Southern Cross University 2016 PhD graduates Dr Gregory Smith and Dr Kate Neale, two of five SCU students to become doctors of philosophy on the weekend.
Southern Cross University 2016 PhD graduates Dr Gregory Smith and Dr Kate Neale, two of five SCU students to become doctors of philosophy on the weekend. Mia Armitage

The amazing life of Doctor Gregory Smith

ONE OF the country's "Forgotten Australians" has graduated as a Doctor of Philosophy in Lismore, after surviving institutional child abuse in the sixties and a decade of homelessness.

Dr Gregory Smith, who has testified for the ongoing Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, spent 10 years as a hermit in the bush before realising the benefits of a decent education.

"I didn't understand the dream when I was a boy, I was too busy surviving," he said in his gown and mortarboard as he held his newly awarded doctorate degree outside the Whitebrook Theatre at the Southern Cross University in Lismore.

"When I was in the forest I was afraid," he said.

Dr Smith's study, "Nobody's Children: An exploration into a sense of belonging of adults who experienced institutional out of home care as children", examined the experiences and needs of 21 "Forgotten Australians".

"Hopefully (my study) will resonate with the broader public to shed light on the background of homeless people today," he said.

"A lot of people have learnt to deal with the trauma and anguish of their youth but that doesn't go away."

More than half of the participants in Dr Smith's study had experienced drugs and/or alcohol addiction compared to only 2% in the general population, he told press in July.

Most participants also struggled to develop relationships with family, their communities and broader society, he found.

Dr Smith said "the Commission is doing an excellent job" but he had "reservations" about whether or not politicians would follow recommend- ations made as a result.

The government lacked "political will" to act, he said.

"The Prime Minister gave a speech saying 'we believe you' (but) today he's ignoring the plight, we can't get a conversation," he said in calling for a national redress scheme to help "Forgotten Australians" in their senior years.

Dr Smith said that since 1952 about 80 inquiries had been held into institutional child abuse "yet we're still having problems - think of Don Dale", referring to the Northern Territory's youth corrections facility that made headlines recently for abuse of detainees.

By the time Dr Smith officially graduated on Saturday he had already starred in an ABC interview and was negotiating contracts for a Penguin book, a possible film and a BBC interview on his life story.

"My study experience has been tremendous," he said of SCU, and expressed thanks for the "background support" and "incredible effort" from his supervisors.

SCU's graduation day was celebrated by the town of Lismore with a parade of about 200 students and staff, led by the Lismore City Pipe Band through town.

Students came from near and as far as Uzbekistan.



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