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Merrick's story

‘First of all I’d like to say that no child is born bad.’

After his birth in 1950, Merrick was taken from his mother who was 16 and resident in a government-run girls’ home. For years Merrick lived happily with his grandmother but things changed when he was 12 years old and had to go and live with his mother and her new partner.

‘She ended up marrying a bloke. He was an alcoholic, Mum was an alcoholic. She only married him to put a roof over my head and he used to abuse me. Mum used to abuse me too. She’s dead now, died a couple of years ago, but we made up over the years anyway. We made up. There was no love, affection or nothing. Me stepfather bought me a football and three days later he was bashing me. He used to drag me out of bed and make me show his mates my penis and all those things. Disgusting. I didn’t like that environment.’

By 14, Merrick was living on the streets of Melbourne and it wasn’t long before he was picked up and taken to a youth detention centre. ‘I was made a ward of the state and I was bashed the first night I was in there’, Merrick said. ‘Three guys bashed me and I had blood all over me face. They wanted me to suck their penises … They said, “You’ll gobble, gobble tonight”, and all this, and next day I bolted. I didn’t actually escape; I ran away.’

Merrick was found by Victoria Police and returned to the detention centre. Soon afterwards he got into a fight and was sent to the showers. There, one of the guards tried to touch him and when Merrick resisted he was sent back to his locked cell.

‘A week or fortnight later he come in to me room one night and he had an erection. He was laying beside me bed or standing half up, kneeling down. He was trying to kiss me and grope me. He said, “Oh come on, let’s do a little bit of business” and all this. I said, “Get out”, and with that he pulled up his pants and walked out. He said, “If you tell anybody, I’ll get the big kids on you”. I always remember that. I was 14 or 15 then.’

Merrick told the Commissioner that he absconded several more times and ended up being placed in another boys’ home. In this environment he was taught to drive a tractor, the first time he’d received any kind of training or education. He was upset when it came time to leave because he had no supports outside and didn’t know what to do. Between the ages of 17 and 24, he moved in and out of jail, going from boys’ detention facilities to Pentridge Prison, which was known by inmates as ‘The College of Knowledge’.

Realising he had to get out of Melbourne, ‘otherwise I would have killed someone or someone would have killed me’, Merrick moved interstate. At one stage he’d been homeless and living on the streets of Melbourne ‘wandering around, dirtying meself, peeing meself like an old man’.

During these years, two different psychiatrists had diagnosed Merrick with schizophrenia and for a long time he was on many and varied medications. ‘Everyone used to call me “Rowdy”, ‘cause I’d never speak’, Merrick said. ‘In the end they found out there was no evidence whatsoever of schizophrenia.’

The only report of abuse Merrick made was when he went with a friend in the detention centre to report the abuse by the guard. He wasn’t sure if any action was taken but said he didn’t see the guard afterwards. He’d once spoken to a solicitor who asked why he hadn’t reported it to police. ‘I said, “I wasn’t in a position to go to the police when I was locked up in security”. I left that to the authorities. Sorry if I’m coming on a bit strong. Other than that I was frightened of repercussions too, of getting bashed. They all stick together that mob.’

Heavy alcohol use had been a constant in Merrick’s life until he went through a program run by the Salvation Army and ‘finally beat the grog’. He’d had two marriages, both of which broke down and he was estranged from two of his children. However, he’d been a constant presence in the life of one son who was now 18 years old. ‘I look at him and think, I’d hate him to go through what I went through.’ Merrick had spoken with his son about some of his experiences but hadn’t gone into detail. ‘Now he knows why I am [like I am] today, you know.’

Merrick said his son helped him look to the future. ‘I got to try and do it for my son, give him what I didn’t have sort of thing, you know. To be taken away and put in these places where there’s a lot of other kids, bullying and fighting and everything like that, you end up a different person. You end up being hard and it’s like the peer pressure thing - you follow the sheep. You don’t want to be a stooge sitting in the corner and everyone picks on you. You want to be one of the boys. You end up becoming like them and you put the wrong people on a pedestal. You do things for attention. You’re attention-seeking. You’re looking for it in the wrong areas, you know what I mean.’

‘I live with those memories but they’re not as acute as when I was younger. As soon as I hit the bottle I was 10 foot tall, bullet proof and - Dutch courage sort of thing - I’d go out and do stupid things and end up in jail. Now I can honestly say I can go to bed at night and I wake up in the morning and say I know what I’ve done the night before. I am in control.’

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