Samuel John's story

Samuel began his private session with an acknowledgement of country, and something else he wanted to say.

‘The reason that I’m sitting here today is because of a paedophile that happened some 70 years ago. Now, I’m 76 years of age. It’s taken 70 years for me to sit down with somebody of any notoriety to listen to me. I was always told, “Get away” … You was either slapped down or kicked up the backside or whatever whatever. Out of sight out of mind. This is great because I can sit and tell what actually happened …

‘To me this is like climbing out of a big deep, deep, deep hole. And you can see the daylight up there and you’re trying to get the top of it. And this today for me is like that.’

Samuel was made a ward of the state when he was seven or eight years old, and placed in a residential industrial school for boys in Adelaide. Before that, he had lived with his parents in a South Australian coastal town. His father was violent, and abused his mother. Samuel recalled his mother screaming as his father belted her – ‘me as a young boy grabbin’ hold of his hand and getting tossed against a wall and nearly killed … It wasn’t a good lifestyle to be brought up in.’

Samuel’s father was European, and eventually got into trouble with police for ‘associating with Aboriginal women’. Samuel’s mother took the children to stay with her parents and extended family at the mission where they lived. The males and female slept in separate quarters there, and six-year-old Samuel was put in a room with older boys.

Several of them, Samuel’s relatives, sexually abused him during the night. The abuse included anal penetration, and occurred frequently for about a month, when Samuel told his mother what was happening. Eventually, Samuel and his sisters were taken from their mother and placed in separate institutions in Adelaide.

‘Only one person I reported it to was my mother, and like I said all hell broke loose. Next thing I’m by myself in the boys’ home, and I was in there with so much shame it was unbelievable. I carried this shame right up till now. Today.’

Samuel experienced more abuse at the government-run home. There was a dormitory there for boys who wet the bed, which included Samuel. They were terrorised by older boys, who came in at night on ‘raiding parties’, carrying socks stuffed with hard items which they’d wield as weapons. ‘They would then force themselves on me and other boys … We were an easy target. Bed wetters were used as a punching bag for everyone in there.’

These assaults continued until Samuel was about 11 or 12 and big enough to fight back. Until then there was nothing he could do. There was no point in reporting to staff, he said, you’d be labelled a troublemaker. Overall, the home was a brutal environment. ‘That’s why they called it industrial. It wasn’t a boys’ home like you’d like, it was industrial and you were brought up the hard way’, he told the Commissioner.

Stays with foster families offered some relief. Samuel recalled being treated like ‘slave labour’ at one rural property he was sent to several times but that was still preferable to the violence and sexual abuse he was used to. ‘It was better than being in the boys’ home. You had the freedom.’

Eventually, Samuel left the home for a job on a station. ‘I just fancied going back on the land – going on the land and being part of it.’ He married young, found work in Adelaide and had kids.

‘But niggling deep down below was like a volcano ready to take off, was this business of being molested, and not knowing really what it was all about.’ He turned to alcohol and became a heavy drinker. After some years his marriage ended. ‘I was going to work, I was doing my work, I was working two jobs. But I had alcohol when I needed to quench my thirst … Until it got me in the end. It became so unbearable that my wife and children at that time couldn’t bear me coming home drunk and smelling like a brewery.’

Samuel didn’t report the abuse to any authorities.

‘To me it was not even worthwhile bringing it up. There’s no one, like I said, until now, who’ll sit and listen. And this is the case not only with myself but with a lot of other kids that grew up in my time who’ve been trying to deal with abuse.’

Also, he thought he had it well buried. ‘Tell you honestly, I thought I would get over this.’ But then in his mid-50s he started getting flashbacks – ‘stuff that I put a ton of concrete on and I didn’t want anybody to lift.’ He participated in the South Australian Government inquiry into the treatment of children in care, but didn’t apply for redress afterwards as he didn’t realise it was an option.

Getting in touch with the Royal Commission led to Samuel connecting with a counsellor, for the first time. He finds the support valuable and said it has helped him resolve some issues. However, he lives in a very small community and if he saw a counsellor there it would be difficult to keep his story confidential. In particular, there are some family members who might come across him in their professional lives and he doesn’t want that to happen. ‘I don’t want them to have anything to do with my case.’ Instead, he sees a counsellor in Adelaide, a long way away.

‘The distance from where [the counsellor] is to where I am, the distance – if you travel in the car it takes you all day’, he said. As a result most of their contact is by phone. Nonetheless, ‘That’s a safer avenue for me, because the less people that I have knowing …’

Samuel has found strength through his spirituality. ‘And I don’t mean church-wise. My spirit with my grandfather’s people, and my mother’s people, yeah … It is the spiritual being of being who you are and who you was made like. People seem to think that human beings are made the way they are through God’s image. But they forget about the spiritual world that He lives in. And that’s something that I’m dealing with every day of my life.’

Samuel has recently come to understand the effects of what happened to him more clearly. ‘The abuse and all that it’s done – it’s not just me at this moment in time – it’s for my children’s children. It works down the family tree and the repercussions. I didn’t think about too much till of late, how much it has affected them …

‘I don’t know what else I can tell you … I just hope and pray that … politicians get to understand that paedophiles is one of the worst things in the world that can happen to anybody. Especially when your childhood’s taken away. To me that’s damnation, and I don’t think anyone’s got the right to do that.’

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