Nelson Ross's story

‘I’ve been subjected to some pretty hectic violence and pretty hectic sexual abuse as a young bloke, to the point where I would rather punch someone’s eye out and smash it against their cheek bone than have a dick put in my fuckin mouth, excuse me.’

Nelson began his long stretch of time in boys’ homes when he was five years old. Not because his home life was bad – his dad was ‘firm but fair’ and he had a lovely mother. But the Catholic primary school he attended in the early 1970s was terrible.

‘I loathed school, from a bad sexual experience when I was young, with a female teacher.’ He became rebellious and was labelled ‘uncontrollable’ as a result.

Things didn’t improve when Nelson was taken to his first government-run home. He left his Catholic school, which was ‘rife with physical and sexual abuse’, and was put somewhere that was even worse.

Nelson lived in three homes over the next 12 years and was sexually and physically abused at all of them. At one centre, officers took kids into the clothing room at night, undressed them and sexually abused them.

‘If you started to say no to the sexual abuse, it just provoked violent responses.’ Nelson realised that to avoid it, he had to either retaliate against the abuse and get a belting, or take off. So he learned to be aggressive at a young age and this has been a pattern for him ever since.

Abuse didn’t stop when kids were transferred between institutions. The same officers could turn up again. ‘The abuse didn’t stop for the kids. Because it didn’t matter where you were, the same thing was going on with the same group of people.’

He disclosed to the manager of one place but nothing was done.

A friend asked him recently if he remembered the beltings. Nelson replied, ‘How could I forget five grown men punching a nine-year-old kid like he’s a grown man?’

Nelson remembers a punishment unit that was infamous for its abuses. ‘I thought, rather than go down there, the small amount of abuse I’d been subjected to in assessment upstairs was really trivial. So it was like picking the lesser of all the evils that you’d put up with. But you’d get to the point where you’d go, I’ve had enough.’

He’d take off over the fence.

‘I slept in doorways. I slept under shop boxes, yeah? In doorways … at the age of nine, rather than be in that institution. And I couldn’t go to my mum or my dad because they were straight heads, and they were like, “That sort of thing couldn’t possibly be happening”.’

A couple of staff members did what they could to stop the abuse. One instructor would pull a handful of kids ‘out of that system’ and teach them separately. ‘Apart from that, they were a bunch of arseholes.’

One boys’ home was run by the Salvation Army. ‘Those people are sick and they’re sicker than all the rest.’ The abuse included bondage. ‘They didn’t just abuse kids but they did it in a fuckin’ group setting.’

Nelson escaped with another boy into the bush and promptly got lost. The police found them and asked why they’d taken off.

‘I remember sittin’ down with that police officer and explaining to him in detail, like I’d never explained to any worker in the system … about [the Salvation Army home]. “You people, this is your fault, like, why haven’t youse fixed this fuckin problem?” And I remember discussing with the police officer group settings of sexual activity. And he just didn’t believe us.’

When Nelson was bounced out into the real world at the age of 15, he was boiling with anger. He looks back now and realises what he was dealing with emotionally. It was stuff that no teenager should have to go through.

He began committing crimes and ended up in court, where the judge called him an animal. ‘I was fuckin filthy.’

One centre worker that he trusted came to visit Nelson later in jail. They discussed his anger and attitude but never the extent of his hatred towards her colleagues or why it was there.

In the early 1990s he went to see a counsellor for a few months. ‘I dumped a shitload of garbage.’ And he stayed out of jail for 10 years.

Nelson is currently in jail but is due for release later this year. He is determined to sort out various issues with his children and stepchildren, who’ve been running wild. He hopes they can benefit from his experience.

Nelson has taken medication for bouts of depression during different periods of stress in his life. He hasn’t been diagnosed with any abuse-related mental illness. ‘I’ve never gone to see a professional in that aspect … I hate tags.’

He can’t stand the smell of alcohol. ‘One of the molestering pricks in [the home] used to reek of alcohol … Stale beer just turns me violent. The smell of it on someone, I just wanna …’

During his ‘illustrious criminal activities’ Nelson talked with a couple of lawyers about how these institutions needed to be sued. He’s interested in getting compensation, not to buy anything but to help change the system somehow, and find an alternative to what exists.

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