Reese and his siblings were sent by their father to a Methodist children’s home in suburban Melbourne in the early 1950s, when he was two years old. A number of staff members and older boys sexually and physically abused him during his time there.
When he was five ‘one of the cottage mothers would come into the bathroom and give me a bath, and play around, and smack me bottom ... and that sort of thing’.
His next cottage parents were a married couple. The man, Neville, ‘decided that he wanted to play around, so he’d come into the bathroom and play with me. And then he was playing with a couple of the girls. And then one day he came and got me and Debra [another resident] and took us up to the staff room, and told us to do things to each other and to him. And that went on for a long time, until he got caught’. After an incident with other children Neville and his wife were removed from the home.
Reese unsuccessfully tried to report the abuse he was experiencing. ‘The problem was every time I told somebody, I got into trouble. I was the one who was at fault. So I sort of learned after a while to keep my mouth closed.’
Some of the older boys would come into Reese’s cottage and sexually abuse the girls, and Reese too. If he disclosed this abuse he would be punished.
‘When somebody new did it to me I’d tell on them, and the same thing would happen. The older boys in the home would do it, and I’d tell the cottage mother because I’d be sore and I’d be bleeding. And I was the one that got into trouble, because I’d pooed me pants and I was bleeding.’
One time he was told to see Mr Davidson, the superintendent of the home – ‘He’d given me the cane before, played with me backside’. Reese was around nine years old at the time. The superintendent told him that he was going to have to sleep in the basement of the hall that evening.
‘That night me cottage father took me down there ... And there was a camp stretcher in the middle of the basement.’ When his cottage father left the superintendent came in and told him to get undressed, ‘and started you know, touching me and stuff. And then telling me to touch him, and the rest of it. And then he put his penis in my mouth, and I turned around and bit it, and smacked him as hard as I could’.
Reese ran away, then returned to bed after the superintendent had left. He wet the bed that night, which got him into trouble with his cottage father. ‘I told him the cat had done it, that was my excuse. Oh, “this cat came in” ... Of course I got a hiding for that.’
He also told his cottage parents what Mr Davidson had done – and they ‘half-believed me’. They told the superintendent what he had said, and ‘that was worse’ as he then got a flogging from him too ‘for lying’. The police were never notified.
The head of the home came to hear about it. ‘And I got into trouble off him as well.’
The abuse continued for many years. ‘It just sort of went on like that. I was assaulted by the boys ... It wasn’t only the cottage fathers it was the cottage mothers as well. They liked to play around and have you do things to them. They liked to watch you play with the little girls.’
Reese told the Commissioner about other experiences he had at the home. When he was around 10 years old he was returning from school one day and found a baby that had been left near a creek. He took the child back to his cottage parents and police were called, and the infant’s mother was located. The lady and the police thanked him for saving the baby.
The home sent Reese to the dentist every six months or so. He would generally end up hospitalised with infections after these appointments, which caused him significant complications in later life.
In the 1970s Reese tried to report the sexual abuse to police, but no action was taken. Recently he contacted the Uniting Church to make a complaint, after which he was visited by the CEO of the home. He was asked how much money he wanted to deal with the complaint, but after he suggested a six figure amount he heard no further from the Church.
Reese has been married in the past, but has had difficulties maintaining relationships. ‘I’ve had lots of lady friends, but they just don’t last ... It’s just the way it is. I like living by myself.’ He has obtained his welfare file ‘which was very thin’ in recent years, and learned that his mother was Aboriginal.
As an adult he tried some counselling but it felt like ‘a pure waste of time’ to him. ‘I got sick of people saying “Oh I know just how you feel” ... I think, how the heck can they? They’ve never been there, they’ve never been sexually assaulted ... No, it doesn’t work that way ... I have grown up a very bitter person.’