Remembering the Forgotten
FORMER state ward Graham Wilson said he hoped today’s apology to the ‘Forgotten Australians’ would make more people aware of how brutal children’s homes were.
Mr Wilson has travelled from Lismore to Canberra to hear Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologise to children placed in institutions.
He said he often ran away from the homes he was put in as a neglected child, choosing instead to live on the streets.
He was placed in a Sydney institution at the age of six but was badly mistreated there.
“Back then many sadistic people worked in those places because it gave them access to vulnerable people,” he said.
He said the children’s homes, where half-a-million Australians grew up from the 1920s to the 1970s, were like Dickens-type workhouses.
He was beaten and the staff encouraged the children to ‘discipline’ each other.
“This usually meant putting soap in pillowcases or socks, then a whole group of kids would bash the offender,” he said.
“I never had any love in my childhood.”
Mr Wilson said the 2004 Senate inquiry into the practice of institutionalising children in need of care found many of them had gone on to prison, mental institutions or commit suicide.
Mr Wilson said he hoped Mr Rudd’s apology was the start of Government efforts to make amends, not the end.
Mr Wilson called for people traumatised by these institutions to be compensated.
He did not think more should be spent on counselling services for ex-wards.
“I don’t believe in the welfare industry, people getting rich off other people’s suffering,” he said.
But he said he was angry the Federal Government had offered no help to the ex-wards.
He said the Government had instead pointed out that state governments should com- pensate victims because they ran the institutions.
“The (Federal) Government could do a lot, like provide free medical care to ex-wards,” he said.
“Many wards are still suffering from the injuries they received while beaten as children and can’t afford care.”
There are compensation schemes in Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania, and cases alleging state mistreatment are before the courts in Victoria and NSW.
Mr Wilson travelled to Canberra with five other ex-wards from the Northern Rivers.