Image: The 1938 Hollywood movie “Boys’ Town”
[Disclosure: The author may have some bias with regards to this article. He had been invited on two occasions to meet with Debbie Kilroy and her friends at the Women’s’ Correctional Centre in Brisbane in the early 1990s where they discussed children’s homes issues. Her husband, Joe, had been in Boys’ Town. The author is a firm supporter of Debbie’s “Sisters Inside” organisation (http://www.sistersinside.com.au/). Also, the first “mayor” of Boys’ Town, Johnny Wlodarczyk, was known to the author in the 1960s, as a teenager.]
The facility, known as “Boys’ Town” at Beaudesert, Queensland, operated by the De La Salle Brothers from 1961 to 2001, is definitely one of the old children’s homes deserving of a second look by the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse.
For over 50 years, the unsuspecting public has been supporting the “Boys’ Town Art Union” lottery, which offers houses as prizes, which, among other things, funded the Boys’ Town. It also received Queensland Government financial support. It is not known what proportion of the lottery proceeds actually went to Boys’ Town.
Beaudesert Boys’ Town had all of the usual, dangerous, characteristics of children’s homes where abusers ran rampant. It was located in the countryside outside a very small regional town, far from the capital of Brisbane. Isolation was further increased in that the boys were schooled within the facility. Finally, the boys were of low social status, usually being referred to as “at risk” or “delinquent,” etc. although this was not the situation of most of the inmates, who were state wards.
The facility was an example of a brilliant marketing strategy. It capitalized on the 1938 movie of the same name with its idealized view of child care by religious. It was promoted for sales of lottery tickets with a “home” as the prize. The public was kept well away from it, so that the differences between image and reality were not exposed.
Playing on the “town” analogy, a boy was chosen each year to be the symbolic “mayor” of the facility. This boy then became part of the marketing strategy of the de la Salle fund-raising drive. The first one, in 1962, was John “Johnny” Wlodarczyk. Johnny went on to be a part of the Painter and Dockers Union at a time when it was heavily involved in crime associations. The Union was the subject of an earlier Royal Commission.
In 1975, Johnny’s body was fished out of the Brisbane River, wrapped in barbed wire. His teeth had been knocked out, his throat cut, and he had been shot. It would be 20 years before his killers were identified. Not exactly the image the Boys’ Town officials wanted anymore, so publicity associated with him was quietly removed.
Another “old boy” who was promoted for sales of lottery tickets was former prominent footballer, “Smokin’ Joe” Kilroy. This ceased when he, and wife, Debbie, were convicted of selling pot. At the time, Joe referred to his time at Boys’ Town as follows: “When I finished primary school at 13, I was sent to Boys Town at Beaudesert, south of Brisbane, because of a lack of government accommodation and began what I describe as the worst three years of my life.”
In a recent interview, Joe noted that “They bashed us. No one ever believed us. It was all that negative stuff we were forced to live under and listen to. I was bashed regularly. If you had a little bit of spirit they tried to break you. The place was run like a prison. The only things missing were the bars. The saddest thing is that every boy in Boys Town was sent there as an uncontrollable child. Sorry. Wake up. Over 60 per cent of the kids in there were orphanage kids because the only crummy spot in the whole friggin’ state where you could do grade eight, nine and 10 if you were a ward of the state. So you had all these kids who were wards of the state starting grade eights with all these crims.”
He then went on to say that “We were all treated like criminals. But a lot of those kids were just uncontrollable children and their parents did not have the skills. If you let a kid run wild you will end up with a feral adult. The only thing that place taught me was to resent authority. It was a wonderful facility run by the wrong bunch with the wrong morals.”
Last year, the “60 Minutes” program did a special on Boys’ Town. On the program, lawyer and former detective, Jason Parkinson, said that he is now representing 35 former Boys’ Town residents, and has begun legal action in Queensland’s Supreme Court. He commented that “I haven’t heard the degree of physical abuse, together with some of the most outrageous sexual abuse I’ve heard, in the one institution before. Things happened to some of those 12-year-old boys that wouldn’t have happened to prisoners of war.”
In 1984, the same program had done a promo-piece for Boys’ Town, in which then director, Br. Paul Smith, said that: “I think it is terribly important to be loved, and I think the boys who leave Boys’ Town can honestly say that at least they know they are loveable and that’s important.” The later program noted that “at this very same time it is now alleged some of the worst abuse was being committed.”
