‘I found it was pretty hard every single day because you had to do everything right at that age to please everyone. And you had no voice. You couldn’t tell anyone.’
Saul had a challenging time growing up in Sydney in the 1960s. ‘We were poor’, he told the Commissioner. ‘We didn’t even have shoes and sometimes we got into a little bit of trouble.’ When he was 10 years old, Saul and his brother were taken into care as state wards. ‘We got caught up with the police and they sent us to the boys’ home. We didn’t know why they took us away.’
The boys were sent to an institution in rural New South Wales which consisted of many self-contained cottages, each housing about 20 children, with an adult couple in residence looking after the boys. Though life was tough there, Saul remembers the regular carers doing a good job. But when they left for holidays their replacements were always brutal.
‘If you’d done anything wrong that’s when they’d start making you do these strange things like scrub the back of [the cottage] with a toothbrush until 2 or 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning.’
The boys were made to march many miles into the nearest town to attend church on Sundays. Poor marchers would be dragged to the back of the line and then harassed by older supervisors, who would kick and punch them repeatedly as they tried to keep up.
Saul learnt to be wary of some of the other boys. He was sexually abused in his bed by another resident named Voytek. Saul still doesn’t understand why he was picked. ‘It was dark and you couldn’t see in the dormitory. I had a pillow over my head anyway.’
Saul was also sexually molested by a visiting dentist. ‘I was sitting in his chair and I remember the time he put his hand down my pants. I said, “What are doing?” and he says, “I’m taking your temperature” … I didn’t know what he was doing.’
The dentist also assaulted the next child patient, who jumped from the chair and attacked him. In the ruckus that followed Saul reported the abuse to the boys’ home superintendent. No action was taken and the boys were instead punished.
‘We were sent down to our houses and I was put on the wood heap. Then they put me on the pots after the wood heap.’
Saul found it difficult to concentrate at school because of the bullying and harsh conditions at the boys’ home. He returned to live with his parents when he was 14.
Saul had struggled at school and as an adult he struggled to find work. He has suffered from depression and anxiety and has experienced problems with intimacy. Despite this, he has been in an enduring relationship for 40 years and has many children and grandchildren.
‘I’ve got a beautiful wife. If I didn’t have her I’d still be in jail.’ Saul’s wife also spent much of her childhood in a government-run home. They have been able to share their experiences with each other. Until he contacted the Royal Commission, his wife was the only other person Saul had disclosed his sexual abuse to.
He now hopes people can be made accountable for the abuse inflicted on children in residential care institutions across the country.