Wes’s mother died in the early 1960s and he and his siblings were taken, without their father’s knowledge, to a Catholic orphanage.
When their father came home from work and discovered that his children had been placed in care, ‘he went off his rocker and almost got arrested and he come down and he went off at the Church saying “You shouldn’t be taking my children. I’m good enough to raise them” … and it wasn’t one occasion. There were several occasions where we’d be home … when Dad’s not there, so they’d … take all of us and put us again into [the orphanage]’.
Wes was in the orphanage in Queensland for a number of years before he was fostered by an aunt and uncle. He told the Commissioner that his aunt and uncle seemed like strangers to him and he began to run away to look for his father.
‘He’d passed away, but no one told me … No one would help me … I started on a life of crime, stealing cars, money, and trying to find my way home.’ Wes still does not know where his father is buried.
‘Family services got me a job on a … farm, thinking that would change me’ but after a cow stood on his hand and he punched it, he had an argument with the farmer and was sent to a very strict boys’ home, run by the Salvation Army. He was eight or nine years old at the time.
In his early teens, ‘they were starting to say I was [uncontrollable] because I’d run away and steal cars and break into places to get money’. When he crashed a stolen car into a tree the police charged him and he was sent back to the boys’ home.
While he was at the home, ‘one of the Salvation Army officers started to get a … I don’t know … a feeling towards me I suppose and he started telling me how he was going to help me’.
The officer was a transport driver and he took Wes on weekend trips. He also took him to the bakery, allowing Wes to sit in the back of the truck on the way home and eat cream buns. The officer sexually abused Wes multiple times during these trips in the truck.
‘He was taking me everywhere. He was giving me everything, you know, a kid could want except for the other … when you’re that young you don’t think it’s bad. You don’t think it’s anything. You think a person loves you and the person’s gonna care for you.’
Wes began running way again and as punishment he was put in a cage. ‘It didn’t have a front wall. It was a mesh wall, and they stripped me naked because they said if they left me with clothes I’d try and run away again … and then other people that were staying at the home … decided to come for a walk and see an animal behind the cage.’
After several years, Wes was sent to a reformatory, a very brutal and violent place. Once again, he began running away and when he was caught and returned, he was placed in the holding area, with ‘no beds. No blankets. Nothing. They put you in there and they strip you off.’ On the weekends, ‘they’d have like a cockfight. It was us kids … we were forced to fight. It didn’t matter … you were going to fight’.
When he was released from the reformatory his uncle drove him past a jail and warned him that this was where he would end up. He was 16 and told his uncle, ‘No, I won’t be going there’. Wes spent his 17th birthday in the adult jail. Even though he was a juvenile, he was not placed into protective custody, so he was fortunate to find an uncle there who kept him safe.
‘I’ve spent most of my life [in jail] … sad to say … This has been my home … All I’ve got’s these four walls.’
Wes would like to read his case file but has been told that because it has been sealed, he is unable to obtain a copy of it. He has asked the legal service, knowmore to assist him in getting the file unsealed, to allow him to gain access to it.
Wes told the Commissioner that he came forward to the Royal Commission because members of his family had said ‘“That couldn’t happen … They can’t do things like that” and this was … my own flesh and blood telling me that it can’t happen … It happened’.