Pip was first sent to a boys’ home in Sydney at the age of eight. His dad had left the family when Pip was three or four. His mum later told him that she’d needed a break from his hyperactive behaviour so placed him in care. But he didn’t want a break, so he kept running back home, which was just up the road. After three months of futile escapes he decided setting fire to his bed was the best course of action. If he had no bed he’d be sent back home for sure.
But Pip ended up in several detention centres instead. When he was 11 or 12, he was bailed into the care of a man called Bill Mayhew at a home run by the Sydney City Mission. Mayhew took Pip for a drive one day to look for a boy who’d run away from the home. On the way back he asked Pip if he wanted to steer the car.
‘I was holding the steering wheel … I think I pulled myself closer … I felt a hand grabbing between my legs. I remember feeling skin on skin and I remember being scared.’ Mayhew was masturbating with his other hand. ‘I don’t even remember arriving back at the place but I think the first chance I got I ran for the hills.’
Pip was only there for a day or so. At another boys’ home, run by the state, Pip was sleeping during the day in the dormitory, something he didn’t normally do. He woke up to find an older boy sexually abusing him.
‘He said, “Shh” and he give me a fist. And I just lay there while he done what he done. And that’s why I felt a lot of shame and guilt. ‘Cause I just lay there.’
Pip can’t remember how old he was exactly, but he does remember that after the boy abused him, he’d pee in a cup rather than go to the ablutions block.
At the same institution, he was sent to the female principal’s office for something he’d done in class. She made him pull his pants down while she caned him on his bare buttocks.
Pip became hysterical during the caning so he was locked in ‘the pink room’, a room with nothing in it and a two-way mirror. He was kept there for an hour. This was supposed to calm him down.
Pip didn’t tell anyone about the sexual abuse and his attempts to escape continued. ‘In cases where I did get abused I flighted and in other cases I flighted before I got abused.’
In his teens he started taking joyrides with mates in stolen cars. He also started smoking cannabis. He then moved on to heroin.
‘I realised I didn’t have the power to stop. I was addicted before I knew it.’
Pip started stealing to fund his drug habit. ‘All I wanted to do was manage my pain my way, you know? I had no life without drugs. I was just dead. I was just an empty vessel. I needed drugs to sort of come alive.’
The stealing became armed robbery, which led to criminal charges and then prison.
Pip, confronted with the reality of his life, has tried to hang himself several times, both in the boys’ homes and in prison. After each attempt he lost consciousness and was cut down.
He would talk to psychologists after each attempt but he didn’t mention the sexual abuse to them. The counsellors told Pip he’d fallen through the gaps.
‘The reason I fall through the gaps is because I aim for the gaps. I don’t want to be noticed.’
Pip wept as he described the other major impact of his sexual abuse – the barrier between him and his mother.
‘There’d never been barriers there before but I was too ashamed of stuff and couldn’t talk about certain things and it just changed ... I can remember the day I come home it was still different … that was the biggest thing for me.’
Pip finally disclosed his sexual abuse to the Prisoners Legal Service while he was still in prison. He finished his last sentence last year and hasn’t touched drugs since he was released. He did the drugs programs ‘10 times over’ but what kept him clean was just getting ‘sick of the misery, sick of the miserable life’.
Pip managed to get a job soon after he left prison, which has also helped keep him clean. ‘I knew that I needed a job. I’ve never worked in me life.’
He also started phone counselling. ‘I think that gave me a little bit of strength’. Pip’s family have helped keep him resilient as well. He says he’s lucky to have his family. When he came out of prison, he had a cheque for $400, a pile of clothes that didn’t fit him anymore and nowhere to live.
Pip’s counsellor believes he’s spent his life hiding and that the Royal Commission came at the right time for him to ‘deal with the hard stuff’.
‘This stuff that’s coming out now is obviously pain,’ Pip added. He read aloud to the Commissioner from notes he’d written.
‘This is what I hang on to. I do have some freedom now, freedom from addiction. I have freedom from prison. And hopefully after I’ve said some of this, I’ll have freedom from my secret. That’s what’s important to me.’