‘No-one knows my story until a couple of weeks ago … My best friends don’t even know this story. They knew I was brought up in institutions, only my very close friends, but I haven’t told one living soul what I wrote in that letter. I put it away and it was hidden for years.’
In the late 2000s, Ted travelled to Canberra to hear the government apologise to the Forgotten Australians – an estimated 500,000 children who suffered abuse and neglect in out of home care. Six days later, he sat down to write a letter to himself, and pages and pages of his story spilled out.
‘I think I’ve built up a barrier where it blocks out of my brain any of that stuff what happened. And for some unknown reason, after Canberra, it was like your brain’s on fire and I’m trying to write and my brain is going so fast I can’t keep up with it … I’ve kept it hidden for 40, 50 years … I wrote that letter to try and understand it myself. I still just cannot understand it.’
Ted was first placed in a Catholic-run children’s home in the late 1940s when he was three, as his single mother couldn’t look after him. After four years he was moved to a different Catholic-run home in Melbourne where he experienced his first episode of sexual abuse. One of the nuns used to come into his room at night and rub his groin until he became erect, then slap him and call him a dirty little boy, stick pins in the soles of his feet and hold her hand over his mouth to stop him from crying out.
In the mid-1950s Ted was moved to an orphanage in regional Victoria. Here he was abused by a Brother Tirrell who used to kiss him, masturbate him, and make him do it back. On one brief visit home, his mother kissed him and when he told her she didn’t kiss as well as Brother Tirrell she got angry. But when he got back to the home, Brother Tirrell was gone.
This was the only time throughout Ted’s youth that he made any kind of attempt to disclose his abuse. For the rest of it, he said he was too ashamed to speak up – ‘shame, guilt, and scared I was going to get killed by older boys’.
Those older boys were the two who raped him in the dormitory, nearly suffocating him with a pillow and bringing on an asthma attack that put him in the hospital. Nobody at the hospital either noticed or commented on any injuries he had sustained during the rape, and when he returned, the boys threatened him not to tell. Also at this home, he was repeatedly abused by a lay worker who ran the projector on movie nights – which was every weekend.
By now, Ted had run away from the orphanage so many times that he was transferred to a government-run institution. On his first night there he was attacked by his cell-mate but he managed to fight him off. One of the guards said he would protect Ted from the other boys, but used this as a way to get him into his office where he raped him a number of times. Ted described these rapes as the most brutal and aggressive.
By the time he was 16 and had been moved to another home - where he was again raped by older boys - Ted had become a chronic bed-wetter. The final humiliation meted out to him during this time was being rigged up to a device that gave him electric shocks every time it sensed moisture. It took three months for him to stop wetting the bed every night.
He left care at age 18 and became a cook, a job that allowed him to work long and unsociable hours, and he threw himself into the work to keep his mind off things. However, he also drank heavily for a very long time.
‘I used to knock myself out … As soon as I got home I’d open a bottle and I’d stay there until I drank that bottle. It could take me two hours, three hours, and I’d just pass out.’
That continued until he was about 50.
‘I collapsed and things were pretty bad … The doctor came out and just said to me, “You’ve got two choices. Either give up drinking or you’ll be dead in a couple of weeks”. He said, “Your liver’s collapsed and it’s all through alcohol”. And from that day, I never had a drink for 10 years.’
He also had great difficulty with relationships and his first marriage lasted only a couple of years. He said he didn’t know how to treat women, other than to have sex with them, and he didn’t understand anything about love and intimacy, even when they had children.
‘I refused to see my children. When I walked away, I walked away. I couldn’t handle it. I just ran away, like I did when I was in the homes. As soon as a major problem hit me, I’d just run.’
He did manage to sustain another relationship for a long time, with a woman who already had a son. Although that has since ended, he is still friends with them both.
When Ted was in his 50s he attempted suicide a couple of times. His self-esteem has never recovered from those early blows and he now lives a very quiet life on his own.
‘I was always told I wasn’t going to amount to anything by the nuns, the Christian Brothers. They’d always be saying that to you. You just thought you were worthless, you were useless, and you were always trying to prove them wrong. But like everything else, when it comes to a problem I’d run away.’
However, he is finally taking steps to try and make things better by opening up a conversation with a counsellor from Relationships Australia.
‘Well, I think I’ve found a little bit of inner peace because, as I said, I’ve never spoken to anybody before … She’s been the first one I’ve ever been able to trust … I just basically started talking and couldn’t stop.’