Mercy noticed her grandson Bradley’s behaviour started to change dramatically when he was almost four years old in the mid-2000s. ‘He was a busy little boy but not like this.’ During the week Bradley attended the home day care centre in Adelaide. He’d been there since he was about 18 months old. Mercy and her husband occasionally had Bradley stay with them on weekends when their daughter, Bradley’s mother, needed to work.
On one particular weekend, Mercy put Bradley in the car to take him for a drive ‘which I always do’ when his demeanour completely changed. ‘Normally he says, “Oh Nana, where we going?” you know, just relaxed. He looked at me, he completely changed and I thought “Ooh wow, what’s happening here?”
He says “Where are you taking me?” And with that he put his feet up against the glove box and he just, well, I’d say lost it. He screamed, he tried to get out, he was fighting. And I kept talking to him, saying “Hey we’re gonna go home”.’
When Mercy got Bradley back home she spent some time trying to get him to sleep, which he eventually did. ‘I stayed with him the whole time. He woke up, he took his nappy off and he started to masturbate.’ Bradley could not speak very much at that age but began demonstrating other problematic behaviour, such as urinating and defecating on the floor, even though he had been toilet trained.
‘I then knew that there was something in that situation here which upset me greatly. I spoke to my daughter about it and she said “Well that at least explained why he’s behaving so badly”.’ Mercy’s daughter told her that Bradley had started ‘screaming he didn’t wanna go there anymore’ in reference to the day care centre.
‘I said “Look just take him out. I’ll look after him”. So I used to meet her on a regular basis after that. I picked him up several times, twice in that time. Both times he was crashed out on the couch and I’d pick him up and [there] was no response. Put him in the chair in the back, like his seat. He’d sleep for 13 hours solid … and then when he did actually wake up after that long time he would lose the plot, absolutely lose it. He’d be thrashing and screaming. Hysterical.’
A few years later when he was six years old, Bradley asked Mercy to take him for a drive. ‘He told me where to drive so I drove.’ The first place Bradley took her was another day care centre. From there they drove past a property where Bradley’s mother worked, and then past the property where a family acquaintance, Phil Tenner, lived.
As they passed the property Bradley said, ‘Ha ha! I’ve got your son’, and told Mercy that Tenner had a gun under his lounge. Mercy kept driving until they reached a dirt road, which Bradley instructed her to drive down. After turning the corner they came across a white van with no windows and Bradley told Mercy ‘That’s where they keep the cameras.’ They kept driving until they crossed the river. Bradley told Mercy to stop the car whereby he got out and ‘just lost it’ by damaging the car and creating havoc.
After returning from their drive, Mercy reported to the police her concerns that Bradley had been either been abused while in childcare or that the day care centre had facilitated abuse. The police were able to confirm that the van’s numberplate was actually registered to a Mercedes Benz sedan and that Phil Tenner did indeed have a gun which he used for duck hunting. When she followed the police up later regarding the investigation, the officer Mercy had been liaising with denied the existence of the gun and told her he didn’t want to hear from her again.
‘I got very upset with that, ‘cause he’d said prior to that that he’d seen one, found it. And I said, “Well I hope my little grandson survives all this”. And I haven’t heard any more from him, but he was the one that said there was a gun and then turned around and said there wasn’t one.’
Up until he was aged about 10 Bradley’s behaviour continued to deteriorate while he indicated other experiences he had had during childcare.
‘He then went into explaining tattoos. He mentioned about a big bike and it sound like to me bike groups … and then he said Phil would hand money to a police officer … He gave a lot of detail. I mean they used to fill up a bucket, put water in it, they used to wee and poo in it and then they used to have to drink it, this sort of stuff. Animals being used, touching animals. Children with children, boys with boys. He would kind of demonstrate really, which was not pleasant at the time.’
As the revelations of abuse came out Mercy’s psychological health declined until she suffered a breakdown when she was nearly 50.
‘That’s when it brought up my child abuse. So it was a double header … It takes me back to Catholic Church. I was abused by Father Dominic Moran as well as my grandfather, so I kinda have a lot of emotions myself where that was concerned as well … I obviously shut everything away, buried it I s’pose.’
Mercy began to recall that Father Moran would molest her at least fortnightly in confession and then she’d have to continue the confession and ask for forgiveness. The abuse finally ended when Moran moved to another parish. Mercy never told anyone about it. ‘You weren’t to say anything. You were seen but not heard. I do remember that quite clearly, it’s something that still sits with me.’
Mercy has since received counselling, and disclosed to her husband as well as her father. ‘I did mention it to my older father. He’s 97 and still is with us, and he didn’t wanna know about it. ‘Cause I mean he’s very strict and Catholic. And when he hears about it on the TV he changes the channel. So I don’t talk to him about that.’
‘It does ruin your life. I know my personal life has not been sweet sailing, I guess. And it does hold you back. I was always low in confidence. I didn’t do well in school, either … I became a drinker and I used to drink every weekend. That’s all I did … every weekend. And I’d drink until I couldn’t walk.’
Mercy now feels at peace with the abuse she experienced as a child but is focussed on seeking justice for Bradley and the prevention of abuse happening to other children. Bradley is now in his adolescence and no longer talks about his experience in childcare. He has received counselling and his family have been advised by psychiatrists to not try and trigger any more memories. Mercy told the Commissioner that Bradley’s behaviour these days is ‘hit and miss’ and ‘he struggles terribly with school’. Mercy does not believe the childcare centre was properly investigated and she continues to seek legal avenues for this to occur.
‘I’m prepared to do what I have to do. I just really would like to see it investigated.’