‘When I got to [the boys’ home], I thought this is the Salvation Army. Finally somewhere where I’m not going to get beaten up and I’m going to get fed three meals a day … I don’t know where I am but I’m with the Salvo’s … They were good people back then.’
As a child, Ryan never felt wanted by anyone. He was raised by his aunt who ‘flogged’ him every day and was surrounded by siblings who ‘betrayed’ him.
When he was nine years old, he was told that his biological mother had died, but to this day he still doesn’t know how she passed away. Ryan knows he is Aboriginal, but is unsure of his father’s ancestry.
In the late 1970s when he was 12, his aunt placed him into a Salvation Army boys’ home in South Australia. He told the Commissioner that the home was a violent place. The workers often beat up the boys and allowed the older boys to punish the younger ones.
Humiliation was ‘the norm’ when the workers punished the residents. On one occasion, Lieutenant Goode kicked Ryan in the jaw because he ran away from the home. Ryan said that he was unable to eat for weeks and he got no medical treatment. He never felt happy living there.
‘I could hear the kids all the way down the hallway from the first dormitory screaming at night-time. Sometimes they’d just be screaming from nightmares, other times it’d be from getting belted up and sometimes from sexual abuse. It was horrific and on top of that you had to front the public and go to school.’
At school, Ryan was treated like an outcast by his peers and often beaten up. He said that they ‘judged’ him for his skin colour and subjected him to racial bullying.
With everything that was happening at the home, he couldn’t concentrate during lessons. He told the Commissioner that he felt like an ‘unwanted piece of rubbish’ and was ‘a loner’.
He often looked out for the younger residents when the older boys were ganging up on them, and got into a lot of fights because he wanted to protect them from being beaten up or abused.
When he was 14, Ryan was sexually abused by two older residents from his dormitory. He didn’t disclose details of the abuse, but he told the Commissioner that ‘it wasn’t rape’. He was so angry with what they did that he ‘lashed out’ in self-defense.
‘I got word they were coming up after me next and going to get me. To this day I don’t know what happened to them but I know I’ve done some serious damage. There’s not a time I don’t think about it. I can just see the blood spraying up the walls, I laid into them pretty severely after they attacked me. There was never any record of them going to hospital or anything like that. I never seen them the next day. I’ve never seen them again.’
Ryan was released from the home when he was 16 and said he was ‘always filled with hate’. He was sent to numerous foster homes and, when he was an adult, he travelled around the country for many years. He told the Commissioner that he changed his last name every time he moved to a new town. He said it was ‘easier’ to do that back then.
When he was 17, he travelled back home to visit his stepfather. Ryan learnt that his aunt was living close by, with her mother – his grandmother. He went to visit his grandmother and they became close.
Ryan felt that he could tell his grandmother about the home and the fact that his aunt – her daughter – ‘gave him up’. She didn’t believe him and ‘disowned’, calling him a liar. It was then that Ryan felt totally alone, which angered him.
‘I didn’t have anyone, I haven’t since. I’ve never been able to trust anybody.’
Ryan’s grandmother eventually found out that he was telling the truth about the home and kicked his aunt out of her house. She tried to contact him to ‘make amends’ but he said ‘it was too late’.
He developed a destructive personality and said that ‘everyone knew’ he was ‘out to get everyone’. He now has a significant criminal history and has caused ‘unlawful damage’. He has abused alcohol and drugs for a number of years, which contributed to his behaviour.
Since the early 2000s, Ryan has been in counselling. He has been diagnosed with significant mental health issues and also has an acquired brain injury. He suffers from nightmares, sometimes has thoughts of taking his own life and has self-harmed in the past.
In the late 2000s, Ryan disclosed the abuse to the Salvation Army. He received an apology letter which stated their regret at his mistreatment in the home. He also settled a claim for over $30,000, but was dissatisfied. He has never reported the abuse to the police.
‘No amount of money is ever going to bring my life back or take away the pain and the hate.’