‘Before I was three and a half, I don’t remember any of it at all. [I] cannot remember what my father looked like, if he was tall, short, slim or fat. But I can still remember the smell of plastic plates and cups at [the] children’s home.’
Merv was placed in care in South Australia when he was three and he remained in state care until he was 18. He lived in children’s homes and with a number of foster families during that time. All he has been able to access about his time in care is one A4 piece of paper. All his records have apparently been destroyed.
‘I don’t like to think of the days growing up as a state ward, as there was no love given to us. “Just do as you are told.” No matter what it was, you had to do it, or get flogged.’
When he was 10, Merv was placed in a boys’ home, where he lived in constant fear. ‘In [the boys’ home], you didn’t do anything against anybody, because even if you didn’t do anything, you walked around the corner, you got a smack in the mouth. You had to fight your way for anything …
‘You were frightened to go to sleep at night, because the boys from the other dormitory would come over … and belt you up … [and] the sexual abuse fear when you have a shower … fear of talking to others in case someone thinks you are dobbing them in. Fear of the foster parents sending you back to the home.’
While he was in the boys’ home, Merv was raped by a much older boy of 16 or 17. He never reported the sexual assault, because he ‘wasn’t game enough’.
Merv was placed in foster care more than once, with Sam and Edna Parkes. Between the ages of six and 10, Sam took Merv to look at boats. While they were on these outings, Sam began touching Merv on the genitals. Sam told Merv, ‘This is just sex education. Don’t tell anyone’.
Every time Merv stayed with the Parkes, up until he was 14 or 15, Edna made Merv shower with Sam. Once again, it was explained as ‘sex education’.
When he was released from state care, Merv went to work on cattle and sheep stations. ‘I was away from everything and away from everybody … I just put it out of my mind. I was away. I was in the bush … [My childhood] caused me that I couldn’t trust anybody. I couldn’t socialise with anybody. I hid in the bush.’
One of the major impacts of his traumatic childhood has been that Merv has had little education, and barely went beyond Grade 3. In the early 2000s, he decided to go to TAFE, and he completed two certificate courses. ‘I was sick and tired of being told I was dumb.’
Merv told the Commissioner, ‘Life has been hard I suppose, but how do you know, when it … has been the same all the way through. This is why I did not know what depression was, and that I had it from a young age.’ Merv was prescribed antidepressants in the early 2000s, and has been on them ever since.
He has been married for over 40 years, and he and his wife have experienced a number of setbacks and family heartbreaks over the years.
In the mid-1980s, when his wife was in hospital, the stress caught up with him and he ‘attempted to do what happened to me to my daughter, but I stopped in time. But I got charged for that and the Welfare’s held that against me ever since’. He told the Commissioner that he has never done anything like that again.
Merv and his wife had custody of their grandchildren from birth, until neighbours falsely accused Merv of sexually abusing his granddaughter in the late 2000s. He has been fighting with the Department of Child Protection, or the ‘Devil’s Criminal People’, as Merv calls them, ever since.
‘This is what devastates me again, because I’ve been put down all my life. You know. I’m sick of it. And it really, really hurts, because I want my family back together … I think we might work on seeing the children on weekends … We’ll never give up.’
Reuniting families is important to Merv. ‘Look what happened to me as a child. I grew up and I didn’t know my mum. I didn’t know my family … Reunite the family, [don’t] destroy the family. That’s my major point.’
Merv came to the Royal Commission because ‘it’s better to get it off your chest. It’s been held back too long.’