‘My mind’s pretty sharp. I can remember back when I was only about three months old when I was put in the babies’ home.’
Now in his mid-70s, Newton has a lot to remember. Starting from that early placement in the babies’ home in the mid-1940s, which happened because his mother wanted to find work, he spent the next 20-plus years in a series of homes and psychiatric institutions around Victoria.
In the late 1940s, when Newton was at a boys’ home, he was taken into a shed and raped.
‘I was only just a toddler. So I didn’t know [who it was]. I didn’t know what he was doing. I’ve got a vague recollection he might have been a much older fella. He could have been one of the gardeners or one of the people who worked there.’
He said while he was at that home, he also saw things happening to other boys, and those boys being punished if they ever spoke out.
‘You didn’t dare open your mouth. You’ve gotta remember it was a different time, different era, attitudes were different. It was a totally different world.’
When he was about 12, Newtown was moved to a training farm run by Methodists in Melbourne, where he stayed for about a year. While he was there, older boys would molest younger boys, including himself, in the dormitories. When some of the children tried to report the abuse to staff members, they were told to just forget about it.
‘Well, you wasn’t believed. Sometimes they come close to threatening you if you dared to open your mouth and say anything. It was directed to all the young kids. We all had to toe the line …
‘I’ve come to the conclusion that a lot of these people who were employed in these places as staff members were just there to put in the hours, working there and just to collect their weekly wages. They didn’t give a rat’s backside about anything else, you know, the kids or their welfare, or their duty of care … they just whacked you, willy-nilly.’
After he was discharged from the training farm, Newton went back to live at home for a while, but he said his stepfather – who was ‘just a ratbag, a no-hoper’ – convinced his mother to put him back in an institution. Social workers arrived and took Newton to a psychiatric facility. But he said there was nothing wrong with him.
‘I’ve never had any mental illnesses … You’ve got to remember in them times, there was no back-up community support services and there was nothing. I think foster care was only at that time just starting to find its feet … So I was seen as a placement problem, kids like me.’
He hated being kept there and resisted taking his medication, which he said they used for control and constraint. He got into fights with staff and other boys and ran away a lot, but was always brought back by staff or local police. Eventually, when he was 15, he was transferred to a more secure facility.
At times he was heavily sedated, and once another patient tried to assault him. He said that staff were aware of such events and would just ‘fob it off and ignore’ them.
He managed to get out and stayed with a fellow ex-patient for a short period, but when he was 17, the friend died and social workers came again and forcibly placed him in another psychiatric institution.
One night, he discovered a male nurse having sex with another patient. The nurse was extremely angry and threatened Newton not to say anything.
‘When the doctor came and I told the charge nurse, he never got the sack, he just got moved to another ward.’
Newton managed to get discharged for the final time when he was 27. He said one of the biggest losses in his life is the education he never received. In the late 90s he was approached by lawyers to make a claim against the institutions that held him, but at the time he wasn’t ready and was frightened he’d end up in debt. However, he has received support from survivor advocacy groups and is happy to speak out about what happened to him.
‘My prime objective is for you people to make recommendations, because I’m thinking ahead of young kids who are in some of these places today … Children should be treated with dignity and respect.
‘All the staff in these places, with the exception of the odd one or two here and there who weren’t too bad, they were too frightened to say anything. They knew what the hell was going on but they dared not say nothing because they were frightened of their jobs, their livelihood. If they dared speak out they would be sacked straight away. Whistle blowers need to be protected and not have any reprisals or paybacks by people who are perpetrating these things.’