Before contacting the Royal Commission, Winton had never spoken about what happened to him in the 1960s and 70s. He wrote, ‘I am now prepared to share my story of systematic and sustained sexual, physical and psychological abuse perpetrated upon me by various people in authority.
‘To outline in this email the suffering that I endured over a lengthy period of time as a child would not clearly convey the horrors which still haunt me as an adult.’
Winton’s mother was part of the Stolen Generations, and passed away quite young. His father couldn’t look after the children so, at the age of seven, Winton and his brother were put into a Salvation Army boys’ home in Sydney’s south.
He became very distressed as he remembered that ‘horrendous’ place and the years of physical and sexual abuse by Salvation Army officers. He still can’t comprehend how men of God could do such things to a child.
In the mid 60s, after their father remarried, Winton and his brother went back to live at home. ‘Everything went okay for about a year or so. I suppose, because of what happened to me in [the home] I was a problem child, and I started getting into trouble. Breaking into houses.’
‘In those days, if you did anything wrong, depending on the charges obviously, you were put into an institution. Under what was called a “general committal”: between seven months and three years.’
Winton was sent to a boys’ home on the outskirts of Sydney, a brutal place with harsh discipline and punishments. As a kid who ‘mucked-up and backchatted’, he soon found himself in solitary confinement. It was there that he was sexually abused by guards, who would prey upon the boys when they were trapped and alone.
After being released in the early 70s, Winton soon went back to his old ways, ‘breaking into houses and stealing cars’. He ended up in a training school on the New South Wales’ central coast, which he described as ‘even more severe’ than the boys’ home.
‘The idea, obviously, was to break the spirit of the boy. Mind you, it was under the auspices of “training school” … I suppose the central idea in setting up these establishments long ago was to make children who went into these homes productive citizens, through whatever means. Certainly not by bashing them and psychologically bending them to their will.’
Winton was again sexually abused in solitary confinement, by a guard and other boys. He was warned that if anyone found out, he’d be sent to Tamworth, home to a notoriously savage institution which produced some of Australia’s most violent criminals.
At the age of 18, when Winton was finally released from the juvenile system, he said he ‘hadn’t really changed’. Within six months he was in jail where he met up with ‘quite a few’ young men from the training school.
After being released in his early 20s, Winton never went back inside.
He didn’t talk much about his adult life, only that he’s spent a lot of time out of work. ‘I felt worthless. Who’s going to employ me?’
He also spoke of the nightmares he’s experienced ‘for years’.
Winton has never reported the abuse to police. ‘I thought, "What’s the point? Who’s going to believe it?"
‘I mean, I wanted to. Really I did. But I thought I’d be fobbed off because, well, they’d have a look at my record and say, “What are you complaining about?”’
He has felt the same way about applying for compensation, thinking that no one would care about what had happened to him. But recently he contacted the free legal service, knowmore, and they put him in touch with lawyers who are pursuing the Salvation Army.
Winton also had his first counselling sessions, but said he probably won’t have any more. ‘I thought, well, what’s going to be achieved here? I’ve come this far in my own life.’
When he spoke with the Commissioner he was studying for his second university degree. ‘It’s really the only thing I’ve ever accomplished in my life.’
Winton’s heartfelt hope is that institutional staff today are both highly vetted and monitored, so no child should have to go through what he did.
‘For the last 40-odd years I’ve put all this behind me and in the back of my mind. When the Commission started in 2013, I was so eager to come forward but I thought, well, I’ve seen Royal Commissions come and go. The recommendations made and released and shelved ... This Royal Commission, hopefully, whatever government is in power at the end of it, they’ll do something.’