Sam’s father returned home to Victoria after the Second World War a broken man. Sam told the Commissioner, ‘He had me and [my sister] Ruth go up and down the passage with our hands on our head and he’d be shooting us with a broomstick. They ruined his mind’.
As a result of his father’s instability, Sam’s childhood was characterised by neglect and constant hunger. But he said that in the midst of this were moments of joy when he would slip away to work on a nearby farm. Then one day in the late 1950s, when Sam was about nine years old, everything changed.
‘I think one of the neighbours had said, look we’re not getting fed, things like that. And the police woman just came in and bashed on the door and we were all sent to different places.’
Sam spent the next seven or so years living in some of the worst boys’ homes in Australia. His first stop was a state-run home where he was sexually abused by a junior staff member. Sam said, ‘We had two in a room and he’d come in when there was only one in the room and he’d fondle you and everything and he’d say, “You say anything, you’ll never ever see your parents”.’
Despite the threats, Sam and a mate decided to report the abuse to one of the senior officers. ‘And he laughed at us and said, “You haven’t seen the worst of it yet, so bloody well get used to it”.’
Sometime later Sam was moved to a boys’ home run by the Christian Brothers. He said, ‘There was a bloke in charge there called Brother Wallace and he ended up getting me’. After abusing Sam, Brother Wallace would say the same thing that Sam had heard before – that if he didn’t comply he’d never see his parents again.
Sam escaped from the home several times, managing to evade recapture for a month or two each time. On these occasions he would return to the farm where he used to work. At night Sam would sneak down to the paddock outside his parents’ place. ‘And I’d sleep looking at Mum and Dad’s house. And that was the closest I could get to the house.’
Each time Sam escaped he was returned to the state-run home and then to the Christian Brothers home. Then one day when Sam was about 14 the officers at the state-run home took a different tack and sent him to a home run by the Franciscan Brothers. They told him it was a farm and Sam thought this sounded good until he arrived and saw what he was really in store for.
Two of the Franciscans sexually abused Sam during his stay. Brother Greg would ‘get you down by the shed and force you up against the shed’. Brother Frank once took Sam down to the infirmary to check on his injured leg.
‘He dropped me strides and fondled me. And I was shaking, and I had this big cut on me from when I was trying to get away on the barbed wire, I’ve still got the scar here. And he licked it. He said, “This is the blood of Christ”.’
Sam escaped from this home as well, and ‘after a bashing from the coppers’ was sent back to the state-run home. On arrival the staff did their checks and read out his details, saying that he was Roman Catholic. ‘I said, no I’m Church of England now. I’m trading my religions.’ By doing this Sam was hoping they wouldn’t sent him back to the Christian Brothers or the Franciscans.
The plan worked. They sent him to a Salvation Army home instead. There he was sexually abused by the superintendent’s son. After that there were a few more escapes and Sam ended up at a state-run reformatory in Queensland. He described the place as ‘suicidal’ and ‘ferocious’ and said it was the worst of all the homes he’d seen. Sam didn’t mention any sexual abuse at the home but he said the physical abuse was so bad that several kids were beaten to death, their bodies hidden.
From there Sam eventually made his way back yet again to the state-run home in Victoria. A few years later he was out. He then committed an armed robbery and was sent to jail. He was released just before his twentieth birthday and never got into any trouble again.
After everything he’s been through, Sam has had to work hard to keep the bad memories at bay. His favourite strategy is to think back to the brief, joyful times he spent on the farm. ‘When I go to sleep each night I try to get my dream into that – sleeping in the barn with the hay and the cows and that, you know. It’s better to go into that than where I was later on.’