Terry Michael's story

‘There’s one report in my files. I think I was five and it’s coming from the cottage parents who were looking after me. It says in black and white, “Terry is an institutionalised little boy who we hold no hope for”.

'I spent another 10 years of my life under those very people, who held no hope for me … Who writes something about a five-year-old kid like that?’

Terry was made a ward of the state when he was 18 months old in mid 1960s Melbourne. He and his sisters were handed over by their parents; Terry didn’t meet his mother again until he was in his late teens. The children moved between institutions for a few years. Eventually Terry came to live in a cottage-based home run by the Methodist Church. He was there for 12 years.

Not long ago Terry obtained a copy of his records as a state ward. Years of lost memories came flooding back. ‘I sometimes lie awake at night and wish maybe I would’ve been better off not looking at that file’, Terry told the Commissioner. ‘Maybe it would’ve come out later in life anyway.’

Life at the home was often brutal. ‘One of the cottage parents in [the home] – I think I was about six or seven – ordered some of the older kids to beat me up. It’s in the file. It’s actually written by the lady, who said, “Yes, I told these boys they could go and beat him up”.

‘I’ve still got a scar on my hip here where I was whipped with an extension cord.’

In the records Terry found a statement he’d made to police while he was at the home. He and another boy had been approached by a pair of homeless men who were staying at a shelter nearby. The men had given the boys alcohol and got them drunk. Terry and his friend were then forced to perform oral sex on the men. There is no record of the police following up the complaint.

Terry remembers being sexually abused by one of the ‘cottage parents’ at the home, Graham Lamb. Lamb would disguise the assault as punishment for some misdemeanour. ‘He’d take you into the bathroom … he’d make you bend over the sink, and he’d pull your pants down and then he’d be spanking you, and at the same time he’d be touching you.’

As a boy Terry didn’t recognise the abuse. ‘I never really realised it at the time. It was only later on in life when I was thinking about it, and I realised what was going on.’

Terry escaped from the home when he was 16 and able to leave school. ‘I pretty much went out on my own, hitchhiked around Australia.’ A year later Terry stole from an employer and ended up in prison. He has spent much of his adult life behind bars, mostly for violent sex offences.

Terry has been diagnosed with various personality disorders. He has attempted suicide. He takes antidepressants. Terry believes he no longer copes with life on the outside. ‘I still couldn’t handle it. I just never have been able to. I don’t know whether it’s because I spent so long in care or what.

‘I hate jail. But after a few months of being out there, I was sitting on me front porch wishing I was back in jail. But then, when I come back to jail, I hate it.’

While in prison Terry has participated in a sex offenders program. ‘That was when I got my files and I found out I’d been sexually abused myself. And when I put all the pieces together, I was in the middle of that program, so it was very – I don’t know how to describe it.

‘The stuff I didn’t remember that was in my files … it was pretty horrific. So it sort of threw me for six.’ Terry doesn’t believe the sex offender program has helped him much.

Terry was pleased to offer his story to the Royal Commission. He hopes change in attitudes and practices will be permanent. ‘Personally, what I went through – I wouldn’t wish any other kids to go through that.

‘[The Methodist home] had a swing, over by the big driveway down the hill. I remember I used to swing on the swing, waiting for my mother to drive up that driveway. For years I did it. It even said it in the report – on the swing for years. Just waiting.’

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