Mary Farrell, a former Kings Cross runaway kid, asked me to sit beside her as she told her story to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. I was only too willing to agree.
I first met Mary as a little girl of about twelve, who like many other Kings Cross street kids, repeatedly ran away from institutions and had therefore been deemed to be “Exposed to Moral Danger”.
Mary was a delicate, waifish, Aboriginal child and over the years we developed a close friendship. As our mutual trust deepened she would tell me of the bashings, rapes and abuse she had undergone at various government institutions.
I need to state, Mary was simply one of many kids who over that time told me stories of what was happening to them and amongst them in the very institutions that had been set up to protect them. There were so many kids with so many stories and the stories were so strikingly alike I had no reason to doubt any of them.
Over this time I must have met kids from almost every institution whether state, church or NGO telling me similar stories, over and over again. I know for a fact they weren’t just telling me those stories they were telling other people too.
I would dutifully pass these stories on but nothing came of them. I then began telling the stories live to any individual, group or organisation that would listen. But still nothing would happen.
I know for a fact I had passed this information on to the Salvation Army, Catholic Church, the Anglican Church, Dr Barnardo’s homes and the State Government. What makes me sad now is that I did not document anything at that time because I thought phoning and talking to people, or whatever, would be enough. I didn’t then have the skills or expertise I have now to keep a record of everything. I was at that time a former electrical engineer running the Crisis Centre at the Wayside Chapel which was a collection of volunteers looking after people in trouble.
The only responses I got was once from a leading NGO (I can name it) where the CEO told me “Bill I know what you are saying is the truth. I just wish you wouldn’t keep saying it” and a leading Church organisation who said to me “You are not going to speak about this, are you?” As I said I know the NGO and the church organisation but it really could be any one of them. The attitude and the response was always the same.
All the girls underwent virginity tests which consisted of a staff member inserting a finger. Many girls in homes formed lesbian relationships and would stick pins in one another as a sign of love. Often these pins got sucked into the blood stream and the girls would get poisoned. I remember talking to one girl who to stop prostituting herself again, stuck two in her vagina which became infected and caused permanent injury.
The boys did not fare any better either. I often talk about Blue who, through all the abuse, ended up murdering a taxi driver and stuffing his body in the boot of his cab.
These kids haunt me to this day. Many of them died and others never grew out of where life seemed to stop for them.
Getting back to Mary. Today I sat in the witness box with her at the Royal Commission while she told her story. It was hard for both of us. Mary would hold my hand and at times squeeze it as the tears flowed. She told of being raped so many times she felt she had “Rape Me” written on her forehead. She told of thinking much of the abuse happened to her because she was Aboriginal so she rubbed and rubbed her skin against a brick wall hoping to rub the blackness off. She told of how girls locked in solitary confinement would write their names in their own blood on the walls of the cell. All this I had heard before and passed on but no one in authority cared to listen.
Then something really moving happened. Because Mary is now blind I had to read to her documents that the Government had in her and the childrens’ homes files. I found myself reading to her the very accounts that backed up the fact that all those in authority knew what was going on at that time. I found it hard to read them because as I was reading them to her I was hearing in my head the words the authorities had said to me “You cannot trust these girls, Bill”; “They’re all promiscuous, Bill,”; “they all lie, Bill”; “They’re own parents did not want them, Bill”; “You know what these girls are like, Bill”; “We have to test them for virginity and we have to regularly examine them because many of them have diseases which they could pass into the community, Bill”.
I remember talking to specialists and finding out that was all Bulldust.
I knew what I was being told and what was going on then was wrong. It was wrong then and it is wrong now.
At the Royal Commission today names of children’s institutions fell out of the sky and brought up those old feelings in me of how evil I thought they were then.
What angers me is that those in authority whether church, government or institution knew what was going on there was wrong then and essentially did nothing. Or rather, did the minimum they could to make it look like they were doing something.
However it seems to me these heads accepted as fact all the bulldust about these kids to justify the evil that was being perpetrated on them.
Mary is now blind and very overweight. During the proceedings they showed a photograph of the dear little delicate Aboriginal girl I once knew.
That little girl is still there. Like most of these kids she was told she was subnormal. Mary did not let that beat her and she has received numerous education and other awards. She was determined not to let the system beat her.
What I am worried about is that those very government, churches and NGOs that let this abuse happen, want to draw a line under it all, say it is all over and move on. In other words, not really learning from anything that has happened. Just draw a line and move on.
I know this is not good enough. What I learned then is that people on the edges of society are vulnerable to all sorts of institutional and other abuse unless exposed to the full glare of publicity. If there is a house on the hill which declares in blinking lights, “we are for the underprivileged” chances are that without the full glare of publicity, it isn’t. If we had to ask who are the abused children of today, we would have to answer, old people and boat people because they are the very ones we shut away from the rest of us.