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Tommy James's story

‘A lot of it I’ve tried to put behind me and move on’, Tommy told the Commissioner, ‘but every time I … have a meeting it all comes flooding back. And I think, oh, how many times does someone have to hear this, you know?’

Tommy was two weeks old when he was placed in a Catholic orphanage north of Brisbane. It was the early 1950s. He was moved through the different sections of the orphanage for the next 10 years. He remembers the nuns hitting him on the bare feet with a leather strap, and the red welts that would leave. But it was the older boys who made his life a misery. He was raped by one older boy in the toilet, and raped again by another boy when he was searching for a ball behind the toilet block.

Other sexual assaults were common in the showers and dormitories. Supervision by the nuns at night was minimal.

Tommy gave the Commission a written account of the abuse he suffered.

‘The Sisters failed to supervise and protect me from the older boys who would bully, harass, scare and frighten me at night in bed. I had no love or affection. No one to hug me. Because I was so scared, it would take me a long time to go to sleep. This has affected me my whole adult life and even today the smallest noise at night is enough to disturb my sleep.’

What also distresses Tommy is the fact that his mother went to the orphanage to get him when he was 10 or so. But the nuns were ‘a bit blasé’ with their spelling back in the 1950s and he ended up with three or four different surnames. Quite possibly as a result of that, Tommy’s mother was told by the nuns that he’d died.

His mother is Aboriginal and Tommy feels very strongly the loss of his cultural identity.

He was moved to a Christian Brothers home when he was 10. His house parents at the home were fine, he said, although a couple of the Brothers physically abused him. Yet again it was the older boys who sexually abused him, coming to his dormitory and asking for oral sex. ‘I wouldn’t say boo because they’d bash you up. There was no one there. And I’d be crying. I’d just fall asleep in the end. This went on for quite some time.’

Because he was ‘a good boy’ they shifted him to a different cottage. But because this cottage had just one big dormitory, the assaults got even worse.

‘I recall being woken up by a number of boys who would put their hands over my mouth and proceed to sexually assault, rape me. There would be two or three boys involved in these rapes each time.’

When Tommy was 12, someone from the welfare department came to see him when he to ask if he wanted a job. He said he did and so managed to escape the abuse at the home and work in the country until he was 18. He was a ward of the state until he was 21.

Tommy’s received financial compensation from a Queensland redress scheme and is now hoping to get some of the wages he is owed for the work he did after he left the home. He’s also reported the sexual abuse to the Catholic Church through the Towards Healing scheme.

He is now on medication to manage his depression and anger. He’s had relationships but doesn’t really trust anyone. ‘I get on better with my animals.’ He did have a family reunion but it wasn’t very successful.

Tommy has strong connections with some of the boys he met back in the orphanage. ‘I feel as though, because I grew up with them, they were more family to me.’

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