Spencer was taken from his mother when he was 18 months old, in the late 1930s. As a single mother with quite a few kids, she was classed as unfit to look after him. Spencer was bounced around through different families and orphanages until he ended up in a state-run orphanage in a regional town in Victoria.
He was nine years old and it was here that his troubles really began. ‘It’s just story after story, I don’t know where you start.’
It was a huge place and Spencer’s dormitory alone held 50 beds. Spencer’s bed was the one closest to the door. Spencer doesn’t know if they were staff or visitors, but he wept as he recalled the many times when men came into his dormitory and sexually abused him at night. ‘It was absolutely gross.’
The abuse began almost as soon as he arrived. ‘For some reason, I must have had the nicest bum. Simple as that. What else can you say?’
As a Christian, Spencer says, he knows the Bible well, including all its references to sodomy. ‘There’s nothing new amongst humans.’
From all his experiences of abuse at the orphanage, Spencer can only remember the name of one person – a boy called Tony Wright. He started sexually abusing Spencer when they both started working at the orphanage farm. Wright was a much older, stronger boy. And ugly. ‘He was a bloody monster’, Spencer said.
When a scout group was initiated at the orphanage, Spencer was made a patrol leader but he was mystified as to why. Then he found out that the scout master was ‘one of them too’.
Spencer was at pains to tell the Commission that he had some great times at the orphanage, such as scout outings and other activities. He still has lifelong friends from back then. ‘Amongst the bad times ... there was a whole lot of good times.’
Welfare workers came to visit the kids but he doesn’t remember if he disclosed to them about the dormitory assaults. But he did speak up to the staff. ‘I reported it 20, 30 times.’ And even though staff didn’t want to know, he was shifted to a different dormitory and the abuse stopped.
But Tony Wright continued assaulting Spencer during the day and paying him money.
Spencer’s life finally turned around at 14, when he was given a job in town. ‘It was a real good part of my life.’ His boss took him under his wing and treated him like a son.
Spencer was soon able to stay at a hostel connected with the orphanage, where he was finally looked after properly. From then on things changed completely.
Spencer is proud of how his life has turned out, despite such a bad start. He hasn’t had any counselling and is sure that he doesn’t need it. His resilience comes from his very positive attitude. ‘I rose above it’, he told the Commissioner. He also sleeps like a log, undisturbed by bad dreams.
However, ‘over the years … if anyone put their arm around me I’d squirm. And today, Commissioner, I still do … I can’t take a man putting their arm around me’.
He’s also not close to his children, something which makes him very sad.
Spencer’s not interested in financial compensation. ‘I’m not a hungry man’, he said, but an apology would be a different matter. ‘But who from?’ he asked. No one from the institution would be alive any more.
He’s never talked about the abuse with his ‘orpho’ friends. ‘Never ever said a single word.’
A mate who’d been in a Christian Brothers home told Spencer he was going to talk to the Royal Commission as well. Spencer asked him what happened to him. ‘He said, “I’m not going to tell you.” End of conversation. He cut me off just like that. I thought, that’s fair enough.’