Randall Lester's story

Randall was born in 1940s Tasmania, and grew up in a large family. His parents drank heavily and, as Randall put it, ‘the whole family was a bunch of criminals’. The children were taken into care, and at the age of 10 he was placed in a Churches of Christ boys’ home. He attended school and enjoyed participating in sporting activities.

The home was run by a couple, the Crockers, and there was a pastor who acted as a go-between between them and the Church. The Crockers were violent people, and frequently whipped the children with the cord from the iron or beat them with their fists. If the boys were badly bruised from these assaults they would be kept home from school, and they were forced to work in the garden every afternoon.

‘They said that your parents were allowed to visit. They never. They stopped it, they stopped my brother visiting. They didn’t want us to tell what was going on. And in everything in here [his file] they say the family’s no good, they shouldn’t be allowed to visit.’

The pastor took Randall away from the home to at least three different locations, on the pretext of going on a holiday with other families. ‘To me as a kid that time, he, how would you put it? He was someone that seemed like he cared.’

During each of these trips Randall had to share a bed with the pastor, who then sexually abused him. His files from the time state that he was sent away with host families during this period, not that he was with the pastor.

‘I haven’t read the files but I’ve read a summary of the file, I haven’t been able to get into it, I shun away from it. The summary has told me a lot of things, a lot of things, which I didn’t know.’

Randall did not disclose the abuse because he was afraid of being punished, and the pastor was friendly with the local police. Additionally the home was such an awful place that he welcomed any chance to get away from it, even if he was sexually abused on these trips. ‘I didn’t have the fear of the pastor, you know what I mean? He took me out of that home, and any reward from that was worth paying.’

When the Crockers went out, two female workers came to mind the children. The women let Randall and another boy stay up late, and gave them extra food while they listened to the radio. ‘I find this hard to say. We were encouraged, and I don’t think we minded, to, how do you put it? To sexually play with these ladies ... We got extra food for doing this, and we got to stay up an hour later.’

By this stage Randall was in his mid-teens. Although at the time he did not object to what happened he now realises that it was wrong. He also remembers that the cook at the home had teenage boys sleeping in her room at night.

‘I always thought that the Crockers didn’t know about it, but now that I see that there’s two years of files missing and I’ve read some of this other stuff ... It’s given me answers, that they had to know ... I don’t know about the Church, but everyone in that home must have known what was going on.’

Randall’s experiences in the home were so traumatic that he blocked many of the memories out, and he does not remember the names of the other boys there. ‘I was in the home for 5.5 years. I don’t remember any boy except one.’

Despite having clear memories of his early years with his family, he cannot even recall where he slept at the boys’ home. ‘You were living in such a state of fear that my memory just won’t let me in and have a look.’

At times he has even questioned the memories he has of the abuse. ‘It takes a lot to convince yourself it happened. I had quite a few nights where I’ve said to meself “are you making this up? Are you sure?” And I’m only around the 90% sure, I’m not 100% sure-sure. Because I think “are you trying to big-note yourself, are you trying to do this?”’

Randall deliberately failed some school subjects so he would not get into university, as this would have meant staying in the home longer, but ‘I got the right subjects to get an apprenticeship and get moved out. I thought “this will be good” – I got put in a [different] church home’. This placement was not much better than the boys’ home so he took off and then was conscripted into the military.

He feels his experiences at the home have made him a caring person. ‘It was so easy when I left the home, when I first left, to just run and not give a shit about anything. And I found I couldn’t be callous and independent, so I don’t have close friends but I have lots of people that know me, that I’ve helped and things like that.’

It has also made him very protective towards children. ‘I can’t hit a kid. I can’t stand a kid crying ... And I can’t stand seeing a kid hurt, there’s a chance of getting hurt yourself if you do it in front of me. I see all the people that say “oh I grew up in [a] bad home” and that’s all they know to belt the kids, and to me, that’s no excuse. I don’t see how if they’ve been belted they can say “this is the way to do it”.’

Randall did not disclose the sexual abuse to anyone until recently, when he applied to the state redress scheme. At first he was reluctant to tell the government about the incident with the female workers as he feared he would not be believed, but eventually he disclosed it.

His claim for physical, verbal and sexual abuse at the home was upheld, and he received over $40,000. ‘They said mine is exactly the same as other accounts [from boys who were at the home].’ Although he was not really interested in receiving the money, he applied because he was encouraged to by his siblings, and used the payment to provide for the grandchild he raised.

At one stage Randall confronted a church minister about the boys’ home, but the man just walked away so Randall did not pursue it further. He has not reported the abuse to police.

Seeing media coverage about other institutions being reported to the Royal Commission prompted Randall to make contact himself, as he did not want to see the Church go unreported. Randall’s wife accompanied him when he met with the Commissioner, and this was the first time she had heard details of the abuse. ‘I just thought, kill two birds with one stone.’ He commented that despite the trauma of his childhood he had gone on to have many positive experiences in his life.

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