Another (necessarily) first person piece today:
The Salvation Army Algate Boys’ Home was to be the topic for today’s blog, but another matter has arisen, so I will cover Algate soon. This is a very long posting, but I do hope some people will read it through to the end.
The next hearings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse will cover four Boys’ Homes which were operated by the Salvation Army. One of those Homes will be the Indooroopilly Boys’ Home (“Alkira”) in Brisbane, Queensland State.
I was in that Home at the time when serious abuses occurred, and when two of the principal Salvation Army officers to be investigated by the Commission were there – Bennett and Wilson. I feel very strongly that I have a right to present a submission, and to appear at the hearing to give oral evidence.
Apparently, this is beginning to look unlikely. Consequently, I will place some things on the record in this blog.
I have been informed by a Commission representative, Francine Ralph, that my case falls within the terms of reference of the enquiry. Unfortunately, this was over the phone, so no record exists (I was not informed the conversation was being recorded).
I also met the deadline of 18th December to file the formal papers requesting to appear and present a submission. So, why am I so concerned? And does it matter to anyone but me?
As I have stated in a previous posting, I have been on the case about Alkira for over 50 years, following a promise to the other boys at the Home that I would get something done about it when I got out of the Home.
In 1961, at age 12, I went with my father to see my local Member of Parliament, Sir James Killen, and told him about the abuses at the Home. I then, thinking I had fulfilled my obligations, tried to forget about the Homes and pursued my dream of becoming a research scientist in the field of neuro-biochemistry, hoping to study the chemical basis of schizophrenia. (I had been in the Homes because of my mother’s hospitalization with the condition).
[From here on, the reader may think they are hearing an ego-trip. Not so. I have never thought much about having been gifted with a good memory and IQ, which was picked up on in a State Home by a psychologist at an early age. The point is that the Salvation Army ruined my life, and doomed me to not only have to fill in a lifetime with nothing much to formally think about, or have the dignity of employment, but also doomed me, and my family, to continuous poverty.]
I have had to fill in 33 of the past 35 years with nothing real to do. I have used the time to read anything I could lay my hands on, in any academic discipline. I have read the Encyclopedia Britannica from A-Z, twice. Mostly, I have researched mathematics so as to produce mathematical artworks, since even really poor people can do this.
Despite the sort of poverty which meant that I would occasionally go without food for a week or so now and then, and being one of the three students at a 1,500 student enrolment High School (the largest government school in the State at the time) who received a special charity payment through the Principal at the end of each term, I became Dux of the school, winning the Math and Science prizes. I was also helping look after my mother.
My mother’s doctor was Lady Cilento (mother of Dianne, the actress once married to the first James Bond, Sean Connery). Sir Raphael Cilento provided me with a full laboratory over a period of a year or so, saying it was stuff from the University which was going to be thrown out. Obviously, he bought it for me. I set it up under the house, on a dirt floor.
His pharmacist took a great risk with the law by providing me with all of the chemicals I wanted. As a result, in my first year at high school I gained 92% in the official public exams for the end of high school in Chemistry. In my third year at high school, I gained a Distinction grade, under formal conditions, in the final undergraduate year in organic chemistry.
By this time, the school was also allowing me unlimited access before and after school to its laboratories. Later, in my third year at high school, I discovered 10 new classes of fluorescent dyes. For patent purposes, the discovery was confirmed by the then Head of the Chemistry Department at Queensland University, Professor Plowman, who said he “refused to be impressed” but “looked forward to having me as a student.”
I had previously been in the habit of stealing chemistry textbooks, and returning them when I had read them. Professor Plowman gave me full access to the library, and to some faculty members. I also no longer had to sneak into the university chemistry store-rooms to get chemicals.
However, when in the writing-up phase of my Ph.D. (I was about to become the youngest Ph.D. ever at that time, at age 22, at Queensland University, one of the top 20 Universities in the world – the Vice-Chancellor’s office was preparing a suitable PR event), something happened.
I had gone out to the old Home, Alkira, to tutor some of the boys in Math and Science, and realized nothing had changed. I began having recurring nightmares about the events I experienced at the Homes. Since I was in the specialist field of chemistry of mental illness, I had often had discussions with the then Professor of Psychological Medicine.
When I told him about this, he said I had tried too hard to repress the memories, and that they were now resurfacing, and that I was in considerable danger of a severe psychological reaction. A regression session, under a drug, had to be stopped because, apparently, I became extremely upset during it.
One night in my laboratory I came to the decision that it was more important to me to do something about Alkira, than to become yet another scientific researcher. Since I was President of both the Graduate Students Association, and the general University of Queensland Students’ Union, I decided that I would go into politics and get something done, after becoming the cabinet member responsible for the Homes.
I burnt my thesis, surrendered my scholarship, resigned my student organisation positions, and left the university.
