Reece and his stepfather ‘just did not get on. I was not his child. I basically was an annoyance. I mean, I have vague memories of him making me eat off the floor in the laundry’. As a result ‘when I was about 5, 6, I started acting out’.
Because Reece would trash the house and behave violently ‘the government were called in, and I was deemed uncontrollable’. He was made a state ward in the early 1980s and sent into foster care placements, then residential facilities – though was not informed of what was happening.
‘Sure, take me away, but have somebody sit me down and explain what’s going on. They just took me away and sat me in offices for hours on end, then took me to some stranger’s house where I had to stay. And then when I wouldn’t stay there they locked me in these places.’
Reece ran away regularly, and spent time living on the streets. As a 15 year-old he was sent to stay at a training school in suburban Sydney. Due to his lack of academic learning he was sent to work on the grounds of the centre, under the supervision of a man called Mr Hartley.
After absconding from the centre he came to live with Hartley and his family, and Hartley sexually abused him for the next eight months. This abuse included ‘touching’ and oral sex, and happened around twice a week. ‘That’s how often he could convince his wife he didn’t need to sleep next to her.’
While back on the streets again Reece encountered Clem, a ‘single, gay man’ he knew through Hartley. Clem had a number of teenage boys staying at his house on a casual basis. Reece began to stay at Clem’s place sometimes, as he got a warm bed and a hot meal when he did so.
For the next couple of years Reece slept at Clem’s house a couple of nights each month, between sleeping rough and couch surfing. Clem sexually abused the boys who stayed there. ‘He’d get you drunk, then throw a video on or something, and then things would happen.’
Clem also took Polaroid photos of every boy. ‘He had a collection. No faces, no identifying marks.’
At 18, Reece’s wardship ended, and he met his partner Alex, who ‘saved my life I guess’, and continues to be a stabilising influence in his life. He became a heavy drinker and was involved in drugs, has had problems managing his anger and issues with authority, and has been in prison.
Reece did not receive any education whilst in care and is still illiterate. ‘They took me from my family. I kind of understand that – I was not in a good place. But they basically said when they made me a state ward that they were going to educate me, and do this and do that. None of that happened.’
There was no chance for him to follow any interests or hobbies either. ‘If a kid’s good at something, find that and encourage that. Or find what they’re interested in and encourage that. Nobody asked me what I was interested in. Nobody cared.’
Reece looks at his siblings who remained in the family home and now have what he considers ‘normal lives’– ‘they turned out all right’ – and wonders how his life would be different if he had been offered support rather than being removed.
‘A little bit of intervention, maybe a counsellor ... I could have stayed at home too. But no, the answer back then was “That’s a problem. Get rid of it. Lock it up”.’
In recent years Reece has begun to turn his life around, and now takes medication for a number of physical and mental health conditions. He has reported the abuse to police and is waiting on their response. His partner is a strong source of support and resilience, as is his passion for animals.
As yet Reece has not taken any action regarding compensation, although he has thought about doing so. If he had the money he would like to set up a rehabilitation facility in a remote location, to enable people with drug dependencies to get away from negative influences.
‘We’re all here for a particular reason. That reason mightn’t be clear, mightn’t ever be clear, but we’re here for a reason – we’ve got something to do. And I’m convinced that everything that happens in your life makes you who you are.’