Mervyn Duncan's story

Mervyn’s British father was killed while fighting in World War II. His mother brought Mervyn to Australia after the war and they lived in various Western Australian country towns. When his mother remarried, Mervyn found he couldn’t put up with his new stepfather, who was an alcoholic. Mervyn was sent to live in an Anglican children’s home for two years, and then a Methodist boys’ home.

‘Child abuse takes all forms and some of them at that time were quite common for many, many children’, Mervyn told the Commissioner.

Though Mervyn was not sexually abused in these homes, he did suffer from the strict discipline and neglect. The children had to walk miles to school in bare feet; shoes were allowed on Sunday only. Canings were administered frequently for breaches of the often arbitrary rules.

Mervyn eventually returned to his mother and stepfather, but again relations soured and Mervyn was offered the chance to live in a children’s home run by Legacy. The old building was beautiful, but Mervyn soon found himself in trouble. ‘Unfortunately the children were never supervised by Matron. Complaints to her were just ignored.’

Mervyn was about 13 years old by then. He and another young boy were regularly set upon in the dormitory by a group of four to six older boys. Mervyn was pinned down by the gang and forcibly masturbated. The abuse occurred at least weekly, sometimes more often. The Matron was indifferent.

‘She never went into the quarters where the boys were, she never came to inspect them. If there was any noise she would never interrupt anything there, especially when I was screaming and yelling out that I was in trouble. Nothing ever happened.’

Mervyn tried to bypass the Matron and took his complaints to his sponsors with Legacy, one of whom was a Member of Parliament. However, feeling ashamed, he did not disclose the sexual assaults; he merely stated that he was unhappy with the other boys. This brought down the wrath of the Matron for going behind her back and Mervyn’s situation worsened.

‘I couldn’t live with the abuse and so on. I must have taken a terrible risk, but I just left one day and hitchhiked to [Mum’s home].’ The journey took nearly two days. To Mervyn’s knowledge no one from Legacy checked on him after he absconded.

His mother had since had another child and as there was little room in their two-bedroom house, Mervyn found accommodation in a boarding house. Here Mervyn was given alcohol one night by some men and, after he passed out, one of the men carried him back to his room and raped him. He was 15 years old.

Mervyn chiefly regrets the disruption to his schooling caused by his dislocated childhood and especially the sexual abuse he suffered in his early teens. ‘Something that disturbed me over many years is the fact I had my education and opportunities to study and be educated taken away from me.

‘As it happened I did very well in mathematics later in life when I was in my 30s when I was studying engineering … I think if I’d had that opportunity earlier, perhaps to go to university, I would’ve been much further ahead in my life.’

Mervyn had not disclosed his abuse to anyone until he approached the Royal Commission. ‘I saw it and thought I’d do my bit. … Many, many kids suffered more than me. I hope it’s not like that anymore.’

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