Ted was a child migrant, brought to Western Australia from England as an 11-year-old in the early 1950s. The promise was riding to school on horseback and eating fruit picked from trees in the orchards. The reality could not have been more different.
‘I am haunted to this day by the trauma of my experiences at [the Christian Brothers home]’, he wrote in a statement. ‘How I survived the brutality I’ll never know. Many other children did not. At 67 years of age I still wake during the nights in a cold sweat, in a state of night terror featuring the monsters of my childhood – though it was never any kind of childhood.’
The boys at the home were put to work doing manual labour. There wasn’t enough food, clothing or medical attention and only minimal education. When Ted left the home at 16 he could barely read.
Physical, psychological and sexual abuse were routine. Ted described experiences of terrible violence. On one occasion a Brother beat him with a stick, stopping only when he was exhausted. ‘I feared he was going to kill me, spitting with anger, completely out of control.’
Violence was the language of every day, more widely used than words.
‘Children were flogged all around me on a daily basis. I could never escape the evidence of fear and trauma all around me, and the Brothers exploited this opportunity to display their power and control by making us watch.
'And then very often the same Brother administering the beating would prey on the very same child at night. It was mental cruelty of the highest degree.’
Sexual abuse was widespread and brazen. One of the Brothers would strip off and shower with the boys. Another prowled the dormitories at night, thrusting his hands into the boys’ beds.
Ted recalled that at mealtimes the head of the school would quite openly molest boys. ‘In the dining room, whilst eating, he would call over one of the boys and have them stand next to him while he ate, and would run his hands up their legs, groping at their genitals all in view of the entire assembly.’
Ted said there are particular issues child migrants have had to contend with, that set them apart from other victims. He talked about the loss of identity that occurred, the difficulty of accessing records, and the lies that were told to children and parents.
‘The deception on both sides, to parents who were told we’d been adopted, and to us who were told our parents were dead, is unforgiveable and meant that most of us did not start searching till it was too late’, Ted told the Commissioner.
‘Of all the crimes and systemic failures I suffered, nothing is worse than that.’
He was told his mother had abandoned him. Much later he discovered she had left him her married name and address with a Catholic agency in London. But this information was never passed on. Ted began searching for his mother in his 20s. By the time he located her, she had died.
After Ted left the home, he tried to speak about the conditions there but his stories weren’t believed. ‘I did talk about it but we were told we were bloody barefaced liars. Ungrateful swine, who are we speak like that … So for a long, long time you just gave it away … What’s the good of telling them?’
The abuse Ted suffered during the years spent at a Christian Brothers home in Western Australia led him to become an outspoken advocate for justice throughout his life. He had strong views on recommendations he hoped the Commission would make, especially in relation to child migrants.
He believed there should be an inquiry into the experience of child migration. He wanted to see the perpetrators of institutional child abuse prosecuted to the full extent of the law, especially where cover-up and denial had occurred. He said the assets of offending churches and institutions should be seized to meet the cost of compensation to be paid by the federal government. Compensation should be offered based on statements and other evidence, rather than the result of a court case.
Child migrants were meant to be cared for, he said. ‘What does care mean? To me it’s supposed to mean safety and wellbeing.’ No such care was provided.
‘There are a lot of child migrants, men and women, in my age group, that are battling’, Ted said. ‘A lot of us have fallen by the wayside. Broken families, alcoholism, health problems.’
Ted himself has had a successful working life, and explained his ‘survival kit’ as resilience, drawn in part from reading, and listening to music, which he described as a great solace. But he has struggled in his personal affairs.
‘I’ve never married, I’ve never known what love is, that L-O-V-E word – I’ve heard of infatuation but I’ve never had the love of a mother or a father, and to this day I don’t know what it is … I don’t know what it is to relate to people other than hold forth.’
Ted said he was glad he’d been able to share his story with the Commission. ‘It’s no joy to me, really, but it has to be told … It haunts you to look back at some of the appalling things you saw or experienced, but if it means that next generation of kids is going to be protected, then I’ll do my best with whatever air I’ve got left in my lungs.
'Let it be set in concrete: no child can ever be open to abuse and cruelty and deprivation as we poor unfortunates were.’