Percival’s parents separated in the mid 1950s when he was about six or seven, and when his mother was unable to care for him and his siblings, she sent them to various children’s homes in New South Wales.
The first home that Percival went to was run by the United Protestant Association. Percival told the Commissioner that at this home ‘the younger boys used to perform oral sex on the older boys’. The house master would have the older boys do the same thing to him.
After a year at this home, Percival spent time in two homes run by the Salvation Army, before returning to live with his mother when he was 12. He recalls that there was a lot of cruelty in these homes, and that the children were always hungry. ‘One thing that always sticks in me mind … when I told them once I was hungry, they gave me something to eat out of the garbage.’
Percival told the Commissioner, ‘The main thing at [the second home] was absolutely the floggings that never seemed to stop’. If the boys didn’t get out of bed on time, or clean their shoes properly, or complete their chores satisfactorily, they got a beating.
When Percival hears people saying that children shouldn’t get smacked, he thinks, ‘We didn’t get smacked. We got bashed’. He told the Commissioner that he saw an officer grab a boy on ‘the pressure point behind the ear. He had his thumb into that and the boy blacked out’.
Percival recalled, ‘The poor buggers who wet the bed, they were stood out in front, their faces rubbed with their sheets. Sometimes, hit with a strap’. Other boys would try to help, by waking up the bedwetters to go to the toilet. If they got caught doing this, they were flogged.
Percival told the Commissioner that one of the officers had what he used to call ‘a jelly bean. The only piece of candy or lollies that you got. And he used to walk around with it, all day, every day. The strap … two or three inches wide … he was just a vicious, vicious person’. When Percival was in his 20s, he tried to visit the home to give the boys a bag of lollies, but he was refused entry.
When one of the officers left, a new officer called Hanson took his place. ‘I was in the sick bay and I had chicken pox, and he came in. It was a school day and I was telling him about the itch and he got out some calamine lotion … and down went the [pyjamas] and he started putting it around areas where there was no itch.
'And being a boy at that certain time, there’s certain parts of the anatomy which started to work spasmodically without any help whatsoever, and he was starting to … there was a lot of fondling and action going there, and a noise came down the hallway.
'When another boy came in, Hanson threw the tube of lotion aside and said, "Oh, yeah, we’ll have to do something about that swelling”, or something like that. And without the other kid coming in, I think … I don’t know what would have happened.'
Percival told the Commissioner that there was another boy at the home, ‘and it just dawns on you later in life that something happened to him, because he was just that reclusive and he said something to the headmaster of the school, and he got one hell of a flogging that night. He’s the only person I can remember … who tried to run away from there’. The boy was sent to a state home because of this.
As a result of the physical and sexual abuse he experienced in the homes, Percival has always been ‘scared of anybody in authority. I wouldn’t say it was an inferiority complex, but just all through my life … I can take Valium, all that sort of thing, being dead tired, go to bed at half past 10 – and I’ll be awake at a quarter past 12’.
Percival has never received an apology for the abuse he experienced. ‘The apologies you hear, they’re just so tainted … It does matter, but it’d be like [Commission staff] apologising to me. She didn’t do it.
'I never had any offer of help from the institutions, no support.’