‘All they had to do was look at me and see the bruises.’
When the police picked Oscar up after running away from his foster or children’s homes, they always took him back. No one asked him why he had run away. He was just considered an uncontrollable boy. A bad boy.
Oscar was made a state ward at the age of 18 months. By the time he turned 16 he had lived in half a dozen boys’ homes and with lots of different foster parents, growing up in country New South Wales.
At one boys’ home, when he was between seven and nine years old, Oscar remembers on a number of occasions being pulled aside by staff. While Catholic Brothers were watching, he and a group of boys ‘basically played with ourselves and each other and that sort of thing’. He said it was a common thing for the boys to do with each other anyway. ‘To me it was the way it was. I didn’t know anything else.’
When Oscar was about 12 he was fostered to a family that treated him like a slave. While there, he had to share a bed with his foster uncle when he visited. ‘He’d play with me, I’d play with him sort of thing.’ Oscar didn’t tell anyone about it. He ran away a lot and was eventually taken to another home.
‘All through my childhood, even in the boys’ home, you’re ruled by fear. And you’re dictated to, even while I was in the foster home I had to, it was even worse. I lived under fear. And I was only a little thing till I turned 18 when I finally shot up another foot. But I was always a little runt … I was always told what to do, when to do it and how to do it. And if you didn’t, well, look out.’
At the age of 16, having acquired a very limited education, Oscar left residential care. They gave him some money, found him accommodation in a hotel, and that was it. ‘I packed me bags and went to Sydney.’
From then on Oscar lived on the streets until he was about 40. Marijuana was the thing that kept him going. On the streets he said, ‘I was free. And then it becomes a lifestyle. You know no other. I look back and think what a waste but, at the time, I loved it.’
At one point, Oscar was charged for trying to break into a car. He was under 18 and still technically a ward of the state, but no counselling or support was offered. He was given a good behaviour bond.
Once he turned 18, Oscar tried to get his file. ‘They brought out a big folder … blacked line after blacked line.’ There was barely any information in it at all.
Now in his 50s, Oscar lives in accommodation. He never married or had children. Commitment was an issue for him. He doesn’t trust people. He has a serious health condition but this is being properly managed.
He hadn’t thought about the abuse until recently and has never sought compensation, but he’s now looking at his options. Oscar has also been able to trace some relatives – biological siblings – but needs to think about how to approach this aspect of his life before he tries to meet them.
‘It’s hard to say whether they would … Would they look up to me or look down to me? And do I get rejected again?’