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Rob Neil's story

From age five, Rob had to act like a father to his younger brother, James. The two of them were put into care in the 1980s, first in Tasmania and later in Queensland.

The worst place was the foster home run by Henry and Susan Bolt. Rob was six, and his brother a few years younger, when they joined the other foster kids for their first night under the Bolts’ roof. Rob has never forgotten it.

‘It was the older kids. I believe they had permission. They were groomed … The parents knew what was going on. They called it a blanket bashing: come in, kick the door open. There’s a blanket so you can’t see who’s there, they put it over you and tie you down, do whatever – kick the crap out of you, molest you.

‘And that was the first night. And then after they’d done that to me they said “Oh well, your brother’s turn”. And he was a baby. And I fought. I done what I could.’

Rob, James and other kids at the home suffered sexual abuse ‘nearly every day’ for the next three years. The perpetrators included other kids, foster father Henry Bolt and another foster father from a neighbouring unit.

As time went by the Bolts worked to separate Rob from James ‘because I was really trying to protect my brother. Where I wouldn’t raise havoc on my issues I’d definitely raise havoc on behalf of my brother’.

But the brothers were still together when they left the home and returned to their father. They travelled around Australia with him for about a year before he decided he’d had enough and sent them to a BoysTown home.

‘Problem child. My dad couldn’t handle me. I never told him anything that happened. He told me I was a man, and suck everything up. And you learnt as a kid – you try to tell once or twice and if no one listened you just shut the hell up. I just had issues and resentment of my father.’

BoysTown was a brutal place where Rob was again abused. ‘Three months in a cell. Well, I call it a cell. It had a trap and a slot, they slide your feed in. You had a piss bucket, no toilet.’

From there the boys spent some time with foster parents who were kind and honest. Then, when Rob was in his mid-teens, he and James moved back with their dad.

That was the end of Rob’s time in care, but not the end of his time in institutions. In his teens and early adulthood he committed some violent crimes – ‘assaults, GBH, nothing I’m proud of’ – and wound up doing several stints in juvenile justice facilities and adult jails.

He used alcohol and marijuana and, when he wasn’t on the inside, travelled from place to place doing odd jobs, unable to settle down.

Also, he ‘hunted convicted paedophiles’.

‘I really was motivated. I had a lot of anger. And that’s why I went to jail, from fighting and because I never told the judges why. Because you don’t tell. I just wore my time. When I was in jail it’s just, you’re put on a pedestal amongst criminals and you’re very looked after, I guess. It’s just a different world. I don’t know. And that got me through and then I realised “That’s not life”. And then started working out positives, proper positives.’

Rob has been out of jail now for over a decade. He credits his success to an ‘amazing’ counsellor, a supportive partner, his kids and his brother. Rob said that his brother has suffered some medical problems in recent years but has always managed to do right by his family no matter what.

‘I was always a father to my brother’, Rob said. But now, ‘He’s my idol’.

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