Wally Ian's story

Wally’s home life was ‘all mucked up’ when he was a small child. He moved around New South Wales a lot because his mother was ‘trying to keep me away from the welfare’.

In the early 1960s, when he was five, Wally was made a ward of the state and placed in a boys’ home run by the Salvation Army.

‘I thought it was alright, you know, but I looked around and there was no other Aboriginals there, so I felt left out and I didn’t want to talk to anyone.’

Wally felt like he was picked on at the home and at school, because he was the only Aboriginal child there. ‘They used to flog me in the bathroom, in the shower block, and you know, stand me in front of the class all the time and put me in a little room peeling vegetables while everyone else was … doing excursions and all that.’

Wally recalled that in class one day a police officer ‘stood me in front of everyone … and said, “This bloke’s not for you to hang around with”’.

‘There was one bloke in [the boys’ home] that I didn’t like, because he was punching the piss out of me, and he’s the one that picked me up out of the bed one night … I had no pyjama bottoms on.’

When Wally asked where his pyjamas were, the worker told him that he had wet the bed. Wally told the man that he never wet the bed and he said, ‘“Shut up. You do” … and then he took me back to the bed and laid me down there and said, “You tell anyone and I’ll come and get ya”’.

On another occasion, Wally recalled, he was taken into a room at the home and a man he’d never seen before sexually abused him.

Sometime after the sexual abuse in the room, Wally was told he was going on a ‘special visit’ outside the home. He was taken to visit an elderly man and his son, but he felt uneasy and asked to be taken back to the boys’ home. After these incidents, Wally began asking his mother to take him away from there.

While he was in the home, Wally was going to the local primary school and doing well. ‘I got first in me spelling competition, so I picked a couple of books out and they were dinosaurs and dogs, because I was fascinated by the dinosaurs and how long they’d been around.’ He doesn’t know what happened to the books once he took them back to the boy’s home.

‘I tried me best, but I didn’t like the way I was being treated, you know, and singled out and that, so I just turned into a non-conformist. And Mum said, “How come you won’t do as you’re told” and I said, “Mum, you don’t want … I don’t want to talk about it”.’

Wally was at the boys’ home for about 12 to 18 months but once he got out, he didn’t want to be at home.

‘I didn’t feel comfortable at home, so I hit the streets … just surviving by myself … staying in old houses and that …

‘[I] woulda been about six or seven and that. I used to sneak home and that of a night, have a sleep, get up before Mum and ‘em woke up, then went. I had the impression that I was in their road.’

After spending much of his childhood in and out of boys’ homes and then as an adult, in jail, it is 10 years since Wally was last incarcerated. He told the Commissioner that he tried to ‘kill the pain with drugs and alcohol and … was also trying to earn a bit of money for meself at the same time, but I lost out … I try and block it out, but the only way I can block it out is to get drunk’.

Wally tries not to think about the physical and sexual abuse he experienced in the homes ‘until someone brings some subject up … that’s why I try and avoid everyone from me past … No matter where you go, you’re going to run into someone … [So] I say, “G’day. Goodbye” to ‘em, and that’s it’.

He doesn’t believe that he needs counselling, thinking ‘there’s nothing much to talk about except, “Oh, I’ve had a beer today” … I don’t think a counsellor’d want to get inside my head … I think bad, terrible’.

Wally had never spoken about the sexual abuse until he came to the Royal Commission. ‘You’re the first people that know about it … I should have said something earlier on in the piece, but I was too ashamed … It’s hard … I can’t relate to many people much … I like to be private with what happened in my life, you know.’

After a string of relationships with women who were either ‘criminals or drug addicts’, Wally is now in a good relationship. He spends his time looking after his partner’s grandchildren. He’s happy to have come forward to tell his story ‘because I’d like to be able to look after ‘em for the rest of me life and give ‘em something that I never had’.

If Wally was able to get some compensation from the Salvation Army he’d be able to ‘live the rest of me life without going backwards’, and could help his partner’s grandchildren. He intends to make his application once he has finished telling his story to the Royal Commission.

Wally told the Commissioner that he will get someone to help him make his claim because ‘I don’t want to talk to ‘em. I’m willing to forgive ‘em … but I’ll never forget’.

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