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Milton Anthony's story

‘That was my home in the end. As the years went along that was normal home to me … Except I didn’t have anyone to put their arms around me like my mother.’

Milton was 93 years old when he came to speak with the Commissioner. He was made a ward of the state in the late 1920s when he was four years old, and taken to a state-run boys’ home in Melbourne. Milton stayed in the home until he was 16.

Linda, Milton’s daughter, accompanied him to the session. Milton wanted her to ‘hear the truth’ of his experiences.

When Milton lived in the home it was a holding centre. The police would bring in the boys and then, within a fairly short time period, they would be transferred to other non-government or government institutions. However, Milton stayed in the centre.

He found the conditions brutal. Even as a small boy, he was made to clean toilets, polish floors, supervise younger children, wake up when another boy wet the bed and clean him, stoke boilers, clean windows, make soap and change linen. He had to clean the toilets with rags, including the floor where the boys peed because there were so few toilets.

‘I didn’t have mops and nothing like that. I did all the cleaning … with a big rag, sop it up and wring it in the toilet. That’s how I used to have to do it … It was hands and knees in them days. A job that had to be done … my knees were in urine up to nearly an inch deep …

‘Another thing I used to do, you know children are kept in isolation? I had to go and clean their rooms out. Isolation – that’s not right … I was part of the staff and didn’t know it until I come out. Seven days a week I worked … I didn’t even – a cup of tea, morning tea – I didn’t get that – I was working all the time.’

The threat of physical violence was ever-present. One particular nurse would frequently physically abuse Milton.

‘Used to give you the whack across the face unexpectedly. You knew it was coming but you were in fear each day … It was more hurting just to know you got it, emotionally. I was very nervous in that place, too, because I didn’t know what to expect.’

Milton was beaten if he didn’t do something or if he hadn’t done it the way the staff wanted it done: if the water in the boiler wasn’t hot enough, if the towels weren’t in the bathroom, if a boy didn’t get his hair combed before going to school.

‘I used to dread each day I woke up … Every day was repetition, every day. But it didn’t turn out that way, you got a belt when you didn’t expect it.’

On one rare occasion when Milton was having fun with some of the boys in the yard and not working, a priest sexually abused him.

‘He called me over to the fence … he put his arm up and around me neck, holding onto me. He was just working his way down after that … [I] only had short pants with braces on … and it was easy for him. He started putting his hands down the back of me pants and started to move to me bottom and things like that … I just took off and went back to the other kids.’

Milton now realises that the priest, and other priests too, were sexually abusing many of the boys.

‘Those priests … had free range of any institution. They can just announce that they’re coming and they’re allowed in to do what they want … They could pick out children … They operated in a very cunning sort of way those sort of people.

‘After I ran away I never had any trouble but I used to see [him] because he came fairly regular. Never had a church service or that. Came there just to talk to different ones.’

Milton was also chosen as a favourite by a scout master who regularly came to the home to run activities. ‘That was another occasion when I had to be very cautious because one took a fancy [to me] … but … I took off. I knew from the priest.’

He remains unsure whether the scout leaders were regularly abusing the boys. ‘I don’t know, because I didn’t realise at the time that things like that would happen.’

Milton had no lasting friendships with any of the other boys because they moved on so quickly, which made him even more vulnerable to the whims of the adults who worked in and visited the home. He was also not allowed to attend school because of a skin condition that the authorities believed to be contagious.

‘There was no reason why [I] couldn’t go to school … It was an excuse to keep [me] there to do [work] … I can’t do arithmetic today … but I learnt myself when I come out … I can write but not good, pretty childish. I get a bit sad talking about this.’

Milton became good at reading people and their intentions. ‘I’m [a] very alert person now so I must have been like it when I was a child. I’m very alert to anything like that.’ He also believes that because he had some freedom to move around the home working, he escaped abuse that the other boys received.

Milton’s mother visited him almost every week. The children were able to sit with their parents when they visited, but if the child revealed anything about the conditions of the home or the abuse, they‘d be punished when the parents left.

The children quickly learnt not to speak out. ‘If I didn’t do the right thing in the home, I knew what I was going to be in for, that was a hiding.’

When Milton left the home at 16 he ‘had nothing’. He began working and kept working all his life. ‘I knew nothing better … I was always thinking of work … I made something out of myself even though I had no education, nothing.’

The consequences of the abuse have affected Milton’s life and the lives of his children. He finds it difficult to trust people and is reluctant to show emotion because ‘I had no love’.

‘This [all] stems from the home … All I had was abuse … I’ve got two sons and … I never see them … I was pretty strict when they were growing up … I was taught that way.’

Linda told the Commissioner that, ‘It’s not been an easy road and of course … the lack of trust that was instilled in him … after all these years, is still part of his life and it becomes part of everyone else’s’. She thanked the Commissioner for listening to her father’s story. ‘It’s taken 93 years for this to come to the surface, and it was only because of him wanting to attend the Commission.’

Milton puts his long life down to his work ethic and prayer.

‘A strong heart … I think the home may have done me good in that sense – it set me up to work hard outside the home … [And] I pray. I have my God … My home is my church … that’s where I say my prayers.’

He had never talked about the sexual abuse before speaking with the Commissioner.

‘I never told … about the priest [or scout master]. Oh, no. I’ve never mentioned anything … [But] in my mind … I talk about it every day of the week, virtually for years and years and years. It’s still on my mind.

‘I’m still not coping, put it that way. Quite often I think about [the home]. I can go to bed intending to sleep straightaway and I start thinking about those things. Not every day but it comes. If I was treated nice, that wouldn’t be on my mind … at all.’

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