Within months of arriving in Australia from Italy in the 1960s, Ricky and his siblings were removed from their family.
‘I was pretty young and I remember the police coming to pick us up from school. We were made wards of the state and sent to a home which I can’t remember, before being moved to a Catholic orphanage in Melbourne.’
One night as he climbed into bed, another older boy pulled the sheets back and performed oral sex on Ricky. ‘Afterwards he said, “Now you do it to me,” and I said I didn’t want to. He got pretty aggressive, and being maybe four or five years old I did it, and that was traumatic to me.’
The following morning as he walked past a nun’s office, he recalled overhearing a disturbing conversation. ‘The nuns were talking about what happened with me and the other boy, and I thought, if they knew, why didn’t they stop it? I didn’t know where to turn to being that age. My older brother was in the same place, but I hardly saw him because we’d been separated when we got there.’
Later, Ricky said, he was moved to a different Catholic orphanage in regional Victoria, where bus trips to the local town with someone he remembered as being an ‘older boy’ were often organised on weekends.
‘As you were walking off the bus, he’d grab you by the hand and say, “You’re coming with me”. We’d be walking around and he’d take you into the toilet. When I’d finished urinating, he’d come over to me, pull my pants down and start playing with me.’ Ricky recalled resisting the sexual abuse, but feeling overpowered.
‘I was just shaking. I couldn’t handle what was happening but knew I had to keep my composure otherwise this guy was going to do something worse.’
The abuse became a pattern that would be repeated ‘a lot’ over the next two years, and each time afterwards, Ricky said he would be given an ice cream before joining the others to return to the orphanage. Ricky reported it to the Christian Brothers, but the abuse continued and he believes it was ‘pushed under the carpet’.
He said that one day he undressed to use the communal shower with several other boys, when the boy who had assaulted him noticed blood on Ricky’s underpants. ‘He took me aside and said, “Look, you have to look after yourself more”. I said, “You’re the one who did it”, and he looked at me like, “No I didn’t”. I never got touched by him again.’
Ricky told of a Christian Brother molesting him and several other young teenaged boys at around the same time, and it happening almost nightly. ‘Brother Marco was in charge of our dorm. While we were in bed, he’d walk around and check to see if you were wearing underpants, and he used to grab you, getting his jollies off. A few guys put together a petition because they were pissed off he was touching us, and we all signed it. Brother Marco approached me and said, “I’ve helped you so much, why did you do this for?”’
When the petition was ignored within the orphanage, Ricky said, a group of boys escaped and reported the abuse to a local newspaper. Two days later, Brother Marco left.
Ricky described himself at 16 as rebellious. He left the orphanage and took up an apprenticeship.
‘That’s when I took every possible drug and all the alcohol I could find. I lived on and off the streets for two years, couch-surfed. Sometimes I’d get a meal and a shower at my mother’s house. I wasn’t allowed there when my stepfather was home, so we had a system. She’d leave the blinds up when it was safe for me to go there, but I couldn’t stay the night.’
Ricky spent a year in jail for stealing cars and ‘stole stuff’ to survive before settling down, marrying and having a family. He has maintained employment, but said his career prospects have been somewhat limited by his dislike for authority.
‘I have been affected by my childhood in various ways. For example, I can’t work with anybody, I can’t be told what to do. It’s that simple.’