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Vern Walter's story

Vern grew up in a large family, not far from Sydney. ‘It was a troubled family. My father was alcoholic … a wife-basher. He actually put a bit of scissor through me one time … in this leg. I ended up with a septic leg out of it … Only for my elder brother, he would’ve killed me.’

Vern’s mother ‘would be humiliated to have to go to a police station to get a ten bob note to feed us … only [with] the help of other people that we ate I suppose, a lot of times'.

When Vern and his brother robbed a shop for food in the early 1950s, they were sent to a Catholic boys’ home run by the Salesians. Vern was 14 or 15 when he went there, and he stayed for nine months.

Vern told the Commissioner, ‘I think maybe … with a mother with so many children, we were both dysfunctional and maybe it might have been more or less to give Mum a bit of a rest and that’. Vern doesn’t believe that he and his brother went to court for their crime.

While he was at the boys’ home, Vern was permitted to go out on weekends, alone. ‘I was on me own and that’s when it happened … I was in a carriage on me own.’ A stranger on the train touched him inappropriately on the genitals and asked him for anal sex. Vern told two of the Brothers when he returned to the home, but they ‘totally ignored me’.

When Vern was 15 he was a champion athlete. His coach was well known in their community. ‘That guy was … people looked up to [him].’ When Vern was training for an event, the coach invited him to his house, to give him a ‘rub down’. Once Vern was at the house, the man tried to perform anal sex on him and wanted Vern to do the same to him. Vern told the Commissioner that he felt uncomfortable and he left.

Vern didn’t report the abuse to the police. ‘In that time, really … I think it was a fear thing … it was pretty confronting for me … I think in them days … although, I thought, where I come from … they wouldn’t believe me, but they’d believe him because he was well known … I really did look up to him and I thought … well, I didn’t have any idea of what was going to happen … It made me feel so dirty.’

As an adult, Vern has had problems with drinking and gambling, and has attended both Alcoholics Anonymous and Gamblers Anonymous. He hasn’t had a drink for 46 years. ‘A lot of people ask, “Why did you do it?” To me, the only thing I can think that … addiction supresses pain … so I’ve always looked for some dysfunctional behaviour … or a feel-good I suppose.’

Vern has the support of Lotus Place, a service for Forgotten Australians and ‘I’ve had the luxury of having a psychologist … and she’s been really good for me too … In me own thinkin’, I thought one time I was the only one it ever happened to … and you don’t dare talk to anyone about it’.

Vern told the Commissioner that he was glad he came to the Royal Commission. ‘It feels good that I’ve been able to talk about it … I suppose, so many people don’t come … it’ll never be known.’

‘The last couple of days, his face is re-appearing … I know that’s natural that it has come up … In reality, I can forgive the guy … I’ve got a bit of an understanding that, you know, I wouldn’t know what his problems were to do a thing like that, and you know, they say to live and let live.’

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