Reg was born at the end of WWII, and spent the early years of his life living in two orphanages in Sydney. Tearfully, he remembered being lined up ‘like cattle’ before potential foster parents. ‘They used to come in and just say, “All you boys with blonde hair and blue eyes, put your shorts on … and come out in the corridor”. The next time it’d be dark hair, brown eyes. It was like a selection committee.’
However, this memory sits beside a happier one in which a kind stranger would often bring them candy-coated peanuts. ‘We’d see him coming and we’d all run down, put our hands through the fence. He’d fill our hands up with them ... He just made it good … I’ll always remember that fella.’
In the early 1950s, when Reg was old enough to go to school, he was placed with foster parents, Mr and Mrs Petit. He remembers meeting his birth mother about this time, and in hindsight, regrets that he never spoke up and said ‘I want to go back with her’.
A year later, Mr Petit, who was in the military services, was posted to Korea. ‘And that’s when all the things started’, Reg said. Mrs Petit would make him break branches off a backyard tree and then beat him with them. When they moved to a house without trees, she whipped him with an electrical cord instead. Once, she also made him eat mercury from a broken thermometer. ‘I wanted to check the temperature in the porridge’, Reg said, ‘so I put a thermometer in, and the mercury went in, and I had to eat it.’
As he approached adolescence, Mrs Petit would sexually abuse Reg whenever her husband was posted away. She would walk around naked, and make Reg sleep in her bed and perform intercourse. As he grew older, ‘she used to always say to me that she should get rid of me and get a younger one. I was probably getting to an age where I was starting to wake up, you know … ’
A welfare officer did visit Reg at home and at school. However, ‘He’d just say, “How are things going?”, and I used to say, “Good”.’ Mrs Petit’s threats kept him quiet. He just didn’t want to be whipped anymore.
In the early 1960s, teenage Reg left their home and moved to country New South Wales. He had a couple of jobs on farms before he started an apprenticeship which ended abruptly when he was injured in a work accident.
Unable to find work, Reg moved back to Sydney. After a ‘weird’ and ‘strange’ reunion with his birth mother, he met some ‘good people’ in Western Sydney who got him ‘out of a hole’. He lived with this family for a few years, and got jobs detailing or delivering cars. When his compo came through, he bought ‘the best car in town’. Reg described these years as the ‘good parts’ of his life.
Reg remained in contact with the Petit family, and would visit them at Easter and Christmas. He had a good relationship with Mr Petit, and made a point of visiting him before his death. However, after the couple divorced, Reg put an end to his relationship with Mrs Petit.
In his statement to the Commission, Reg wrote that ‘she’s a bitch and she ruined my life’. He described how he has never been in love with any other adult, and never learned to love anyone, despite having been a husband and father. ‘I’d love to have someone … I don’t know whether I’ve given up or not, but it’s always there, that that’d be nice.’
Reg never felt that he could tell anyone that he had been sexually abused, particularly by a woman. ‘You always see it on TV, with, you know, males doing it. Who’d believe that a woman could do that?’
However, while watching a documentary about his former orphanage, Reg realised that there were other people just like him. A year ago, after decades of silence, he reached out to the support group CLAN and spoke up. He wasn’t doing it for compo. He ‘just wanted to get it out’.
These days, Reg visits his children and grandchildren, and keeps himself occupied. He is socially and physically active, and has many animals including a dog who ‘gives you a lick, makes you feel better’.
However, one thing is still missing from his life.
‘Just wish I had one thing, that’s all, someone in my life.’