Toby Russell's story

‘It’s 40 years ago but it always rode with me in the background. And I certainly don’t need it coming back and haunting me.’

For six months in the early 1970s Toby and his brother Michael were sent to an Anglican boys’ home north of Sydney. They were placed there in good faith by his parents, who were trying to sort out their marriage.

‘They had no idea what they were leading us into. They should never have let us out of their sight ... but they did.’

The home was a nightmare. In his very first hour there seven-year-old Toby was knocked out cold in the playground.

A boy in his mid-teens regularly dragged him under the church and forced his penis into Toby’s mouth.

‘I remember the dust. I remember being jammed between the headboards in the dark ... I remember the taste of urine … I didn’t really comprehend what happened or what it was about. But this went on … These guys were like predators. They would just drag you off behind the curtains and try to have their way with you.’

Michael was also sexually assaulted by a group of boys. Toby, completely traumatised, began wetting his bed. A staff member, Mrs Taylor – ‘may she rot in hell, she was big and nasty’ – rubbed his face in his wet sheets.

Acts of violence were committed in various corners of the home. ‘My arms used to be bleeding, with bruises. It was a violent little place.’ The couple who ran the home turned a blind eye to the brutality around them.

‘They knew that these sort of things went on. But we’re talking 1970 … and it was like, what of it?’

The two brothers were overjoyed when they learned they would be moving overseas with their family. They were waiting at the front door with their bags packed as though nothing had happened.

‘We were just happy to get out of there. It was over. I remember the taste of piss in my mouth but I never really thought about anything but escaping the place and the violence and the brutality from day one.’

Toby told no one about the abuse.

When his family came back to Australia a few years later he was sent to a college. He was targeted again but this time the abuse was prevented. The headmaster witnessed a boy trying to drag Toby into a closet to assault him, and hauled him out.

Toby struggled with his school work. His father had died and he became rebellious, angry, and out of control. ‘A nightmare’ his mother said. He was sent to a juvenile justice centre, where he was sexually abused again.

‘The people that perpetrated the assaults were generally the officers who were in charge of you … The guy from the front desk would be down at the local toilets playing with other men and other boys … then he’d do his day job. He’d be at the desk working for youth and community services … The mask of respectability was there but after hours it was gone. That’s what I noticed with numerous people there.

‘They would come round at night time and put their torches through the door and … look at the smorgasbord of young boys they had to play with.’

When he was 16, Toby was taken out by Brian Salter, a youth officer who worked at the centre. ‘It took him a year to woo me.’ Brian bought Toby 13 schooners in one night. Toby passed out, and believes Salter had sex with him while he was unconscious. He also believes he was only one of many boys who Salter groomed and then abused.

Toby managed to get on with his life and build a successful career. He buried all thoughts of the home. But he was an angry man who stood up for himself in all the wrong ways. He ended up with a string of assault charges against him. ‘That’s been the nature of my life.’

It wasn’t until his early 40s that it began to really affect him. A year before speaking to the Royal Commission, Toby told a psychologist about the sexual abuse. He left it with him and walked away. He didn’t feel the need to go back.

Toby also told a beloved uncle what had happened. This same uncle had dragged him to various doctors when he was an angry adolescent, asking him again and again ‘what’s wrong with you, son?’

His uncle cried when he was told.

Toby recommended to the Commission that workers in children’s homes be not only vetted, but moved regularly. ‘You can vet a person all you want but you don’t know what’s behind the veil. You need to rotate people around … If they stay in an institution for 12 months it’s time to move them on to somewhere else.’

He found that it wasn’t the people sent there who committed the abuse, ‘it was the people who were holding the keys or looking after you ... It was from within that all that stuff came’.

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