On the rare occasions when Rodger and his sister, Julie, were visited by welfare, the conversations used to go along similar lines.
Are you happy?
Yeah, I’m happy.
‘But you really wanted to tell them the truth.’
Rodger was 10 months old when the Salvation Army took him and Julie from their parents in the late 1960s. They came from a very large family and their mother was a chronic alcoholic.
The two children were fostered for many years with Graeme and Ruth Barker, who were very cruel. Rodger and Julie were frequently starved and beaten. The family moved around the state, living on remote properties in the bush. The children did school by correspondence, but most of their time was spent working. Ruth Barker used to say the only reason they fostered children was for the money from children’s services. She also rubbed cat faeces on their faces and would spit in their mouths.
A friend of theirs, Simon Scott, used to live with them. He would do ‘dirty things to me’. Scott was also very violent. On one occasion, when Rodger was around seven or eight years old, he was bashed so badly he was hospitalised and in a coma for a few days.
Rodger also said that Graeme Barker used to abuse the girls in his care, including his sister.
When welfare officers visited, the Barkers would make sure the house, usually filthy, was clean. They would speak affectionately to the children, which they only did when other people were present, and never left them alone with the officers. The children were too terrified to speak up. If their living conditions or abuse did come to the attention of third parties, the family would simply move to another remote location. Rodger did manage to report the physical abuse – but not the sexual abuse – to a particular welfare officer a few times, but nothing ever came of it.
Their natural parents didn’t visit them. Their mother ‘was locked up in a mental home for 30 odd years’. This may have been the reason they were fostered in the first place. When they finally reconnected with their father, Rodger and Julie learned he had been looking for them for years.
By the time Rodger was 12, he was angry and rebellious. He was continually running away but children’s services would always take him back. He struck one of the men of the household on the back of the head with a frying pan. ‘I’d had enough.’ After that, Rodger was placed in a children’s home. There he felt safe.
However, from there, Rodger became homeless. He moved to the city and was forced to become a prostitute to survive. He’d had no education, was illiterate and this was the only work he could get. He stopped after he contracted HIV in the mid-80s, in his late teens. As an adult, however, he did learn to read and write.
The only time Rodger saw the Barkers was when he visited his sister but the two of them did lose contact for a time. As an adult Rodger re-connected with his natural parents. ‘My father’s family were lovely people … Why we didn’t get sent back to them I do not know.’
Apart from telling Julie, the first time Rodger disclosed his sexual abuse was to the Royal Commission. ‘I’ve been bottling it up for years.’ He has never had any counselling but is interested in pursuing that. He would also like to access his file and might consider applying for compensation.
Rodger has health issues and carries a lot of anger because of his abusive childhood. He draws strength from his faith in God.