‘Those predators were my protectors. Those that were entrusted with a duty of care were bullies by day and ceaseless abusers by night … Who will speak for these children and what price should be paid for their suffering?’
At the age of nine, Rolland was picked up by the police when he ran away from his drunk and physically abusive father. It was the mid 1950s and he was charged with ‘being in moral danger’. Rolland, along with his younger brother, was sent to an Anglican boys’ home in Brisbane where he spent the next three years.
Thirty boys lived in the home. They were brutally treated, always hungry, given menial tasks to perform, and suffered regular physical and sexual abuse from the man in charge.
The man demanded the boys call him ‘Boss’ and he slept in a small room off the boys’ dormitory. Each night the man would call out a boy who would have to go into the man’s room. In Rolland’s written statement to the Commission, he stated:
‘When it was my turn, I would enter into his room and he would tell me to sit on the end of his bed. Boss would tell me how much he loved and respected me … he would have me perform oral sex on him and he would then perform oral sex on me. I would then be taken to Boss’s bed where he would perform acts of buggery on me.’
Rolland believes that about 15 or 20 of the boys were regularly sexually abused by the man. Rolland’s abuse continued for the entire three years he remained at the home.
‘Boss would tell me not to tell anyone, that it was our secret, that I was his favourite kid in the home. These sessions [of sexual abuse] would last about a week before it was someone else’s turn.’
The man also punished the boys ferociously.
‘The Boss was a brute of a man and his idea of discipline was to perform what he referred to as a “roughhouse”. Any infraction of the rules and we would be subjected to a boots and all flogging, a hitting, kicking, scratching, biting melee … Many of us suffered broken bones, open gashes on our heads, bite marks and welts.’
While Rolland attended school, neither he nor any of the ‘home’ boys were able to focus on their studies. They performed cleaning and maintenance work for much of the day and their teachers ostracised them, excluding the boys from activities and referring to them as ‘home kids’, ‘riff raff’ and ‘guttersnipes’.
The other children were told to keep away from them. Rolland remembers that one girl befriended him and would sometimes bring him a sandwich despite the threat of severe punishment if she was caught.
Rolland had no one he felt he could tell about the abuse. ‘We knew that no one would believe us if we reported it.’
Rolland and his brother made a pact of silence when they finally left the home in 1958.
‘My brother was there with me and we went through the same thing. When we left the home at 13 years of age or near, we made a pact. “We know what happened to us, because it happened to both of us. Nobody’s ever going to believe us. So, it never happened.” That was our way of coping, I guess.’
Rolland is now 70, and even though he understands that the man targeted the most vulnerable children, he still feels guilty that each night he would wish one of the other boys would be chosen rather than him.
‘I think he picked his mark. Mainly the children that didn’t get visitation from parents and the like. They were the targets because he could say to them, as he did to me and my brother, “Your parents don’t love you, they don’t come to visit you, I’m the only one that loves you, so therefore you come to me”.’
Rolland’s life has been severely impacted by the abuse he suffered in the home. His schooling was limited, which resulted in him only being able to take on low-paid, unskilled work. But, despite coming out of the home at 13 with ‘no life skills at all’, he has been employed consistently throughout his life and finds comfort in working.
‘I feel that if I wasn’t working, I’d be curled up in the foetal position. So, to go to work, it was an outlet.’
He has had great difficulty trusting people in relationships and has had significant issues caring for his children and grandchildren.
‘I have an aversion to boys … I can’t cuddle them, I can’t even play with them, I can’t do it. I can’t. And for that reason a lot of relationships went out the window. Even now, my partner has grandchildren … even as a little kid, I never cuddled him.
‘I appreciate that it’s a loss. And it hurts me that it’s a loss. Nothing more I’d love than to go and give him a big hug.’
Rolland also still wakes up from nightmares in which he relives the abuse.
‘I feel absolutely, devastatingly helpless and terrified. I hated night-time. Hated going home from school because I knew what was coming later … and I’d hope somebody else gets it tonight not me. Because it was painful.’
He can be quick to anger – ‘I can turn on a sixpence’ – and this has got him into trouble over the years, partly because ‘it doesn’t just leave in a hurry’.
Rolland never reported his abuse to the police but has received some compensation from the government. He has yet to seek compensation from the Anglican Church and is hoping to gain an un-redacted record of his time spent in welfare. Even though Rolland’s abuser is now dead, he wants people to know what happened to him inside the home.
‘I want to write my autobiography to discuss my life so that my children know. And even though my children don’t have anything to do with me, I’d like them to know down the track – when I’m dead perhaps, about my life. What I’ve been through, and why they ended up on their own with their mother … It was very traumatic in that home.’
Rolland believes that all institutions caring for children should rigorously vet their staff, and that an independent social worker should visit all children in care so that the children ‘feel confident disclosing any form of abuse’ by any staff member. He would also like to see more support given to children coming into care as they may have extensive trauma from their home lives.