Michael John's story

‘I remember going in the boys’ home. We were in there quite a few years. I think it was 1970. I went in the boys’ home … ‘cause I think Mum couldn’t afford to look after us and then the people made us state wards. The government made us state wards. Took us off our parents.’

At the age of eight Michael was made a ward of the state of Victoria and placed with his brothers into a Methodist boys’ home. During the two years Michael was in the home, he was sexually abused by numerous other residents.

‘What happened to me was, there were older boys than me and I was one of the youngest boys there, and what happened is some of the older boys started to, they forced me to do sexual acts and stuff like that.’

As well as being forced to perform oral sex on some of the boys, Michael was raped by ‘one of the worst perpetrators’.

‘I was the youngest there and I didn’t fight back’, Michael said. ‘And it happened for a period of time. I went to the staff there, and each cottage had staff members and if you go there and report things and complain about things, it’s frowned upon and you’re seen as a dibber dobber. They hate you for that.’

The older boys ‘were in charge’, Michael said, and staff gave them ‘a lot of run’ to keep other boys in line. When Michael asked why they were allowed to do what they did he was told to ‘shut your mouth’.

‘A lot of blokes were in for criminal activity. I wasn’t there for criminal activity. I was there because I was a state ward.’

Bashings by older boys were commonplace. Michael said he ‘learnt to fight back’ and became violent himself until it ‘sort of became entrenched in me’.

One day he absconded and travelled to Sydney where he was sheltered by an aunt for two years. Michael went to school while he was living with his aunt, but said he’d learnt to read and write by himself, and was ‘self-taught’. She eventually told authorities where he was, but was told that Michael could stay with her.

At about the age of 14, he returned to Melbourne and ‘got in trouble with the police a lot’. He had no respect for authority because of what had been allowed to go on in the boys’ home.

His criminal offending escalated and he was incarcerated repeatedly for violent crimes. He spoke to the Commissioner from jail where he was serving a lengthy sentence for bank robbery. Before his latest conviction, he’d spent nine years as an integral part of his local community, working and participating in sporting activities. He was well-supported at the time and didn’t know what went wrong.

‘I still had the bad attitude because of the environment I was brought up with’, he said. ‘I became a product of my environment so I still hated coppers and still didn’t have a liking for them, because I seen them as the enemy ‘cause of what they used to do, ‘cause when I was young they used to belt me.

'Back in them days they take you to a police station because you’re Aboriginal and you just got flogged anyway. I remember once being in a pub and they just take you round and they flog you, they did, because you were in the pub.

So they take you back to the police station, give you a hiding and send you on your way. You wouldn’t be charged or nothing. That’s the way it was back then and it was tit-for-tat, so I bashed a lot of them too.’

Michael said that he’d had ‘the chance to get married’ but didn’t because he always questioned his sexuality and didn’t know whether he preferred men or women. He’s never told his family about the sexual abuse, nor any of the youth workers he has seen over the years because ‘it was personal and a shame job’. In court matters throughout the years, he has never told anyone about what happened to him as a child.

In 2008, Michael spoke to a lawyer about accessing compensation from both the state government and the Uniting Church. He understands the lawyers were busy but he is frustrated at the lack of progress over seven years.

It upset him too that programs he wanted to do while in jail weren’t available and that mental health support was available only for people with serious mental illnesses.

‘I want my time to serve me’, he said. ‘So I’m screaming at these people now that I want to do programs. I want to become a better person. I don’t want to be the same person ‘cause when I get out I’m going to be angrier and then it escalates to the next level.’

He found it hard to be in jail with other men who were sex offenders. ‘I love kids and I love the innocence of them and that, and then you’ve got monsters here. Like you can imagine some of the monsters we got here.’

Michael said he was speaking to the Royal Commission on behalf of others he’d known who had been in boys’ homes but would never talk ‘because they’re so ashamed and some of them are dead’.

‘You know, I just thank God that I’m alive and I can tell my story and you know, we can do something about it. We can stop whatever happened and make people responsible, ‘cause people have got to be held accountable.’

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