘That made me compliant to staff but it also made me subdued to abuse from older children that were there … I remember one of my abusers. He was 15 and I was about eight. I was unable to fight him off. I told staff, staff didn’t do anything about it. I tried to abscond from the facility three times but was always brought back by police and then sent back to see a doctor.’

Mathias said he was also abused by older men when placed on some wards, although the details are fuzzy because of the amount of medication he was on. He became very hard to control as he refused to take directions from anyone. As a result he was given further treatments, including electro-shock therapy.

After the hospital, Mathias was placed in a children’s home. There was a man from the Salvation Amy who would come and take the boys on outings.

‘Sometimes he’d ply alcohol and take whoever was with him to various locations, like along the river or to car parks or lookouts or to someone’s house somewhere and they’d be subsequently abused either in the car or on the car or in the house.’

Talking of his abuse in the third person is one of the coping mechanisms Mathias uses to deal with the abuse. He said it happened many times, ‘more than I care to remember’.

When he was about 10, Mathias and his brother were placed in the foster care of an elderly couple, where they stayed for a number of years.

His foster parents asked him once if he’d been abused and he told them he had. ‘But they didn’t really want to acknowledge or assist in any way. They asked and then there was no outcome, no resolution.’

He also reported it to his case worker who visited him at the foster home, but she said she was powerless to do anything about it and his only option apart from care was to return to Europe. By this time he could no longer speak his parents’ language and had no contact with his mother.

He stayed with that family for seven years but eventually they moved and told Mathias they no longer had room for him.

At about age 18, Mathias became an alcoholic and got into a cycle of violence, crime and drugs, tempered with sporadic employment. He was caught in possession of a firearm, charged and sent to prison for a month.

‘Whilst in prison I was abused there because my medical records stated that I’d been abused before and the prison controller believed that placing somebody he thought was a homosexual amongst hard criminals would settle them down and therefore I was abused in jail.’

He reported the incident and received compensation but during the court case, when his medical file was read out, he said there was laughter between the legal representatives and he felt like he was being mocked. So he had his own medical file destroyed.

Mathias moved interstate and over the years has done various blue-collar jobs and got on with life.

After his poor experience of psychiatric intervention while young, Mathias doesn’t hold much truck with counselling as a way of dealing with his past. He chooses instead to look outwards, caring for his garden and, for the past 25 years, for a friend with a disability who he invited to live with him.

He said he’s not the only person who came from a difficult family.

‘It’s not the only one in the world. I’ve come to realise that there are other people that have suffered similar things.’

So how does he keep going?

‘Time heals all things I think,’ he said. ‘Even though you can’t change the past you can change the future and that’s my view of things. An education through older people, conversations with other people, having a moral compass I suppose, and a reason. Life goes on and being self-destructive is no outcome.’

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