In the early 1950s when he was 10, Rickie seriously injured himself playing sport. He felt self-conscious about his injuries and didn’t want to be seen at school. For six months he constantly truanted and his mother didn’t know what else to do but let him. The Victorian Department of Education contacted first the school and then Rickie’s mother about his attendance.
From this interaction it was recommended to Rickie’s mother that she send her son to a Salvation Army boys’ home. She was told that it would be temporary and would correct his behaviour, and it was expected that he’d be there for ‘only six months’. However Rickie ended up being in the home for five years.
Rickie didn’t want to be in a dormitory with more than a dozen boys. Supervising staff were ‘decent’ but other workers were abusive.
Major Vellore, a big man who was extremely rough with boys was in charge of the home. Rickie believes he had previously been a wrestler. On several occasions, Rickie was picked up and slammed to the ground by him, dislocating his fingers in the process.
Rickie was physically abused by Vellore over a one-year period. By 11, he’d moved dormitories and was careful to avoid him. However, his new dormitory master, Rupert Layton, was just as sadistic.
‘He was one for punishment. If you did anything he’d get the bigger boys and put you in a box and leave you. He’d get them to beat you up.’
Layton sexually abused several boys, including Rickie, in the dormitory. At night Layton would come into the room, pick a boy’s bed to sit on and molest them. This happened to Rickie several times over a period of two years. He recalls ‘pet boys’ who would regularly go to Layton’s room, and he believes they were raped.
Rickie didn’t know who to tell about the abuse. He thought that if he told any of the staff it would get back to either Vellore or Layton. Not wanting further punishment, he stayed silent. Layton stopped abusing Rickie after ‘a new batch of boys came in’ to the home.
In the late 1950s when he was 15, Rickie was discharged from the home and went back to live with his family. He found it difficult being around people, and it felt strange to be in this environment.
Throughout his teens and adult years, Rickie has had intimacy issues. He has been confused about his sexual identity, something which has affected his relationship with his wife. He’s found it hard to maintain stable employment and achieve goals he set for himself.
In the early 1990s, Rickie received a phone call from an ex-resident of the home. His friend had received compensation and Rickie then contacted the Salvation Army to do the same, but was told he was ineligible for any kind of claim because he hadn’t been a ward of the state.
Rickie’s wife was undeterred and went to look up Rickie’s files herself. At Salvation Army headquarters, she found his file which confirmed he had been a ward of the state. She went to copy the file notes but was told their machine had broken and she’d need to come back another time. She noticed one of the workers who was sitting opposite the front desk was watching her intently.
After she left the office, Rickie’s wife saw the worker leave the building carrying a box of files that he put it in his car before driving off. When she went back the next day the file had disappeared and the staff said they weren’t sure of its whereabouts. Rickie has never been able to locate his file again.
In the mid-2010s, Rickie saw an advertisement in the local newspaper about the boys’ home. He called the phone number and spoke with a Salvation Army solicitor. He then met with a psychologist to talk about his time at the institution, but was too frightened to disclose details of his sexual abuse. He received $20,000 in compensation.