‘The police knocked on the door, it was about two in the morning … They took us away, said we were going to Luna Park and we ended up in [a youth detention centre] that morning.’
Nick and his siblings were made wards of the state in the late 1960s and placed in a cottage-based children’s home in Melbourne. Their mother died a short time later and they didn’t see their father again.
‘I was about five, I suppose’, Nick said. ‘It was horrible. It was horrible because I don’t think any person in there cared about any of the kids … We were told all the time we were just a waste of space, we’re just pigs, we shouldn’t be alive … All that sort of stuff.’
Nick suffered years of physical and emotional abuse. His first house parents were Sid and Mavis Lambert. ‘They were terrible. They tortured us … They’d make us sit in the corner, or stand in the corner, and they’d make a bet to see which one would crap our pants first.
‘We learnt to do it, we learnt to put up with it, because you just didn’t want to deal with what was going to happen if you didn’t.’
Nick can’t remember how long he suffered under the Lamberts, only that it was years. ‘All you were doing was trying to survive each day.’ There were other house parents as he grew up – some better than the Lamberts, some just as bad.
In his early teens Nick was befriended by a new caseworker at the home, Steven Finn. ‘Finally, I thought he was someone I could talk to.’ One night Finn invited Nick to ‘camp’ at his accommodation. ‘And I woke up and all my clothes were off me and he was on top of me.’ The sexual abuse that night included penetration.
Finn warned Nick not to say anything about the sexual abuse as he would not be believed. There was already a well-established history of threats at the children’s home. ‘We were all scared to go to jail if we spoke up.’
The abuse continued for a year. ‘He’d take my clothes off and masturbate me and all that sort of stuff.’ A friend of Nick’s was also being raped; eventually both boys told the home superintendent about Finn.
‘He was gone after that, never seen him again … But they also said, “Don’t say anything else about that … because it’s all been sorted out”.’
Nick’s life has been blighted by the abuse. He’s estranged from his brothers and sisters and has trouble forming friendships and intimate relationships. He has struggled with depression and been hospitalised.
The problems have increased over time. Nick has tried to hold down jobs and live a normal life, ‘but it just overwhelms me, it’s like another person takes over and I can’t fight it anymore.
‘I had to self-medicate myself last night just to sit on that train or I would’ve just lost it. I get anxiety and I can’t handle being around people. And I’ve been fighting that a long, long time.
‘I don’t know who I am, I’m so restless I can’t find peace.’
After speaking to a solicitor in the 90s, Nick received some victims of crime compensation. ‘It wasn’t what I went there for. I went there because I thought, “No, I’m not gonna let them get away with this”.’ The police interviewed him and Steven Finn was later arrested. Nick had his day in court and confronted his abuser, but he believes the man avoided conviction because of a lack of evidence.
To this day Nick is struggling to cope and chooses to live in isolation.
‘I blame the Victorian Government. I don’t believe they had their people there enough checking the place out. Or this wouldn’t have happened. I’m not the only one that suffered. There’s a lot of kids that suffered out there.’
Nick is reluctant to visit a counsellor because the abuse still feels fresh in his mind.
‘I can see it right now. I’m looking right there, right there, I can see it. And I can hear it and I can see [my friend] there, ‘cause he’s got a wet sheet over his head ‘cause he pissed the bed and he’s been standing there for two days… and I can feel the fear… and I can smell the smell, and I can’t get rid of that.’