Some faculty thought I had become disinterested in my field of study. (I couldn’t tell anyone about the Homes as it was long before anything about the abuses came out.). The Head of the Botany Department thought I would like to change from animal biochemistry (I had been an activist for humane treatment of laboratory animals, particularly rhesus monkeys) and might like to change to his field. A long session over drinks at the Faculty Club didn’t change my mind.
During his last lecture before retirement, he told a biology honours class, that biochemistry was a very difficult subject in which to do well. A relative was in that class. He said that in his entire career, at any level, he had only ever given one student 100%, and that was for the highest level, an honours exam in plant biochemistry. That person, of course, was yours truly, which explained the Faculty Club night.
Anyone still reading this will by now understand why I think the Salvation Army payment I received, of $30,000, was inadequate (it paid for my teeth to be removed – I had never been able to afford dental work, and at the Home we brushed our teeth with our fingers and water – sometimes with salt also.). I have had 13 years of unemployment, and 20 years on a disability pension for PTSD. This year, I go on the old age pension. The few years I have worked were, mostly, in minimum wage jobs, each time for barely a year.
The Vice-Chancellor of the University, the late Sir Zelman Cowen, also thought I had become disinterested in my chosen field. He tried for an hour, a year or two later, to convince me to enter his field of Constitutional Law. He said he would “help” me with my career. This was from someone who had been head of Melbourne University Law School at 36. We finished the conversation with him asking me for my reaction to the fact, as yet unannounced, that he had just been sounded out by the Prime Minister about becoming the next Governor-General (Head of State). I said, even for a lefty who had fought him tooth and nail for student rights, that it would be a good thing.
[30 years later, Zelman, among several prominent Australians, wrote to the Salvation Army saying they may have been the cause of my never having reached my true potentials. The Salvos did not respond.]
I joined the Labor Party, and within days received two staff offers. One was, through the Queensland Trades and Labour Council Secretary, to be the personal assistant of Bob Hawke (later Prime Minister) when he was President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. I did not like Mr. Hawke, so I declined, saying I would not work for an “intellectual pygmy”.
[This could be taken two ways, since Mr. Hawke considers himself an intellectual, and is of short stature. He later refused to share the stage with me at an election rally.]
The other offer was as electoral assistant to the then Lord Mayor of Brisbane, Clem Jones, which I accepted since I could learn a lot from him. He had been in office for a record 14 years, just won another election, and his party had gained 22 of the Brisbane city’s 23 wards. I had to leave following my first suicide attempt. While the state’s leading newspaper recorded my leaving, on the front page, no one fortunately knew about the suicide attempt.
At my father-in-law’s funeral, Sir James Killen was there, by then in retirement. My father-in-law had been national vice-president of the Liberal Party, while I had run against Killen in 1975, at age 25, as the Labor Party candidate. The then Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, used me extensively in the campaign, and promised that if I ever entered the Parliament, he would make me Science Minister (a junior ministry at the time).
Killen came up to me, on the steps of the Cathedral, with tears streaming down his face and said there were two things he was truly sorry about. One was that he did not do anything about Alkira, and the other was that we were on opposite sides of politics, making it clear that I would have long ago been given a safe Liberal seat otherwise.
He then finished the conversation by saying that he owed his entire political career, including as Federal Defence Minister, to my father-in-law. We shook hands and I never saw him again.
I had, by then, long ago decided not to go into politics through the Labor Party. While I was telling anyone who would listen that I wanted to get into politics to do something about all of the paedophiles hanging around Children’s Homes, the two most prominent Queensland state officials, Keith Wright (leader of the opposition) and Bill D’Arcy (deputy), would have heard. They were both later sent to prison for child rape.
This could explain why, when I had been unopposed for a safe Federal seat, after nominations closed, the party executive threw out my nomination and endorsed another candidate. That candidate lost miserably. On leaving the party, I realized I would have to fulfill my promise to the boys through other means, so I went to work for a multinational PR firm, Eric White Associates, which specialized in political PR, to learn about the media.
One of the things the violent environment at Alkira left me with was a psychosomatic reaction whereby, if I was near anyone too long, (initially an hour but 11 psychiatrists later, including the Head of the University of Queensland Department of Psychiatry and a leading expert on PTSD, and living in the middle of nowhere in the bush for 15 years, I can go a bit longer), I would become nauseous to the point where I would vomit. This made it difficult in a job because I had to always be trying to find excuses every hour to get away and calm down.
At one stage I had been offered an executive position with Queensland United Foods running its milk factory operations (Paul’s milk and Peters Ice-cream) because the chairman had been on the University’s governing board, the University Senate, at the same time as I was the student representative on it.
I had to decline the offer because the meeting with him and the personnel head went on for so long I was almost at the point of vomiting, and I felt the personnel bloke was looking at me a bit strangely.
Eventually, after years unemployed and under attack from the government’s welfare officials for being too lazy to work, I conducted a hunger strike in the main central square in Brisbane (King George Square), to gain a Senate enquiry into the front-counter treatment of welfare recipients.
