Ronnie Duncan's story

At 14 Ronnie was sent to a Catholic boys’ home in Adelaide where he was sexually abused by Brother Luke, the only clerical staff member who lived at the home. The abuse prompted a personality change in Ronnie.

'It astonishes me that no one seemed to care what was really going on, given people were aware that my behaviour suddenly changed from trying to comply to being angry, aggressive and running away.'

Each time Ronnie ran away, the police brought him back. Then, one day, the boys were told the home was to close 'because you are not profitable'.

'After the home closed down, we broke in and stayed there in the beds. We found Jell-O in the kitchen, which we ate because it was the only thing left. We were homeless with nowhere else to go! There were seven of us, four boys and three girls. The boys felt like we could survive on the streets but were concerned for the girls’ safety.'

The welfare authorities didn't share the boys' confidence, and Ronnie, now 15, was picked up and sent to a Uniting Church children's home. There he was abused by a staff member named Peter Smedley.

'I was given drugs and alcohol, and would wake up wondering what was going on. When I wasn’t out of it, I realised something wasn’t right and eventually what he was up to … Once I realised what was going on I became angry and confronted Peter. I told him to keep the fuck away from me. This led to Peter focusing on another fellow.

'The children were forced to get together to form a defence. As a group we told Peter that he was a fucking pig animal. A young boy who was being abused was taken out of the house … I reported the abuse of the young boy to the co-ordinator of the home. The co-ordinator blamed me and the other boys. She said, “You bring it on yourselves”. Peter was eventually sacked but we weren’t told why. No-one did anything to protect us.'

In fact, Ronnie and his cohort were soon sent packing themselves. 'There was no chance to get our stuff, so we came back that night for our gear – and got arrested for breaking and entering!'

This meant a court appearance – and a strange series of events that Ronnie is still puzzling over. 'The magistrate had me placed in Intensive Neighbourhood Care, and I was held over in jail. And one night this couple came – it was late, after lockdown – and were let in to see me. And they asked if I'd like to come home with them.

'I was suspicious from the off that these people gained access to the prison to visit me after hours without the presence of a social worker, welfare worker or prison officer … But the next day I was released into their custody.'

Ronnie's misgivings were on high. 'She was middle-aged but she had bright pink hair and she dressed hot for a woman of her age. Her husband looked like a Charles Bronson porn star.' And when they got in the car, 'the gear lever was a black dildo'.

'Then they tried to take me shopping at these expensive places – another dead giveaway. Brother Luke used to do the same thing … And then we finally get to their home – and there's the magistrate sitting on the sofa!'

Ronnie could not have foreseen that decades later the magistrate would receive a lengthy prison sentence for child sexual abuse. But everything about the situation screamed danger. He felt that he had been picked up by a paedophile ring that planned to molest him, as they seemed aware that he had no protective adults in his life and nowhere to go. In an attempt to protect himself, he became aggressive: 'I was shouting at them, "You'll wake up in the middle of the night and I'll be slitting your throat!"'

In the event nothing happened. And then, curiously, 'the police arrived about 24 hours later: they were all friendly and said they wanted to talk to me about Peter Smedley. But I felt ashamed of the abuse so I told them, “He never came near me”'.

Ronnie stayed in foster care until he was 18, then tried to put his youth behind him. It wasn't easy; there have been spells in mental health institutions, suicide fixations and bouts of criminal behaviour. Happily, he has now found a steady career, is married and has a family.

'But the abuse has had a profound effect on all my relationships due to trust issues', he says. In a written submission, his wife added, 'Ronnie won’t attend children’s school concerts due to distrust of people … He does not sit at the table with family at mealtimes … He gets agitated two or three days before a family function, then isolates himself while at the function and is short tempered'.

In recent years, Ronnie has contacted the two homes where he was abused. He says both admitted wrongs had been done. 'The co-ordinator at one stated, “I accept what happened. We know it took place. Please don’t sue us because we want to help other people".'

He has no plans to sue and is bemused by the concept of institutional apology. 'I can't get a "sorry" from somebody that I don't know, just like I can't apologise to the American Indians for being displaced … The ones I want an answer from don't walk this planet anymore.'

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