Theo and Nick’s father left their mother in the early 1970s, when they were toddlers. He appeared only intermittently during their childhood, and when he did, he was usually drunk.
The boys’ mother suffered from mental health issues, and on several occasions when she was hospitalised they were placed in a care home in Victoria. The boys were five and six years old the first time they went to the home, which housed seven or eight children.
Nick commented, ‘I don’t blame Mum for her mental issues. I like to forgive. I didn’t understand at the start why she abandoned us all the time, you know?’
Both Theo and Nick were sexually abused by one of the staff members at the home. ‘The first time he did anything, he took us to the park … and there was a little girl with us … I remember him saying, “Do you want to see where babies come from?” and then he started playing with himself.’
Nick recalled staring at the man, ‘And then he ejaculated, and I remember him saying, “Can you see the babies coming?” And I wasn’t too sure what’s going on.
‘I don’t know if anything happened to the little girl … I’ve always thought about that little girl.’
Nick needed to use the public toilet and the staff member followed him inside. ‘I was there and my brother was screaming from the outside. I think he had an idea what was going to happen.
'The man grabbed me and started touching me, and he got his penis out and started smashing my head against it. Theo was screaming, my brother’s screaming that much I think the man might have got scared.’
The staff member threatened Nick. ‘“Don’t tell no one or I’ll get ya”, stuff like that. I was just too scared to say anything. Terrified.’
Later that day, the man sexually abused Theo in the bath, fondling him and digitally penetrating him. Theo reported the abuse to a female staff member, who confronted her colleague.
‘She walked away and left him there on night shift where he tormented me … Calling me a liar, and he was naked, and was putting me up against the wall and calling me a liar – “No one’s going to believe you”.
'That evening took he took Theo into his night quarters, where he continued to abuse him.
‘I remember Theo telling another staff, because he was a little older, I guess … I didn’t know my brother was getting abused as well. I remember staring at him –and then the lady told us off for being liars. She had a go at my brother more than me because I wasn’t saying anything.’
The morning after the assaults, Theo said, ‘I grabbed Nick and we ran away. They found us and took us back, but I didn’t say anything because I thought, “They won’t believe me anyway”.'
On another occasion, the man sexually abused Nick in the playground at the home. ‘Luckily a lady came out and called, and I remember he carried me back in and said, “Oh, he fell over”.’ Both Nick and Theo were regularly abused by the staff member at night in their rooms.
The sexual abuse they experienced in the residential home had a negative impact on both the boys’ lives. Theo began suffering from depression as a teenager.
‘I turned to drugs to block everything out … I was feeling down and depressed, just letting the other kids down. I felt like I let 'em down … I tried to commit suicide a few times. I was hospitalised.’ Theo has also spent time in jail for drug-related crimes.
When he was in his 30s, Theo tried to report the abuse to the police. ‘I felt guilty that I couldn’t do anything … I was worried about all the other kids that were there, and what they went through. And my brother as well.’ The police promised to investigate, but nothing came of his report.
Nick has struggled with anger issues all his adult life. ‘I have anger … I didn’t trust people. I’m starting to understand about the anger, the hatred … trying to understand that little kid trapped inside me still.’
Nick never spoke to anyone about the abuse. When he was 40, Theo said to him, ‘You don’t know why I’m on drugs’ and Nick replied, ‘I was in the same place. Same thing happened.'
Nick said, 'That was pretty much the first time that we really mentioned it. “I was in the same place. Same thing’s happened to me” – and I had a lot of anger’.
It was because of this anger that Nick stopped going to school and began working at 13. ‘My education – I got robbed of that because of what happened. And relationships, and being close with other people.
'I lost my brother once he got on drugs … I dealt with it by sticking to myself, playing sports, and working.’
But Nick hasn’t been able to work for the past four years because of physical injuries he is trying to overcome: ‘I’m trying to get my body right again’. He believes that he has to become physically and emotionally stronger before he can help his brother again.
‘Just chasing around looking after him all the time, and forgetting about myself … I’ve got to start looking after myself a bit, I can’t deal with it no more. I need space for myself. It’s sort of changing a little bit in the past couple of years. I’m starting to think about myself a little bit more.’
Nick told the Commissioner, ‘I just don’t want to feel like a little kid inside … I’m a man. I feel like I lost my childhood, I’ve still got that fear inside you know. I’ve got rid of the anger … I’ve got to trust myself as well.
'I’m shaking inside. I don’t feel like an adult. I feel like I’m stuck’.
The nightmares that Nick experienced when he was younger returned after the brothers spoke about the abuse.
For a long time, Nick ‘felt ashamed, really dirty, you know … I lost my confidence. I lost my love for myself, it got stripped from me.
'I’m starting to like myself a bit more now, I feel broken still but I’ll get stronger.
‘I want to help my brother, I don’t want to abandon him. He’s done some nasty things to me, but I know he didn’t mean all the betrayal and stuff like that. I hope I can one day be happy with him and help him, and put him on the right path as well as myself – and live the rest of my life happy.
‘Hopefully, one day I can walk tall again. Hopefully you can see my brother too one day, walk tall and help others.’