Mick Edward's story

Mick doesn't dwell on the events that led to him becoming a state ward at the age of 14. He came from a large Melbourne family that was much involved in the Salvation Army – ‘aunties, uncles, band members, captains’ – and was initially lighthearted at being sent to a boys' home.

'I went there thinking life was all a joke because I had done nothing wrong, but this was going to be an adventure for me … The first night there was an attack on me. A group of older boys bashed me senseless and then sexually molested me.'

This one night of abuse changed Mick's life. It started a conflict about sexuality and intimacy that contributed to the breakdown of his first three marriages. And it made him resolve to never back down.

'The next day I made a decision that that was the last time anyone was going to put a hand on me. I would be ruthless and do whatever I had to do to protect myself, and anyone else that I seen put in that situation.'

Unfortunately, this wasn't an environment that respected strength and defiance.

'As luck would have it, I was moved to another boys' home with two of the perpetrators. In the van I told them they'd made a big mistake, and they would pay dearly for what they had done to me. Those older boys just laughed at me.'

And on arrival they did more than mock. 'When they got to the office during classification, they mentioned it to the Salvation Army major who was the boss.

'So when we showered and dressed in new greens and got put in the line, the major had me pulled out, standing in front of the whole group, and said, "This is what we do to people that come here thinking they're going to run the show".

'And then I got belted with a cane … I think it cracked a rib. They took me to the infirmary, but no one asked any questions or made any report.'

Mick's abiding memory of the home was that everyone turned a blind eye to physical and sexual abuse, and nobody took any responsibility.

The two older abusers were still on his case. 'One day I was having a shower and for some stupid reason these two guys got another couple of guys and thought they'd have another go. I fought my way out of that … I was proud of that.'

But not safe. 'I couldn't wait to get transferred to [adult prison] to get away from the insecurity. There was no protection for anyone in the home.'

At age 17 Mick got his wish. Prison 'was a real rough place … But I felt protected, the officers were on the ball'.

Released soon after, Mick found steady employment. But he felt crippled by his truncated schooling. 'I had no education … So I knew I had to do something to be worth something – worth something to myself and worth something to somebody.'

Mick took to study: 'I learned to spell when I was in my mid-40s'. He did so well that in later life he became an author and launched a new career in social services.

Now approaching 70, and in a contented marriage, Mick hasn't forgotten the teenage hurt. 'I still feel the pain as if it was yesterday … Nothing has been solved, that will go with me to my death.'

But he is hopeful that the Royal Commission signals a society willing to do better: 'If we can't protect our children, then we're a sad lot of human beings'.

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