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Ned Thomas's story

In the early 1950s the government removed Ned and his siblings from their impoverished family and placed them in various homes. Years later Ned gathered his surviving siblings together and told them not to judge their mother too harshly. There’d been a depression and then a war and through it all she’d done the best she could. The hunt for family became crucial later in Ned’s life. He didn’t see his parents or have any visitors during his whole time in care.

Ned’s memories start at the age of five or six, when he was living in a Melbourne Salvation Army boys’ home with his brother Jim. He didn’t know his birthday or the year he was born. The boys were given numbers though (‘like a dog, or a prisoner’), and he knew his number off by heart.

He remembers big dorms and open showers, and slaving away in the veggie garden. He rarely went to school. ‘All I remember is working all the time.’

Male staff members inspected the boys’ backsides, and would digitally penetrate them under the pretext of showing them how to wash themselves correctly.

One day Jim accidentally hit a big bloke called Captain Payne with a football. Ned laughed and Payne punched him and broke his nose.

Payne then hauled Ned up to Major Kingston’s office and told him to bend over. He thought he was going to get the strap. ‘Then Payne held me arms from the other side of the table.’ Kingston got some Vaseline, applied it to his penis and to Ned, then raped him. ‘I had blood coming down me legs and he told me to have a shower.’

Kingston told him never to do it again or that’s what he’d get. ‘And he was the person in charge. Major Kingston.’ The men put some cream on Ned’s anus but he still was bleeding.

Ned was given a transistor radio a few weeks later. ‘I said, “What’s this for?” He said, “If you keep your mouth shut” … And they made me do this cubs honour. “Akela we’ll do our best. We’ll dib dib dib and not dob dob dob.”’

One day Ned asked the staff how old he was. ‘I haven’t had a birthday party. Haven’t got a cake, nobody comes to see me. I been here a long time, I know that.’ They told him he was an imbecile, but he didn’t know what that was. They took him up to the office, gave him a clout and then looked up his age in a book. ‘You’ll be coming on 11.’

One of the grey nuns, who seemed to look after the state wards, once asked Ned how he was. He told her he was being abused. She promised to tell someone but Ned doubts that she did.

Ned went home for a while but his stepfather’s violence led to his placement in a Wesley Mission home, this time without his brother.

Ned was taken to see Tony Bollard, the superintendent, at his house. He had to undergo a ‘health check’ because apparently he’d come from somewhere filthy. The doctor inserted a gloved finger, then turned to Bollard and said, ‘It won’t be the first time’.

The doctor told him to lie on the bed in a foetal position, and Bollard then raped him. It seemed to be some sort of moral lesson because Ned was told, ‘“We don’t tolerate unruly kids”. And that’s the last time I went up to that place’.

Ned was sexually abused by numerous other people, including two older boys in his cottage. Abusers from the Salvation Army home and the Wesley home turned up at a scout jamboree. Older scouts fondled the younger kids while they played hide and seek.

When he was 15, Ned was sent to work as an unpaid farm labourer. He lived, washed and ate in a hay shed. ‘If you don’t behave you’ll go to a juvenile home’ he was told. ‘So I did everything I had to do.’ Finally, after three years, he was released.

Ned was his own man at last. He went straight to the central mission in Melbourne to get his family details, but was told he had to wait 35 years.

So Ned did what he knew best – he worked. He found work and taught himself to read from street signs. He slept rough for a while then found somewhere to rent. He saved hard and made himself financially secure.

In his early 60s Ned finally got his birth certificate. By then he was married with his own children. He can’t talk to them about his abuse, and trusts no one.

The Wesley Mission told Ned his records had been destroyed. He got compensation from the Salvation Army but no apology. ‘They said to me they’re not responsible for the past.’ He gave their money to charity.

Ned found Jim after 50 years but it was too late to find his sister. To his distress, he learned that his mum was buried in a pauper’s grave.

‘I haven’t got no pictures of my mother, no pictures of me, no picture of Jim … I haven’t got one picture of me until I got married.’

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