Forgotten Australians, Responding to the National Apology

It was like a war zone

by Garry Harrison (guest author) on 15 November, 2010

Garry Harrison
Garry Harrison
A response by a Forgotten Australian to the National Apology at Parliament House, Canberra, on 16 November 2009


Hi, my name is Garry. I was placed in an institution when I was about three months old, the same institution I was in there until I was about 13. I left there having them thinking I was going on holidays but I had no intention of coming back. There on lived on the street – a lot of things. I did meet my sister once though. She come to see me but she wanted to know whether I had a heart condition. She was worried it might have been hereditary. Other than that, that’s all she wanted to know.

Well I think at the moment I would have to say the apology means nothing until the correct services are provided for us. At the moment I would say yes, that’s good, the government of the day has admitted yes, they did have – or past governments had – a duty of care. But a mere apology does not fix the problems that we have. We have many, many, many problems.

A lot of us suffer from post-traumatic stress. A lot of them were in these institutions – it was like a war zone. We were in our own war zone. A lot of us are the sons and daughters of our war veterans that fought in the First and Second World Wars only for the governments that look after their children in these institutions to be raped, pillaged, robbed, bashed, whatever. About 56 per cent of these children – of the 500,000 thousand – were the sons and daughters of war veterans.  These governments have a lot to answer for. They did us a lot of damage.

Now I was raised by nuns, the Sisters of Nazareth. They were abominable, they were absolutely cruel. For the slightest thing they would hit you over the head with a hand broom. If you wet the bed, you’d get bashed for it. They had a senior bloke there who used to look after us as well. He tried to throw me over a bannister when I was probably about five or six years old. He tried to kill me. This was an ongoing thing where when they belted us, they stripped us and belted us until that nun was so tired and exhausted that she couldn’t hit us any more. We were sort of splayed out, one kid has got that arm, one kid has that arm, one kid has that leg, and one kid has that leg, you have no clothes on at all, and they’re just laying into you. But the nun was done when she was absolutely exhausted. Other than that she kept on going, kept on belting you.

We did … We had some good friendships there. The awful part about it is when we left there, the system, when you went to get your file – you could have got your file probably when you were 18, 19 or 20 but, because of the shame and loss of dignity, you daren’t go to the authorities and ask for your file. You were absolutely brain dead to ask for something like that. I never asked for my file until I was 50 under the Freedom of Information Act and, when I did get it, I got two pages. To get that file that took a lot of guts for me to ask the authorities for that.

I had to wait another two years before I got the courage to ask them again for my file – not the two pages but for my file. It ended up so thick. I have read that file and I can still remember the second last page of that file – this is the sort of care factor that they had. Written on the last page when I turned 18: ‘I wonder where he is now’. That’s the care factor they had. They didn’t know where I was. If they did care, they’d chase you, they’d look for you or whatever but they didn’t.

Then again I would have to say if I got into any trouble or anything like that while I was under the ward of the state system, you daren’t go to anyone for help for fear they would put you back in so you would be back to square one. When I was living with these people they placed me with on a holiday, he was a paedophile. I am between a rock and a hard place. Do I tell the authorities? In this case I did tell the authorities, what did they do? They stuck me in a hostel. I am there for 18 months or whatever, played up like shit there. I end up coming out and they sent me back to the same guy, the paedophile.

I think the problem with us is that we don’t know how to sustain a relationship, and that sort of falls very, very hard on the lady as well. And probably the other way around as well for Forgotten Australians on the female side, there is that side too. But I know on my side of it, because we weren’t shown how to nurture or how to look after the wife or how to look after your kids, you’re at loggerheads. You think you’re doing right or whatever and you try your best. But nine out of ten your best is not good enough anyway because you’re supposed to know what you’re doing.