Samuel’s family migrated from England in the late 1940s and settled in Queensland. His mother died during World War II, and his father remarried twice. Samuel’s first stepmother beat him, so his father kicked her out. His second stepmother moved with them to Australia.
‘My stepmother was very unusual … This woman had a streak of … cruelty in her … She came along when I was seven or eight. I remember my dad, always proud … He was a loving man … She set out to destroy us. She was so manipulative.’
Samuel was bullied in school because of his physical appearance, and because his stepmother dressed him in unusual clothes, and put garlic in his sandwiches every day.
To avoid the bullying, Samuel began stealing money from his father to buy clothes, and to buy pies for lunch so he could throw the sandwiches away. ‘Of course, little thieves are always found out.’ When he was 11 Samuel was caught stealing, and the family, under the influence of his stepmother, voted to send him to a Salvation Army boys’ home.
‘For a young boy, who was carrying earlier post-war trauma, the loss of a real, loving mother, and the introduction of a tyrannical stepmother, stepping into this daunting environment was very scary indeed.’
Samuel was a chronic bed-wetter, so he was assigned to the bed-wetters’ ward in the boys’ home. There, they had to wash their own sheets, but weren’t allowed to shower every day, so they ‘smelled pretty bad at home and at school’. Sometimes they were given the strap for wetting the bed.
Discipline at the home was harsh. ‘Small misdemeanours were dealt with harshly … A torrent of hellfire and brimstone was rained on you each day … We really were considered to be the lowest scum and scourge of the planet … Salvo officers felt duty-bound to bring us kicking and screaming to God.’
School was ‘an additional nightmare’ for Samuel, because ‘apartheid was practised and home boys were strictly made to keep separate from the free kids’.
Samuel returned home, and his family moved to Sydney. When he was suspected of stealing again, he was sent to a Salvation Army training farm. ‘[The training farm] was a dangerous place. As well as your tyrannical [officers] you had the older kids to be wary of, both threats emanating from bullying and sexual harassment.’
One night, Samuel was summoned to an officer’s bedroom and he was told that ‘we were going to say special prayers to Jesus to help relieve my bedwetting. I was asked to kneel … My eyes were closed. I felt this officer’s hand go through my pyjama pants and caress my genitals …
‘I deluded myself that this was part of the ritual to stop my bedwetting. However, the officer then furtively sought my hand and placed it on his penis. Boy, did I wake up fast. He was very scared and begged me to see it in the light of a special blessing ritual to help me … Most boys despised this man because of his obvious sick love of young boys.’
On another occasion, Samuel was wrestling with an older boy. ‘He managed to pull my pants down and … tried to penetrate my backside. Fortunately … he did not succeed … I was completely immature and had no sex education … I was totally frightened by this big boy’s attempt at rape. He warned me not to report the incident, and fear got the better of me, and I didn’t.’
Samuel has experienced difficulties with sexual performance throughout his adult life. He also ‘[lives] constantly in fear and anxiety. [In my early 30s] I was diagnosed with severe depression’.
When he was prescribed anti-depressants, they ‘made me so unstable that I thought about suicide. I decided at that moment, to treat myself with positive thinking, which worked on and off. The trouble with only positive thinking is that it does not allow the underlying negative causes to be treated. Subsequently, I have led a mercurial life with severe mood swings’.
Samuel told the Commissioner, ‘When you are bullied as a child, you are hardly aware that you are being set up for learned helplessness. It teaches [you] that you are an undesirable, you are not safe in this world, and you are powerless to defend yourself. The child becomes the perfect candidate to take on board acute anxiety, seething anger and bouts of depression …
‘You are seen by others as weak, pathetic and a born loser. Over time, negative messages coming from your detractors become hardwired into your brain. In the end, all the evil bullying assumptions levelled at an unfortunate home boy finally become entrenched and internalised, leading to an irreparable life sentence.’
Samuel sought compensation from the Salvation Army for the abuse he experienced as a child, and was pleased with the response he received from them.
‘The people that saw me from the Salvation Army, they were very compassionate. I know they had to be, but there was a genuine … they were pretty genuine … You could see by the letter [of apology]. That’s beautifully written …’
Samuel reflected on his time in the boys’ homes. ‘I was 10 years old … [more than 65 years ago], and the five years of abuse … it set me up for a lifetime of anxiety and seething anger … When you think of the palpable cruelty of these monsters …
‘They set out to shame, degrade [and] physically beat boys … It was a sickness to me, especially as it developed over the years … The only forgiveness that I could find for them was, ‘What happened to them [to make them do this]?”’
Every day, Samuel reads a book on Buddhist philosophy that one of his children gave to him. ‘I think you would say I’m reasonably balanced about my life and what I’ve been through. I’ve come through … but I’ve never got over the anxiety, the fear. That stays with you, and all you can do is find the best way that suits you to manage it.’