Wally Leonard's story

‘This is still with me of a night time. You lay down and you think about what could I have done to help the kids? ... You feel like it’s part of your fault things have happened.’

Wally was a ‘bit of a smartarse and a scallywag’ as a child, starting with minor thefts then taking to stealing cars and committing break-ins by his mid-teens. The welfare department became involved and in the 1970s he ended up in a Melbourne Salvation Army boys’ home.

At this home Wally was targeted by a senior officer, who would be extremely violent towards him when he stuck up for one of the younger boys. Wally also overheard and was told about the sexual abuse of other children there. ‘A lot of people kept quiet about it, they clammed up.’

One day he saw a boy acting upset and asked what was wrong. In the end the boy ‘opened up’ about being abused by a couple of the staff members, including the one who had it in for Wally.

In his later teens Wally ended up in an adult jail, in a young offenders unit – ‘but at the same time there was just as many old geezers’ in these dormitories. He witnessed rape taking place between inmates, and ‘screws belting people’.

A couple of his mates suicided. ‘Maybe they couldn’t handle it anymore. It’s a shame.’ He knows at least one of these boys had been sexually abused in care earlier.

Wally told the Commissioner about the impact of spending time in these environments and witnessing these kinds of abuse. ‘It ends up like a cricket ball in your gut of just pure hatred, that you can go to in any state and use it ... I used it against people.’

He has spent the majority of his adult life in prison, largely for physically and sexually violent crimes. During his time in custody he has done programs about anger management. ‘Look, I’ve got rid of the cricket ball.’

Wally still feels a ‘disappointment in myself’ for not being there for his kids more, and ‘for taking all the hatred and anger and everything and carrying it with me for 30 years’.

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