When Sidney was six, during World War II, he was placed in a Presbyterian children’s home in Western Australia. It was a rural property, and the children had to work on the farm and in the vegetable garden. There was very little schooling offered.
Sidney said he endured severe physical and psychological abuse from the matron and other staff members. He told the Commissioner that he remembers being taunted by the staff for being the son of a prostitute.
There were about 40 children in the home, including the children of some of the staff. The son of the house father was a powerfully built boy and one day he chased Sidney into the creek and was holding his head under the water.
In self-defence, Sidney bit a chunk out of the boy’s hand or finger. This led to the boy’s father beating Sidney with a belt buckle. Sidney was unable to walk for months and now suffers from a permanent back injury. No medical treatment was arranged for Sidney at the time.
Sidney told the Commissioner that he was sexually abused by one of the farm workers. Sidney believes that this worker had a cognitive impairment.
It was Sidney’s job to feed an old mare with oats and chaff, and the chooks with bran in the morning. One day, when Sidney was on the ground, the farm worker came up behind him, pulled off Sidney’s shorts and raped him after smothering his backside with the mutton fat kept in the barn.
Sidney was severely damaged, and again, no medical treatment was arranged. No boy was safe from this man and every time a boy reported him, the boy was thrashed.
Sidney said the staff actually saw the abuse as a form of punishment for misbehaving. Eventually, one of the older boys told his parents and reported it to the Church, and the man disappeared.
It was a struggle for Sidney after he left the home in the mid-1940s, with his back injury and very little schooling. He was basically illiterate but managed to find ways to work and learn over the years, and became an inventor, holding a number of national and international patents. He said that keeping busy had helped him to cope over the years.
Up until five years ago Sidney hadn’t told anybody about the abuse. ‘I never wanted to talk about it because I was always embarrassed … if you said you’d been raped, they’d go, “Oh, you’re a poofter”.’
At 75 he disclosed to his wife who has been very supportive, her own father having had an abusive childhood.
Sidney received a payment of $45,000 from the Western Australian redress scheme. He has not sought compensation from the Presbyterian Church.