Rowen Stanley's story

From a statement Rowen wrote to the Royal Commission: ‘I'm 60 years of age, I feel sad, never married, no children. At Xmas time, I hate Xmas. My birthday, just another day. I feel sad on these days. I live in a world where I feel that I've been robbed of my childhood and it scares me.

‘A lot of times I don't think that I know myself, I don't feel normal. I've grown to live with that but I sometimes find it difficult living around places. Sometimes I get paranoid, lose touch with reality. I feel so very lost.’

Rowen was three years old when he was removed from his extended family with his siblings and made a New South Wales state ward, because of heavy drinking and violence in the home. First he was placed in a Sydney babies’ home, then ‘in and out of institutions and being in foster care’ throughout the 1960s while his parents tried to get the children back.

‘I would cry myself to sleep most nights thinking and wondering when I was going home ... Not allowing us to reunite as a family again broke my mum's, my dad's, my sisters' and my heart, it destroyed my life in every way, my relationship with my whole family and relatives.’

Conditions in these placements were often harsh. Rowen was ‘brainwashed, confused’, belted with a strap, given different surnames, ‘treated like an orphan and treated like a criminal’, and one time had his arm broken by a foster carer.

‘No one ever asked you did someone hurt you or did anything strange happen, for you to tell. When the welfare visited the carers they only spoke to them privately, they never sat down and spoke to me on any issues. They didn't ask me how I was liking it there, did I get on with the family, was I punished and if so, how?

‘Even when I was sent back to the institution no one would ever ask about anything that happened with the carers, and they should have. I sometimes saw a psychologist in the homes, and they didn't ask the important questions either, just gave you tests, showing you different pictures and shapes.’

When Rowen was eight he was placed with the Whitely family. If he did not behave well for Mrs Whitely she would tell her husband when he got home from work, which was usually late at night.

‘He would come to my room when I had been asleep about two hours, and he sat on my bed leaning over me and pull the front of my pyjamas down and manhandle my private parts, and question me why I played up on his wife that day, and touch me until I woke up and answered him.

‘I knew that what he was doing was wrong. He did this a number of times while I was in their care, while his wife was in the other room so she was never to know ... I was confused out of sight, what I could do? No one ever asked questions about anything sexual, or checked us when we came back to institutions. I was so mentally disturbed, I just didn't know.’

Rowen had other placements after this, before being returned to ‘my family that didn’t really know me’ when he was 12.

‘I love my mum, and dad – we just really didn't know each other like father and son.’

At 15 he left school, wanting to get a job to support his family but not really knowing how to go about this. His community services caseworker ‘didn’t show me but instead put me back in under false pretences’, sending him to a ‘farm institution’ and then a boys’ home. Rowen stayed there until the department found him a job and a place in a boarding house, where he was assaulted by the man who ran it. The department would not report this to police as they had other boys staying there and didn’t want to re-house them.

With his father drinking heavily Rowen was unable to return home again. ‘I was let out into a world thinking: where do I go, who do I turn to? My life was shit, couldn't live with myself, couldn't live at home because of my dad, couldn't cope on my own or think for myself. I turned to drink, got jobs in and out, couldn't stay, got laid off, not enough work, couldn't work because of my health, mental problems, couldn't cope, depressed.’

Rowen is saddened to think of how his life may have been different if he had not been separated from his family by the government, but instead been supported to stay together.

‘I would most likely have married, have a wife and children. But I'm still living the past and my loss ... You only have to live a life this way to be able to describe the heartbreak, the suffering, the torment of just wanting someone to love you and be around you as a child to feel normal, to have someone there for you that you can trust, someone close, someone who knows your needs.

‘This system, to many like me, was like a concentration camp, prison, you were just a name and number. This was a system that betrayed me and thousands of children and family lives, and only now all you can say is “sorry, sorry”.’

Content updating Updating complete