Olly was born with a physical disability that restricted his movement and speech. At this time in the 1960s little was known about the condition, and Olly’s parents were advised to leave him in hospital and forget about him because he ‘would be a vegetable’.
After 18 months Olly’s parents took him to a specialist in Sydney who made similar statements. ‘They were told it’s best if they were not to become too close to me as this made it hard on everyone concerned.’
In a written statement and during his private session, Olly said that his mother was devastated at leaving her baby, but ‘back then you always believed whatever you were told by the medical profession because they went to university and supposedly knew what they were talking about’.
Before his second birthday, Olly was admitted to a psychiatric centre where he remained for three years. His recollections of the centre were of being taught to recognise ‘colours, numbers, and body parts’, and a nurse who was kind to him.
Olly was then sent to live in a specialist centre for children with mobility and speech difficulties. He remained there for years and ‘the nurses, staff and the other residents were like one big family’.
In his time at the centre Olly moved between various dormitories and hostel-type accommodation. Physical abuse of children by some staff members was not uncommon. ‘The boys used to be hit and kicked by the staff. Male staff used to flick wet towels and face washers at us boys.’
Olly recalled one of the nursing sisters abusing him when he was about eight or nine years old. ‘She used to put some of us on a potty chair, and one morning I got an erection. The sister took hold of my penis, squeezed it, and then bent it back. Then when she put me in my posture chair, she tied my arms together with a bandage. This was my punishment for getting an erection whilst on my potty chair.’
For many years Olly displayed signs of anger and frustration, particularly during his adolescence when boys and girls were restricted from having physical contact with each other. If they were found doing so, they’d be punished.
‘We did explore sexually with each other … This is where I got my confusion about my own sexuality. What was normal? I did not have a clue; at the time it was all about relieving the sexual frustration of a teenage boy.’
External restrictions continued into adulthood and Olly felt his privacy was often impinged upon by those who regarded him and his peers as incapable of making choices about their own bodies.
Accommodation options were often limited and, as an adult, Olly was sent between various locations. He lived for a time in a hostel where the manager used to hit residents ‘anywhere on the body that she could reach’. The woman’s violence was ‘purely dependent upon her mood’.
In the 1990s Olly was allocated his own unit in public housing. Support services arranged for carers to visit and assist with daily living needs but while Olly befriended some carers, others ‘lacked in respect for me and my home’.
In the 2000s, changes to the provision of government-funded care meant he was finally able to choose which carers he wanted to visit and the tasks they would perform. These had previously been determined by the support agency’s assessment of his needs and their available staff.
‘With this I began a whole [new] life’, Olly said. ‘I was happier and more content. I was able to be taken out by my carers instead of me having to ride my scooter everywhere.’
He then completed several TAFE courses and became an advocate for people with disabilities.
‘The person you see today is not the person I used to be’, he said. ‘There were many times I felt frustrated and angry. At the time I didn’t know why, but looking back I realise it was because I was locked up in an institution, which is a bit like a hospital or a nursing home, with about 100 other people … We had no privacy there nor much say in what happened.’