‘There were good times there … but they are far outweighed by the bad times.’
Ryland, who is now in his 70s, was sexually abused at a residential care facility in rural New South Wales in the 1950s. His English mother signed the papers for him and his little brother to be shipped to Australia for ‘oranges and sunshine’ after his parents separated at the end of World War II.
‘There are still plenty of “kids” that went through there that are in absolute denial that there was ever any physical, sexual or psychological abuse’, Ryland told the Commissioner. ‘They had to be walking around with their heads under the mushrooms or something.’
As an eight-year-old, Ryland arrived from England by ship. The first two of the next eight years were good, with a kind and caring cottage mother. But then Mrs Farrell arrived.
‘You guttersnipe’ she called Ryland, when he once grabbed ‘a steel poker’ she was using to flog his brother. ‘You come from the slums and you’ll finish in the slums … no one wanted you, your parents didn’t want you …’ she would repeat over the years.
‘She was a sadist … From the very first day I met her I have recollections of physical brutality, psychological brutality and just a woman who had been placed in the care of kids who should never have been near them.’
Ryland had ‘quite a high IQ’ and usually did well in his schooling, even though none of the children at the facility knew anything about money, how to use a telephone or how to speak to people correctly. And they knew nothing about sex. ‘Just another one of the things we went out into the world with no knowledge of.’
Meanwhile, Mrs Farrell convinced the principal, Mr Steele, that Ryland was ‘mad’. He was sent to a psychiatrist. At the end of his session, the psychiatrist asked who had organised the visit and, when Ryland told him it was Mrs Farrell, he declared, ‘Perhaps she needs to come and see me next time.’
One day Horace Turnbull returned to the facility, where he had himself been brought up after migrating from England. Turnbull helped with maintenance on the sprawling property. He asked 10-year-old Ryland to reach up to a shelf in the workshop and retrieve a tin. ‘The next thing I know he’s got his hand up my shorts … and he started playing with me’. None of the children at the institution ever wore underpants.
Thereafter Ryland was forced to masturbate Turnbull who told him afterwards, ‘this is our little secret between you and me’. It wasn’t until Ryland was ‘much older and it started coming back to me’ that he recalled that initial event.
About a year later, when he was 11 or 12, Turnbull ‘called out to me and I went over [to his bedroom at the staff quarters]. Never gave a thought about what he’d done previously’.
Turnbull took Ryland’s clothes off and while on the bed ‘he did the same again ... He masturbated me and then he made me masturbate him. He said “You mustn’t tell anybody about this. This is our little secret”’.
When Ryland threatened to report Turnbull if he ever touched him again, Turnbull silenced him with a bribe of ‘two shillings’, money he had never seen before.
After that Ryland made sure he was never alone in a room with a man ‘no matter who it was’.
Had he reported it to the principal ‘probably nothing would have happened and I may have got the cane for lying’ about a staff member, just as he did when he reported Mrs Farrell for beating his little brother.
Ryland’s school grades fell to the point where he only ‘just’ passed the Intermediate Certificate. The principal of the facility did not wish to ‘waste taxpayers’ money’ to continue his schooling, so he left at 16. Not finishing his education is Ryland’s big regret in life – apart from the abuse.
During a short stint in jail as a teenager after stealing some food and petrol, he resisted the advances of ‘a paedophile’ in his cell on his first night.
Ryland married ‘very young’ and moved to the coast where he ‘drank heavily’ with football mates.
‘It was all bravado. It did blot out a lot of bad memories … unfortunately my marriage broke up.’ Emotionally distant from his wife and children, he worked as a truck driver and loved ‘the solitude’, although it took him away from home frequently. Now a great-grandfather, he has remarried, and gets on well with his ex-wife.
Ryland’s first disclosure was to another old boy of the facility during a research project. ‘I was sure I’d take [the memories] to the grave because I was ashamed, disgusted.’
Ryland’s wife, Maureen, who supported him during his private session told the Commissioner that Ryland ‘blamed himself’.
Ryland has no idea what made him tell the researcher about the sexual abuse.
Ryland told the researcher, ’I’ve never told anyone this in my life … We’ve all heard the accusations over the years about sexual abuse as well as the psychological and physical abuse which we know was rampant, and we all denied it. And when I say ‘all’ I mean from the most successful person that ever come out of there to the least successful, for want of a better word. I said, “… I’ve been in denial for far too long. It haunts me and it probably always will.’
Ryland has now been in counselling for six years and cannot abide a cold shower, like those he had to endure every morning, no matter the season and mostly under the direct scrutiny of Mrs Farrell. ‘I won’t even go swimming now because I can’t handle cold water.’
Ryland often wonders whether if he had reported the abuse, and ‘stuck to my guns’ there is a possibility that he would have been heard, and other kids would not have suffered.
‘One never knows.’