When Ronald was six years old, his father died and three years later his mother married a violent man who was just out of jail. The man repeatedly attacked Ronald’s mother and grandmother and one day Ronald used a knife to stop him strangling his mother.
Labelled a ‘problem child’, Ronald spent some time in boys’ homes until his grandmother took on more of a caring role for him. However, after the death of his grandmother, Ronald said his mother spiralled out of control. He was made a ward of the state in Queensland in the mid-1960s, at the age of 12.
Placed in a Salvation Army boys’ home, Ronald’s personal possessions were taken from him and he quickly became a target for Captain Shield’s brutal treatments. ‘He’d be singing in church on Sunday and rubbing his cane between your legs on Monday.’ The captain would often leer at and prod boys while they were naked in the shower. ‘You can’t tell anybody. Who’s going to believe you?’
Shield appeared to enjoy violence and set up boxing matches between ill-matched competitors. Ronald said he was always lined up against someone who was ‘going to beat the shit’ out of him. ‘I must have stood out like a red beacon. I couldn’t hold my fists up and I’d be crying and bleeding and he’d be laughing.’
Ronald told the Commissioner that while working on the farm within the home, he was raped by two older boys he described as Captain Shield’s henchmen. After the assault, he told an older woman who worked in the kitchen, and although Ronald felt believed, the woman warned against making further trouble by talking about it.
After he arrived at school one day with injuries from being beaten up, Ronald disclosed the sexual abuse to a teacher who took him to the principal. When he arrived back at the home that afternoon, he was caned by Shields for ‘carting tales to school’.
Later that year, Ronald’s mother died and he left the home and went to live with an aunt. He told her he’d been raped and had anal bleeding. She took him to a doctor, telling him to ‘get in there and get fixed up, and remember I have to live in this street’. His aunt warned Ronald against giving his uncle ammunition to ‘make fun of you’. Ronald disclosed the abuse to the doctor who gave him some cream and sent him away.
In the late 2000s, Ronald applied for and was awarded $14,000 through a Queensland Government redress scheme. He said he didn’t speak to anyone throughout the process and felt the matter was all decided ‘on paper’. The following year, he saw a newspaper article about children who’d been abused by Captain Shield and only then started to think people might believe his accounts of living in the home.
Ronald told the Commissioner that he was better off than many others who’d been in the home. He thought access to psychological and mental health care for those who’d been in institutional care should be readily available so people could ‘put their demons to rest’. He noted the physical and emotional toll that the abuse had exacted on his life, including years of depression and a previous attempt to take his own life.
‘I wanted to see things, I wanted to do things. I don’t know – there was a survival in me. [In the late 90s], I wanted to commit suicide. I took some sleeping tablets. My day with depression is planned. I try and tick a box. If I get up and go to work, I won’t have sick leave. I’ve got so much sick leave at work.
‘It’s easy to pull the doona up over your head and lay in bed and ring in and say you’re sick. If I get up and have a shower I tick two boxes … I do what I’ve got to do. If I do three out of five things a day, I tick my boxes. I make myself each day, I’ve got to be positive. Some days it’s so torrid and I go under my doona at the end of the day, but I have to live.’
Work remains an important part of life and Ronald is now seeing a psychologist which he finds helpful.
‘I’m pretty resilient. I tried to make myself what I didn’t have. I didn’t have any love as a [child] and that stuffed me up completely, excuse my language. I didn’t have a childhood … I’ve had to rent and save money, and I go home tonight, I know no one’s going to bash me behind that door. I know I’m lonely. I don’t trust anybody, but I open that door and I know nothing can hurt me. I don’t want any ructions in my life.’