Sonny was placed in a government-run children’s home in Queensland in the early 1950s when he was three months old. He never met his mother and discovered only years later that when he was two years old his father had come to the home to try and get him out. When the request was refused, his father became aggressive towards staff, which Sonny thought might explain, at least in part, the hostility staff displayed toward him from an early age. He was regularly beaten and remembered being chained around the neck to a table leg for weeks on end.
‘I could tell they didn’t like me’, he said. ‘I don’t know why. I don’t think I was that much of a naughty kid but they would always make me do all the mongrel jobs. I was never allowed out to go on holidays with anybody. People used to take kids from the orphanage out on holidays but I was never allowed to go.’
At seven and eight years of age, Sonny was milking cows without shoes and being trod on by hooves. He remembered spending one Christmas day emptying septic tanks and transporting the contents to be buried. ‘No meal, no nothing. Not even any thanks for it at the end of the day.’
When he was six years old, Sonny was raped by a resident who was 17 or 18 years old. ‘There’s nobody to tell. Nobody’d believe you.’ However Sonny did tell the resident that if he did it again he was going to tell somebody, ‘and he never did again’.
One of the dormitory masters was Douglas Jones, who Sonny said prowled boys’ beds at night trying to ‘stick his tongue down our throats’. In the mid-1990s, Jones was convicted and sentenced for child sex offences after another ex-resident reported him to police.
Sonny told the Commissioner that he started to be treated differently by Martha Quinlan, one of the cottage parents, when he was 14 years old. ‘She sees the way I’m being treated and takes a liking to me, asks if I can come to her place for bible readings’. He said he did that for a few months and then one day she put her arms out for a hug. She then told him she was going to teach him to kiss, and ‘that led to sex’.
One day, Quinlan heard her husband coming down the hallway while she and Sonny were in bed. She quickly threw her underpants under the bed and brought out a bible to pretend they’d been reading. Sonny said her husband probably suspected something because after that he ‘turned very nasty’.
Shortly afterwards, Sonny was moved to a youth centre for boys who were ‘trouble makers’ or who had broken the law. While he was there he spent a month in solitary confinement. ‘In that month, they would pass you food under the door and kick it so you’d have to eat off the floor every day. They would come in, and it was pitch black, you couldn’t see out, the windows were painted or frosted or whatever they were. You could see out the top window. Then they would come in the middle of the night and belt you across the head with their torches, throw cold water over you, throw piss over you. I wasn’t sure if they were standing there pissing or throwing the piss because it was really dark and I only woke up when I got whacked, so they could have been standing there a minute or so before I woke up. Then they’d belt into you in the morning for pissing the bed.’
After a month, Sonny was moved to a farm institution he described as another jail environment. Boys were hit with a baton by the superintendent for minor infringements like talking while watching television. The superintendent also came into the dormitory 15 minutes after lights out at night and made everyone stand beside the bed. ‘If you had an erection, he’d kick and belt you’, Sonny said.
In the late 1990s, Sonny reported Quinlan to Queensland police, however the prosecution didn’t succeed. He later made application to a Queensland Government redress scheme and received $30,000, which he thought of as ‘shut your mouth money’. Nobody had ever contacted him and as far as he could see the government processes ‘didn’t want an outcome that favoured us’.
Sonny was upset that Douglas Jones was the only one ever convicted of a crime. A a public admission of wrong-doing by the government might have meant something. ‘We’d been diddled, that’s all you can put it down to. We’d been diddled. They’ve diddled us all our life and they diddled us now.’