One evening when he was about eight years old, Rick and his sister cut through the paddock behind their house and walked down to the local pub. They were planning to meet their uncle who usually stopped at the pub after work for a few beers. On this evening, however, he never showed up.
When the publican and his wife saw two young kids wandering alone, they took them in. Rick and his sister tried to protest, saying that they just lived up the road with their grandma, but the adults wouldn’t listen. That night Rick was bathed by the publican’s adult son, and sexually abused for the first time.
The next day the police arrived. They asked no questions about where Rick and his sister lived, assumed that they were neglected kids and sent them off to separate children’s homes. This was how, in the 1960s, Rick arrived at a state-run boys’ home in Victoria.
He stayed at the home long enough to be strapped in the face several times by one of the officers before they moved him to a second state-run home which was located in a remote bushland area.
Rick recalled how Neil Angell, the ‘grey-haired old man’ in charge of the home, greeted the boys on their arrival. ‘We all had to get undressed and stand there, like he was doing an inspection or something. … He was just looking at us all.’
A few days later Angell approached Rick in the yard. They walked together a while, chatting. Angell pointed out a well and told Rick a story about a boy who had drowned there. What happened next, Rick recalled, was that, ‘He coaxed me into the toilet at the back of the building and made me sit on his lap and made me do rude things. I was scared. I didn’t trust anyone’.
Afterwards, Angell told Rick that if he mentioned the abuse to anyone he would end up like the boy in the well.
As soon as he got the chance, Rick escaped from the home. He was caught and sent to a different home and was never abused by Angell again. By then, however, he was already falling headlong down a bad path.
‘It ruined me life. I mean, 43 years – boys’ homes, youth training centres, jail. That’s what it’s done to me … I could have been a businessman, driving a BMW, working a good job, but it’s ruined my life.’
Over the years Rick has tried several times to tell people what happened to him as a kid but their responses haven’t been helpful. In his early thirties he told his parole officer. ‘She said, “That’s the past. Get on with your life”. I thought, “That’s easy for you to say. You’re not the one that’s got to live your life.”.’
What people didn’t understand, Rick explained, was that bad memories and thoughts of the abuse wouldn’t go away. To ‘stop the thoughts’ Rick turned to drugs, which led to crime and then jail. On a few occasions the thoughts got so bad that he tried to take his own life. It was only when his kids were born that Rick was able to get some control over his life. ‘They changed me. Kept me out of jail.’
Rick is now focused on ensuring that his kids get the best chance at enjoying a safe, happy life. ‘I’ve always taught my kids that if anyone touches you, hurts you physically in any way, tell Dad.’ He added, ‘When I die my spirit’s going to leave my body and I’m going to look over my kids’.