Born in the 1930s, Ronnie recalls that during his childhood, ‘My father was not a happy man. He was very abusive to my mother ... I sometimes struggle to understand what was wrong with him, but it was a troubled household’.
He remembers his mother as a ‘strong woman’ who had no way to escape her situation. ‘Married women of that era, up until 1946, had no rights. Had none. If you were a married woman you had no comeback on anything.’
Ronnie ran away a lot as ‘I just couldn’t stand the fighting’, and was often picked up by police. ‘That was my only defence – I couldn’t hit back.’ When he was around nine years old he was made a Victorian state ward.
‘The answer in those days was to put the kids in homes. That was the system.’
A few years later he was placed in an Anglican boys’ home, although ‘I never knew who it was run by’. ‘The only leadership or supervision you got was that you had to work on local farms, planting crops by hand, I know that. There was a schoolhouse ... I think we got to go there two or three times ... The rest of the time you worked out in the paddocks.’ The boys ‘hardly ever saw the staff’.
‘What affected me more than anything else was the brutality that went on in there ... But caused by other kids that were in there, older kids.’
In the 12 months Ronnie spent at the home he and other younger boys were subjected to physical and sexual abuse by older residents, including a boy named Tommy Tanner and two brothers.
Almost every week ‘we were made to stand against a brick shelter and they would come down the line and keep punching you until they were satisfied there was enough blood’.
Ronnie was also made ‘to masturbate the older kids.’ He ran away four or five times – ‘any chance of getting away from the place was a good thing’.
One time another boy, who he thinks was called Harold, spent a night in a lockup cell with the two brothers. The next day, disfigured from having been beaten in the head by them all night, he was taken to hospital by ambulance. Ronnie has ‘no idea if he survived’.
Ronnie’s parents visited not long after this incident. ‘Then I think Dad for the first time understood what I was going through as well, and he was determined to get me out of there.’
After returning home Ronnie left school in his mid-teens and started working, then joined the military, and found many different kinds of employment after this. He and his wife had children and have been married over 50 years.
It was not until Ronnie was in his late 60s that he disclosed the sexual abuse to anyone. This disclosure was prompted by media coverage about child sexual abuse. Firstly he told his doctor, who referred him to a psychologist, and then he told his wife Georgia.
Ronnie found some benefit in seeing the psychologist. ‘I went for about eight or 10 meetings ... It was okay, she agreed that I was a survivor. And the thing that struck me as being unusual was that she said on one occasion, “You’re one of the lucky ones”. I said “What do you mean by that?” She said “You’re still alive”.’
Georgia remembers that Ronnie changed after he started speaking about his experiences.
‘He doesn’t get moody anymore, but he certainly did have his moody times before. And I think because he’s sort of faced it all now, he doesn’t do that anymore.’
Ronnie reported the abuse to police some years ago but is not interested in having Tommy Tanner, who would be in his 80s, charged now. ‘Because at the end of the day when he passes away he’s going to have to face the final judge, as we all do.’