‘I can remember we used to travel around in a horse-drawn caravan like in the cowboy pictures. We lived in caves, and sometimes the property owners, I think they used to let Dad go into their shearing sheds and stay the night. He had to move around, he couldn’t stay in one place ’cause he never got any money to keep us. I know he used to get a sheep – I don’t know whether he pinched it or got it off the farmers, but sometimes we had a bit of meat and that.’
Neale’s father returned injured from World War I and for years tried without success to get work. In the mid-1930s, Neale was seven years old when he and one of his brothers were placed in a New South Wales boys’ home that was run by the Sisters of St Joseph. Neale described the nuns as cruel and for minor misdemeanours boys were punished with the cane and had food and water withheld.
For a few years Neale and his brother joined their father and several other siblings but they were again sent into institutional care, this time to an orphanage run by the Sisters of Mercy. Here the boys did hard manual labour which included working in a dairy and keeping the hot water boiler supplied with timber.
Two regular visitors to the home included a man who organised boxing matches between boys. ‘He used to make us fight’, Neale said. ‘And he’d pick who you had to fight and he used to get me to stand beside him and [he’d] stick his bloody finger – I only said before rub it up and down, but he stuck his finger up me backside and that.’
Neale said he didn’t tell the nuns because they ‘wouldn’t believe me anyhow’.
Eventually an older brother of Neale’s took him and his younger brother out of the home, having told the nuns they were going to stay with him during holidays. When the nuns threatened to call the police, Neale’s older brother told them they could and that he’d report the treatment the boys had been receiving. ‘We never went back’, Neale said.
Neale told the Commissioner that as an adult he’d worked successfully in several occupations. He’d been married for over 60 years and had told his wife early in their relationship about his experiences of abuse as a child. As a father, he’d found close contact with his children difficult.
‘I’ve always had trouble since only when they were babies, that’s the only time I could cuddle my [children] … But after that I couldn’t. I can’t put me arms around me daughters because people might think that I’m bloody stupid too.’
He’d once taken his wife to the orphanage to show her where he’d lived for several years, and there they were shown around by a nun. ‘[She] told me all me children were illegitimate bastards, because I wasn’t married in a Catholic church.’
At a reunion Neale once attended he was approached by a retired priest who spoke highly of the orphanage. Neale mentioned the man who’d visited the orphanage. ‘I said, “He’s a bloody paedophile”, and he pissed off straight away. He run the other way.’
Speaking to the Royal Commission was something Neale’s daughter had encouraged him to do, to ‘tell the truth’.
‘Sometimes of a night-time I get flashes back. It just stays there and I know it won’t go away. It’s there for the rest of me life. I don’t know, sometimes I mention it to the wife. She knows everything anyhow.’