I was born Lewin Blazevich in 1949, in Tully, in far north Queensland, Australia, and changed my name by deed poll to Lewis Blayse later in life. I spent most of the first 12 years of my life in and out of 9 children’s homes in Queensland, Australia, from the age of a few months to the age of 12.
I was sitting in a laboratory at the University of Queensland late one night when I was 23 and a PhD candidate in neuro-biochemistry. I had been using a specialised radioactive labelled chemical in my experiments. That chemical was only produced in a British chemical reactor twice a year. The chemical decays very quickly, and is useless after about three days. Consequently, to get the maximum benefit from this expensive chemical, I was working through the night on the experiments. That night, as I was looking out the laboratory window as dawn broke, I made the decision to change my life’s main focus from science to bringing to society’s attention the issue of the Homes. For some time leading up to this night, I had been experiencing increasingly vivid, violent, and disturbing flashbacks and nightmares from my nearly twelve years in the Homes, these flashbacks and nightmares beginning with my visit to the Indooroopilly Boys Home (run by the Salvation Army) to offer voluntary tutoring services to the boys there. I had rapidly realised to my shock that nothing much had changed since I was there until the age of 12. Incidental to my research in neuro-biochemistry, I had come into contact with a prominent psychiatric researcher who was concerned that my flashbacks and nightmares were suppressed memories that were surfacing despite having repressed them for more than ten years. He told me that the flashbacks and nightmares would only get worse with time if I did not find some way to tackle them. I took his advice seriously and made the decision to make the change from scientist to Homes activist. I cancelled my scholarship (Commonwealth Research Award) and resigned my then position as President of the University of Queensland Student Union (motivated also in part by being a bit ‘done’ with the often petty machinations of student politics).
I decided to build on what I had learned through student politics (I was the former President of the Science Students’ Association and President of the Postgraduate Students’ Association before becoming President of the University of Queensland Student Union) to try to enter the political arena to get something done about the Homes. I was asked by the then Lord Mayor of Brisbane, Clem Jones, to be his electoral assistant and to join the Australian Labor Party (ALP). I contested the 1975 federal dismissal elections as an ALP candidate for the Brisbane seat of Moreton in an unwinnable seat against the prominent politician Jim Killen. This was to cut my teeth and get experience for subsequent elections. At the following federal election in 1978, I was unopposed and given total support by the local ALP branch members for a new, winnable seat. After nominations had closed, my endorsement was overruled by the ALP State Executive and given to someone else who subsequently disastrously lost the election. I had been telling anyone who would listen, in no uncertain terms, that my only motivation to enter politics was to do something about child abuse in children’s homes. Unfortunately, I believe this triggered behind-the-scenes attacks by the two then most prominent Queensland politicians in the ALP, former leader Keith Wright and his deputy, Bill D’Arcy, both of whom were subsequently sentenced to lengthy prison terms for sexual assaults on children. Realising that the path I had chosen was effectively blocked, I resigned from the ALP and decided to find another way to achieve my goals.
On advice from professionals and academics in the psychological and psychiatric fields, I accepted their conclusion that if I started direct public action at the age I was, I would just appear as another ‘angry young man’ and that I would be best to wait until I had the maturity of middle age to start the campaign. I was also advised that I probably would not be able to even begin thinking too much about my childhood experiences until I was older and better able to cope with the emotions that such thought would evoke. The day I turned 40, I started the campaign. I began by establishing a support and activist group called Formerly in Children’s Homes (‘FICH’). Australian milestones that have occurred since that time included the 1999 Forde Enquiry in Queensland (view the associated Ministerial Statement here), the 2004 Forgotten Australians Enquiry by the Australian Senate, the 2009 Apology to Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants, and the 2013 Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse Royal Commission. Following the Forde Enquiry, I was burned out, and went quiet for a number of years, with the exception of being interviewed for a 2003 Four Corners program about the Homes (‘Homies‘). Now in my 60s, I have decided to put in one last effort with this blog because I have learned from experience that it’s important not to have the issue hijacked by vested interests who’d prefer the issue was obscured.
This blog comprises daily posts with commentary and analysis of the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and associated matters.
Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)