William spent 20 years as a registered nurse doing remote and rural practice in Aboriginal and bush communities. One day a 10-year-old girl was brought in to the hospital and William said she looked terrified. She had been molested by an uncle. Raped. One of the girl’s friends ran in and whispered something into her ear. William turned around to tell a colleague to call the rape team. A moment later he turned back and the girl had disappeared, leaving behind a little pool of blood where she had been sitting. He checked all the hospitals and databases but he never saw her again.
‘About a week or so later I found myself standing on a chair with a rope around my neck. I couldn’t help that kid … so yes, it does have lifelong effects on the individual.’
In the late 1950s, when he was seven, William and his brothers and sisters were sent to an Anglican-run children’s home in regional New South Wales.
Psychological and physical abuse at the home was common and William said they lived under a constant feeling of threat, never knowing where the next punishment was coming from. The matron of the home was especially cruel and seemed to enjoy belting the boys in particular on the legs and bum with a leather strap.
‘The other kids knew what was going on because you usually got taken to her office and flogged and the other kids could hear you screaming’, William told the Commissioner.
This culture of terror fed into a culture of silence, and nobody ever dared speak up or out.
One day, William was called up to the office. The matron introduced him to two men who she said had invited him to their house for the school holidays. After they left she said to William, ‘They’ve just made a very large donation so you better be nice to them’.
‘Later on I realised, two strangers who she admitted, never having seen them or heard from them before, turned up to the front door of a children’s home, paid some money and chose a boy playing in a sandpit … She knew what was going to happen. I of course didn’t have a clue. But she picked me out. I can’t believe that a person would do that to an innocent kid and still describe themselves as being Christian.’
He was abused by the two men while he stayed at their house.
Sometime later, when William was still about nine, a new male staff member arrived at the home and abused William.
‘He used to have sex with me on the stainless steel kitchen table in exchange for lollies … That’s one of the things that I have difficulty with because at the time I didn’t see there was anything wrong with it.’
He spent a lot of time trying to forget those incidents, and they have come to the surface only recently. But William said they’re not ‘recovered memories’ – ‘I do remember it, I remember how cold that stainless steel was’ – but he carries great shame and has never reported the abuse to police.
‘I don’t really want to talk to a bunch of coppers and let them know that I sold myself for a handful of lollies. I don’t know his name, there were no witnesses, I’ve got no proof. All they have to do is say he’s making it up. I don’t want that.’
However, in the mid-2000s, William agreed to be part of a class action against the Anglican Church. He did it to support the other survivors, more than anything else. The lawyers acting for the group decided to settle, but William and a few others refused to settle.
‘What I was after was an apology from the Church that was acceptable to me. What we got instead was, “Here’s a few bucks. If you feel you were ill-treated, we’re sorry about that”. That is not an apology. I’m still ropable about that.’
He was never offered a personal appointment with anyone from the Church to talk about his experiences.
William spent many years dealing with drug and alcohol problems and said a lasting impact is his struggle to trust people. ‘I have no confidence that people in authority are predictable, that they have set rules that they will abide by.’
It’s been 10 years since that incident with the girl in the hospital and William said he’ll never forget it. He went on antidepressants and got some help so is better able to deal with things now. But his instinct is still to reach towards those who are vulnerable and to protect them.
‘Where you find prey you will find predators and that’s something I accept as an adult. I don’t accept it happening, but it is a reality … These people were supposed to be looking after us. They were co-predators.
‘I just want to make sure that it doesn’t happen to other kids.’