The operator of this website is the highly motivated community-minded Martin Mitchell from Australia (himself an instititionalised and abused minor in church institutions in the former West Germany)

( 31.08.2004 )

Australian Broadcasting Corporation



Broadcast: 31/08/2004

[ Institutional Child Abuse in Australia (1920-1980) ]

[ Australian ] Victims of Abuse in [ State ] Care
welcome [ Federal Government ] Senate Report

Reporter: Mark Bannerman

KERRY O'BRIEN: More than 500,000 Australian children were raised in orphanages and children's homes between 1920 and 1980.

Now, a Senate inquiry has concluded that many of those children were victims of shocking brutality at a very tender age - punched, kicked and sexually abused by many of the very people entrusted to care for them.

After 18 months of hearings, members of the Senate Committee on Community Affairs were visibly moved by the testimony given by hundreds of orphans and former wards of the state.

How was it allowed to happen?

And is an official apology enough?

Mark Bannerman reports.

RALPH DOUGHTY: Can I say something before the - I think that all of us here before - this media conference concludes - from the bottom of my heart, I just want to thank the senators.

MARK BANNERMAN: It's not every day that a Senate committee is wildly cheered and then, in turn, breaks down in tears.

But that's precisely what happened in Canberra when a Senate committee delivered a report on children in institutional care.

The reason for this outpouring of emotion isn't hard to find.

It begins with the story of people like this.

How would you describe, in a few words, your childhood?

LIZ VICHA: Thrown to the wolves is what comes to mind.

I feel like I was thrown to the wolves.

MARY GESCH: There wouldn't be a day go by that someone was being flogged.

RALPH DOUGHTY: Well, the institution was hell upon earth.

MARK BANNERMAN: In the decades following the First World War up to 1980, more than 500,000 children grew to adulthood in orphanages, homes and halfway houses across Australia.

This was the image carers like the Salvation Army tried to convey.

The reality though, it seems, was rather different.

RALPH DOUGHTY: There was no love whatsoever in the institution.

MARK BANNERMAN: Ralph Doughty was seven years old when he arrived at the Salvation Army Gill Memorial Home in Goulburn.

His mother had died in childbirth, and his father, a veteran of the First World War, was unable to look after him.

Inside the home, Ralph Doughty became a number, bound by an extraordinary set of rules, all the time threatened with violent punishment.

RALPH DOUGHTY: If you stood and you eyeballed an officer - I'm talking about 5-year-olds, 6-year-olds, 10-year, 12-year-old kids you would get a smash in the face, you know.

MARK BANNERMAN: Punched in the face?

RALPH DOUGHTY: Punched in the face and then if you went down they put the boots into you.

MARK BANNERMAN: Violence in this and other Salvation Army homes was not random though - indeed, it was institutionalised.

Brothers were made to bash brothers and children were forced to run the gauntlet.

RALPH DOUGHTY: Then you had to run up the centre of the two lines and every boy was expected to punch you, to kick you, and if a boy failed to do that, he ran -

MARK BANNERMAN: ..the gauntlet as well.

RALPH DOUGHTY: ..the gauntlet up behind.

MARK BANNERMAN: The Salvation Army was not the only one guilty of brutality.

MARY GESCH: I don't think we could ever forget what went on in there.

MARK BANNERMAN: Today, Mary Gesch is revisiting the former Presbyterian girls home at Chelmer in Brisbane where she grew up.

It's now over 60 years since she first came here but the memories of the home and the matron who ran it are still strong.

MARY GESCH: She used to flog us and make us stand with our arms above our head for quite some time.

Our arms would be very stiff and very painful.

She would hit us with a cane, a ruler, a cat-o'-nine-tails, whatever she could get her hands on.

MARK BANNERMAN: Mary Gesch and Ralph Doughty are not alone in their experience.

According to the support group Clan, it's likely of the 500,000 people in care, more than half were abused in some way.

DR JOANNA PENGLASE, CARE LEAVERS OF AUSTRALIA NETWORK: It was systemic, it was across the board, it was across Australia, it was across all denominations of homes, it was across State homes.

MARK BANNERMAN: How you would describe what happened to these children?

SENATOR ANDREW MURRAY, COMMUNITY AFFAIRS REFERENCES COMMITTEE: Well, devastating, I think - that's the one word.

MARK BANNERMAN: Senator Andrew Murray is a key member of a powerful Senate committee that's been investigating children in institutional care.

When the committee was set up 18 months ago after lobbying from groups like Clan, Andrew Murray thought he understood something of the dimension of the problem, but nothing prepared him or the committee for the wave of submissions and the stories that people told.

SENATOR ANDREW MURRAY: The sheer scale of it, um, the understanding that so many depraved and sadistic people were let loose upon these children and that so many depraved and sadistic people were in the institutions that you would expect to have trust in.

MARK BANNERMAN: Liz Vicha knows that betrayal of trust first hand.

In her evidence to the Senate committee, she told how, as a 5-year-old child in the early 1970s, she was placed in care in regional NSW.

There, the head of the orphanage began what could only be described as a campaign of psychological abuse against her.

LIZ VICHA: He told me that my father had hanged himself.

He told me that my father's neck didn't snap and it would have been 10 times the size of his normal head and gone black.

And he told me that he died up above a pub and that's what would happen to me - I would be an alcoholic end up killing myself just like my father.

MARK BANNERMAN: What - when you now look back as an adult - what could possibly be the purpose of him doing that?

LIZ VICHA: Well, the only thing that I can say is that it's amazing what people think they can do to nobody's child, to a child that doesn't belong to anyone.

MARK BANNERMAN: It's Monday morning as another tourist bus heads for the national capital, but this is no ordinary group of tourists.

These are the members of the support group Clan and today they have come to Canberra for the release of the Senate report into children in care.

Emotions are running high.

RALPH DOUGHTY: They will say to you that this is closure.

CLAN MEMBERS: No, it's not.


CLAN MEMBERS: No, not at all.

MARK BANNERMAN: Inside the Parliament building as Senators prepare for the release of the report, it's clear this will be no ordinary media conference.

SENATOR JAN McLUCAS, COMMUNITY AFFAIRS REFERENCES COMMITTEE: You can tell by the way that we have - dealt with - this material that it will change our lives forever in the way that it's changed the lives of the people who sit before us.

MARK BANNERMAN: But if the committee was having trouble keeping its emotions in check, it remained absolutely clear about what needs to be done: First, a formal apology led by the Federal Government is needed, States should amend legislation to increase the statute of limitations for prosecutions, and establish a national reparations fund for victims of abuse funded by the Federal Government, the churches and various institutions.

But will groups like the Salvation Army commit themselves to a public apology and a reparations fund?

Well, today the Salvation Army refused us an interview, saying in a statement they were regretful for any incident of abuse and at the same time refusing to discuss the issue of money.

It's not the response Senator Andrew Murray wants to hear.

SENATOR ANDREW MURRAY: Governments have means to make people do what is right.

MARK BANNERMAN: Could that be a royal commission?

SENATOR ANDREW MURRAY: Yes, if people won't come voluntarily and do what's right.

I mean, I would expect churches who say they believe in the love of Jesus - they shouldn't have any difficulty with actually exhibiting that love and giving up some of their money and their assets to make good the harm they did.

RALPH DOUGHTY: They actually have to do something positive for the people that they've hurt.

The hurt that they've done me - forget about that.

That's not so important.

It's - Just look around.

Just look around.

I've got a - good family, I've got good friends.

But the pain stays in you.

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[ Date of first publication on this Website: 21 June 2004 ]


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