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Ned Aaron's story

‘Where we were living … I was with a few kids, and we just wandered our merry little ways. We didn’t do anything overly wrong. But the cops come along and said that I was uncontrollable and that they were going to get me … In the end … they got the judge to make me a ward of the state, I think it was, when I was nine …

‘And from there on in, my road turned completely… That was the beginning of a very bad 25 years, I think.’

Ned told the Commissioner, ‘I went to [a youth training centre]. I did jail. I hated the system and I wanted to beat it … I just had my chip on my [shoulder] that I was just going to do as much as I could and get away with it. I ended up in [the youth training centre] when I was only about nine … and then I was moved over to the Salvation Army [youth training centre]’.

Ned experienced physical, emotional and sexual abuse at the two youth training centres in Victoria that he spent time in over a period of about five or six years in the 1960s. The sexual abuse consisted mainly of fondling by officers at the Salvation Army centre, and his cottage father at the government-run centre.

When he was on weekend leave from the Salvation Army centre, a man associated with the Salvation Army went to his mother’s house, and asked for permission to take Ned out for the day. His mother agreed.

‘He took me down to some park … and sodomised me. And you know, I was fair dinkum only about 10 … As soon as I got home … he let me out of the car and then he bolted … And I went straight to Mum and I told her exactly what happened. She said, “Leave it with me and I’ll deal with it” …To this day, I’ve heard nothing. So I don’t know what happened.’

Ned never told anyone about the sexual abuse in the centres because, ‘If you were in there and you’re part of the system, you say anything to them, they just say, “Oh, you’re a liar. You’re a shit stirrer. Piss off”. So there’s no point. Then you get a hard time. You do. You get a hard time because you said something’.

The physical abuse at the Salvation Army centre was harsh. The boys never had any shoes, and Ned recalled one time when, as a punishment, he was forced to run eight or nine times around the quadrangle, which was covered with very sharp stones, and ‘every time I went past [the officer] he hit me with a cricket bat across me back …’

On another occasion, Ned was locked outside in the stairwell for 48 hours, in the middle of winter with only one blanket. The officers wouldn’t let him out to go to the toilet, ‘so obviously I did it there. And then I got bashed for doing it there. And it just went on and on like that, you know’.

Ned spent much of his teenage years and early 20s in juvenile detention centres and jail. ‘For the first while, I was just dirty on the system, and I just wanted to get it back … [I was] massively [angry with authority]. If I could get out there and do something against the law and get away with it, hey, I’d be in there. I’d be doing it …

‘I’d say, “That’s one for me and got them back”, you know. It was just part of getting them back type thing. When I got to about 26, 27, I realised … “I’m the idiot here. I’m the one hurting me”. I grew up and basically, I’ve been a good boy ever since.’

Ned spent about 20 years feeling that it ‘wasn’t normal if I didn’t have either marijuana or beer in me. I wasn’t normal. It wasn’t normal. It made it right. It made me feel right, you know’.

After he gave up drinking and drugs Ned was finding it hard to sleep, and his doctor prescribed pills to help him. These made him hallucinate and feel dreadful in the mornings, so now, instead of the pills, he has a joint before he goes to bed, and he’s been sleeping much better and waking up feeling fine.

Ned believes that the abuse he experienced as a child has made him, ‘hard as a rock. Man, I didn’t even cry when my mum died. Fair dinkum. And I loved her with everything I’ve got. Not one tear. I’ve just gone like a wall … I’m like a wall. It doesn’t bother me, which is bad, because I don’t want to be like that … I can’t even show me kids a cuddle, you know’.

Ned has one friend who joins him for a couple of beers at night. ‘That’s another thing you can put in your little notes. It’s very hard to make friends … Trust is real … Sorry. Been there. Done that. Been burnt too many times.’

As well as trust issues, Ned has experienced depression, anxiety and low self-esteem and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

‘But I just deal with it, you know. Fair dinkum … I don’t smoke dope or … drink during the day, but if I start feeling real low, I’ll have a joint … That’ll bring me up to being okay. But then, it can have the other effect, and make me worse. So yeah, it’s a roller coaster ride, I think.’

After his session at the Royal Commission, Ned intended to, ‘just go home and cook tea and do whatever I do down there. And I’ll have a couple of beers. Me mate will come over and then I’ll have a joint and then I’ll go to bed. Then I’ll wake up and get on with it again … I just hope the kids of the future don’t cop what we copped … fair dinkum’.

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