Br. Paul continuously tried to attribute the former residents’ claims to “false memory,” while denying all claims. However, at least two Brothers from Boys’ Town were convicted of child sex offences.
Boys’ Town was the subject of a three-year secret police investigation known as “Operation Sari” which commenced in 1999. It resulted in two staff being charged with 48 serious sexual offences – but the case collapsed when former students withdrew complaints.
As a result of the program, and the number of men coming forward, Queensland police have now launched a fresh investigation into the Boys’ Town. Former residents have been establishing contacts through the web-site: http://aussieschoolmates.com.au/forum/finding-old-friends-25/boystown-beaudesert-queesland-/
In 2011, the officials who ran Boys’ Town made a settlement with a former resident with the usual confidentiality clause, and waiver of future legal rights. It read, partially, that the victim “acknowledges that, by accepting the agreed sum and executing the deed, he is not entitled to make any further approach to the Body Corporate or the [De La Salle] institute for financial assistance, including assistance with respect to any specialist medical advice or for damages or otherwise…”
Former Boys’ Town resident, Terry McDaniel, alleged the brothers subjected him and dozens of other boys to brutal physical and sexual abuse, instead of the education and guidance promised. Since Terry and others shared their stories, the police have launched Operation Kilo Lariat to investigate their claims. About 80 former residents have since come forward with their accounts of abuse. Terry said his main motivation for speaking out was for those who could not. “There are a lot of boys that have passed on that never got the opportunity to voice their voice. We’re their voice now,” he said.
In the 1970s a report criticized Boys’ Town for its preoccupation with conformity, its regimentation, the use of corporal punishment and what was described as “reluctance” on the part of the staff to deal with the social and emotional needs of the boys. More recently, a number of former residents gave evidence at the 1998 Ford Inquiry into abuse at Queensland institutions. While most other similar institutions closed in the 1970s, Boys’ Town was not shut down until 2001, partly because, many state, of the Forde Enquiry revelations.
The De la Salle Brothers continue to deny all claims, and insist it was wonderfully run. At the time of closure, Boys’ Town Family Care board member, Trevor Carlyon, claimed that “There is no question it has had a wonderful, wonderful track record.” In 1984, Br. Paul Smith said “I think it is terribly important to be loved, and I think the boys who leave Boys’ Town can honestly say that at least they know they are loveable and that’s important.”
Brother Paul has been the recipient of many public honours. He was named “Father of the Year” for Queensland and “Queenslander of the Year” on three occasions. He was awarded the Inaugural Scouting Award for services to youth. In 1994, Brother Paul was awarded Membership of the Order of Australia (AM) for work with disadvantaged youth, and served on the Des Sturgess report into paedophilia.
Recently, he was listed by Who’s Who for his administrative abilities. The citation reads “Brother Paul Smith and the De La Salle Brothers have been committed to reaching out to the last, the lost and the least through education designed to support young people and their communities.”
As recently as 2007, former Brisbane Archbishop John Bathersby referred to it as having “been a shining light in this Archdiocese since it was founded.” He went on to say that “The De La Salle Brothers together with past and present staff have also been fearless in demanding that at-risk young people should be cared for and educated so that they can take their place as equal citizens of society. “
He finished his commentary with praise for the “De La Salle Brothers who generously and courageously accepted his invitation to work here in Beaudesert. Great work has been done at Boys’ Town over many years. Over the years, they touched the lives of thousands of young men.” And their genitalia as well, according to the boys.
The De la Salle Brothers continue to run their profitable lottery, using the Boys’ Town promotional tag.
[Postscript: In 2011, the Scenic Rim Regional Council approved stages one and two of a “master planned community” to be built by Peet Limited – one of Australia’s largest property developers – on the old Boys’ Town site in Beaudesert. Stages one and two allow for 99 residential lots. A further 12 stages are proposed for the site, with the entire development to eventually contain between 651 and 787 lots over almost 86 hectares. The value of the lots is estimated at being in excess of $55 million, which should be given to the old boys of Boys’ Town by way of compensation.]
Read more here:
TOMORROW: Who to contact first?
That’s all I can say
Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)