Maxwell James's story

Maxwell’s mum married his dad when she was pregnant and 14, and they soon had a large family. In the mid-1940s, when Maxwell was eight years old, police came to remove the children because they were being neglected. He and his brothers were taken into care and made wards of the state. They were sent to a secular children’s home in an outer Melbourne suburb.

During the two years or so Maxwell spent at the home he was sexually abused by a staff member called Mr Carpenter, who would lure him to his bedroom with the offer of a hot chocolate.

Mr Carpenter would strip Maxwell down, make him get into the bed, and then put his penis between his legs. He kissed and cuddled him too. Maxwell knows that other boys were also being abused, particularly the younger ones. He told one of his brothers about the abuse at the time, and was told he would ‘just have to cop it’. He also reported Mr Carpenter to his houseparents, but they dismissed his concerns and did nothing.

To avoid the abuse Maxwell started running away from the home, and as a result spent time in other institutions. After being released from care he returned to live with his mother. This arrangement didn’t last very long and he then went to live with one of his brothers in a boarding house. He had no education, but his brother found him work.

Being very athletic he was then employed as a sportsman, which paid ‘good money’. A family involved in the sport took him into their home as a boarder, and helped him find his feet.

Maxwell told the Commissioner that ‘he just got on with life’ after the abuse, although he drank heavily for a while and this sometimes made him aggressive. Still, he thinks he fared better than the brothers he was in the home with. He married and had kids, but this didn’t last very long. He was with his next partner for over four decades, but they never married as she’d tell him ‘I hate wedding cake’.

After several attempts Maxwell obtained his files through a freedom of information application, and found reading them upsetting. There is a letter from one of his houseparents stating that he did not know why Maxwell kept absconding from the home – even though Maxwell had disclosed the abuse by Mr Carpenter to him.

Around 15 years ago Maxwell sought advice about his legal options but was told that because the abuse occurred so long ago no action was possible. He is now seeking a second opinion regarding compensation.

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