When he was a young boy in the late 1950s, Phillip and his siblings were out in the street one weekend while they waited for the Sunday roast, playing together to give their parents a rest.
‘All I remember is the police coming round the corner with the welfare department, told us all to get inside, called us snotty-nosed little bastards and shouldn’t be roaming the street. And me mum and dad was inside ... We went inside, the police and the welfare were talking, they took us to Russell St [court] that afternoon where they charged us with being neglected kids.’
The children were split up, and initially Phillip was sent to a boys’ home. After being reunited when Phillip was around seven or eight years old, they were all sent to a government children’s home in suburban Melbourne.
Phillip was often in trouble for things that other children had done. One time he was accused of a misdemeanour which had actually been committed by another boy, and was punished for it. He complained about this to his grandmother when she visited, and received a flogging for this disclosure. ‘I was belted, me pants was pulled down, I was put over a bed and belted till my backside bled.’
The children attended school at the home. When Phillip was 10 years old a girl kissed him in class, and he was taken to the headmaster’s office and questioned, then subjected to a humiliating punishment.
‘The headmaster turned around and had a bag like a shopping bag, paper bag with string ... It had a dress in it, it had sheilas’ knickers in it, it had a bra in it and it had high heel shoes and make-up.’
The headmaster told him he had to strip naked and put on the clothes. When he refused, he was flogged with the strap until he bled, and so finally relented. ‘I did it so I wouldn’t get punished anymore. I got laughed at by people in the class. I had to wear the dress around the school for nearly the whole afternoon, until we knocked off.’
At the age of 12 Phillip was sent to a Catholic children’s home in a regional centre. During his time there he attended scouts, and was keen to earn his rope-tying badge.
The scoutmaster, Mr George, offered to assist him with learning the necessary skills. When it became apparent that Phillip was finding the task difficult, George became frustrated and slapped him on the leg.
‘Next minute he started going like this, going towards my penis, and ... trying to put his hands up my shorts ...
‘He goes, “There is a better way, if you can’t do your knot ... there is a better way, mate, that I get your knots for you and pass you. All you’ve got to do is play with this [George’s penis] in the toilet”. And I looked and I said “Nah, not on your life”.’
George touched Phillip again, and Phillip pushed him away. ‘That was wrong, you do not do that to a young kid.’
When Phillip was leaving, George said they would discuss ‘you getting your badges’ again later, and that he was not to tell anyone about what had happened. Despite this warning he told his grandmother, and his uncle overheard their conversation.
Phillip asked them to report the matter to the welfare department, which they did. ‘They were told to tell me [to] stop making up stories, I’m only a kid and I’m making up stories to get people into trouble. Now, that came from the welfare department.’
The following week at scouts he saw one of his friends, Peter, ‘getting touched up on the backside’ by George, and advised him to report it. Peter refused and said that nothing had happened, but Phillip told him that this was harassment and nobody should do this to him.
The staff at the children’s home received a phone call from the welfare department regarding Phillip’s grandmother’s report, and told him to stop fabricating stories. He stated that his account was true, but they replied ‘you are to shut your mouth and don’t say a word, because you’re making up lies’.
He was thrown out of the scouts and wanted to go to the police, but was told ‘that because I’m a young kid the home will verify that nothing happened’. He has not taken further action until speaking to the Royal Commission, or sought any compensation about any of the abuse he experienced.
‘All I got to say is, I hope you believe me. Because as I said (from a young kid to 63), I’m not making it up. Because why should I? ...
‘I’ve got nothing to be ashamed of telling people, ‘cause I just want to get the story out so it doesn’t happen to other people.’