Paddy Thomas's story

When Paddy was six years old, in the late 1960s, his mother told him that the man he thought was his father was not in fact his dad. About five years later, his real father kidnapped him and took him interstate as a way to spite his mother. After being badly mistreated by his father, Paddy escaped back to Victoria.

At the age of 12, Paddy was frequently running away and missing school. He ‘got thrown out on the street’ by his mother and was then made a state ward and sent to a Catholic boys’ orphanage.

He continued to run away, living on the streets and stealing to survive. On one occasion he and another boy escaped from the orphanage and were picked up by police. One of the Christian Brothers, Noel Ford, came to get the boys.

‘We were taken back, stripped, belted, the lot’, Paddy said. ‘About a hundred lashes I reckon, across the bum. There was no need to take them off, the pants were skinny you know what I mean, like cotton, but we both copped that. I don’t know if he copped the next lot but I was made to dig a big hole during the day. This is still the same day. And I did but then I was told to fill it in again. If I had’ve known that, I wouldn’t have done it, but anyway then I had to wash all the dishes. I still hadn’t seen this other bloke that I run away with. I’ve always been worried about what happened to him. Actually it happened that night what he done to me, but he done something earlier as well so I don’t know what part you want to hear.’

On a previous occasion, Brother Noel had found Paddy in the toilets tattooing another boy with a sewing needle and ink-soaked thread. That night the Brother had come to the boys’ dormitory and raped Paddy. The same thing happened after Paddy’s escape attempt.

The day after the second rape, Paddy was sent to a boys’ detention centre. He wondered that no one there thought to ask him about his physical condition if nothing else.

In addition to Brother Noel’s abuse of him, Paddy later knew of about six other incidents of sexual abuse in the orphanage, but at the time, he thought he ‘was the only one’.

Paddy said he’d tried to complain about the physical punishment to the Christian Brother ‘running the show’ but was ignored.

Throughout his life, Paddy steered clear of people and lived alone on the streets. In the late 2000s, he met a counsellor through a service for people experiencing homelessness and started talking about his time in the orphanage. From there he met others and started ‘hearing a different story’ that made him realise others had similar childhood experiences.

One service helped him access secure housing and he now lives independently, supported by visiting workers.

He didn’t know if Brother Noel was still alive, and hadn’t thought of reporting him to the police because he is ‘that soft-hearted’ that he worried about the Brother’s health, and having been in jail himself, didn’t want to ‘put people inside’.

There wasn’t anyone for Paddy to talk to about the abuse when he was a teenager and he didn’t know what would have helped, but he thought staff shouldn’t work alone.

‘It should always be two people instead of one on one in these situations. Instead of one person looking after 30 kids, maybe there should be two.’

‘You always go for a medical when you go into a new home, well I should have been seen black and blue, and I just wouldn’t talk or nothing and that should be noted, I don’t know. Don’t care really. I basically kept to myself and always have. Like the last 20 years had to survive on the streets with a busted up body. If I didn’t go through what I did when I was young, I wouldn’t have survived. I haven’t stopped running until now.’

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