After two weeks, the then Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser relented and came up to Brisbane and accepted my petition from a Labor Senator, and agreed to the enquiry. Significant changes followed. I was 27 then, so now at 64 it might be a little more damaging, but it is looking more and more likely that I will have to do it again to gain the right to appear at the Royal Commission to tell my story about Alkira and the Salvation Army.
Therapists had advised me I would have to wait until I had the maturity of middle-age to get the attention on Alkira which I sought, so I moved into the country and grew beans, away from people. When I turned 40, I returned to the capital city and began the public campaign.
After several years of media activity, forming an organization of former Homes people, and simply running around gaining support from politicians, academics and union officials, the Queensland State Government ordered the Forde Enquiry, which revealed the abuses in Children’s Homes in that state, including at Alkira. When presenting the report to Parliament, the then responsible minister, and later Premier, Anna Bligh, specifically gave me credit for getting the enquiry. I thought I had finally done my job for the Alkira boys.
The enquiry head, Leneen Forde, later opened one of my mathematical art exhibitions at the Queensland Arts Council gallery, and graciously bought some of the paintings.
When it became obvious that there would have to be similar enquiries in other States, I helped those activists, and other State enquiries followed. Still, not much had really changed. I retreated to the bush to be alone again, especially since my marriage had failed by then. When approached to be interviewed for a National program, “Four Corners” (with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation – the “Homies” on Salvation Army abuses in their Children’s Homes), I agreed to come out of activist “retirement” temporarily, to retell the Alkira story, in 2003.
A few months later, the Australian Senate began a national enquiry into Children’s Homes abuses, called the “Forgotten Australians”, in 2004, to which I presented a submission. However, yet again, not much really changed.
Ten years later, and over a half century after my initial promise to the other Alkira boys, the Royal Commission will, in a couple of weeks, be revisiting the Alkira Home abuse. I had no idea, when I started this blog, that it would be the basis of one of the hearings.
I had only thought in terms of having a living history account from an activist’s perspective of the Royal Commission, for the benefit of future researchers. I guess, I also thought in terms of guiding debate to some extent, to be honest.
However, now it has become personal, which I hope the reader will forgive, and I am extremely angry with the Commission and its staff, not only because but for the abuse I may have made more of my life, but because I cannot think of any reason other than moral corruption as being why I am apparently not going to be heard at this, the latest, of many such enquiries into the old Children’s Homes in Australia.
Here is why I am so concerned and angry. A couple of days before I became aware of the fact that the Commission would be holding a hearing on Alkira, I received the following e-mail through my blog:
Name: Peter Farthing
Comment: Hello Lewis. I am the Salvo officer who came with his wife Kerrie to visit you some years back, and later we attended an exhibition of your art in Brisbane. I am currently responsible for coordinating the Army’s response to the Royal Commission, (Eastern Territory anyway) and today when I Googled Bishop Aspinall’s comments I discovered your web page and blog. Just wanted to congratulate you on it, and thank you. No doubt you will be reporting on a public hearing with us next year. All the best. Peter
Time: December 2, 2013 at 12:31 am
I have not replied since I think the contact was inappropriate.
The Commission officer, mentioned above, Francine Ralph, told me, over the phone, when I mentioned that I thought the Salvos’ approach was inappropriate, that she was aware Mr. Farthing had been getting in touch with other old boys from the Homes, but this was not a problem as he was the Salvation Army’s official contact person with the Commission.
With a deadline of 18th December for submissions for the next hearings, I sent the following e-mail:
Sent: Wednesday, 11 December 2013 3:48:48 AM
To: Royal Commission Solicitor
Subject: leave to appear at public hearing
Can you please send a direct link to “the form” that has to be filled out in order to appear at the public hearing for the Salvation Army? I do not wish to simply have a private hearing. I would also like to enter a written submission. Given that you have set a deadline barely a week’s time, I need a reply urgently (a day at the most) in order to prepare my submission.
P.S. I was in the Alkira Home in the late 1950s and early 1960s and have been active for over a quarter of a century in attempting to bring the issues concerning that home to the public’s attention.
I got this automatically-generated reply:
Thank you for your email to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
Your email has been received and is currently being reviewed by the Royal Commission.
For the latest information on the Royal Commission, please visit, www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au or call 1800 099 340
If you require immediate or crisis support, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Details of further support services can be found on the website www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/Support
I then sent this e-mail back:
Thank you for your automatically generated response. However, I am much more interested in your speedy reply to my request for both a written submission and an oral presentation to the hearing on the Alkira Boys’ Home, of which I was a former resident. Please do not send any more automatically generated responses.
P.S. I am not seeking a private hearing. I wish for my comments to be made in public.
On 11th. December, I got this e-mail:
Dear Mr Blayse
The form should be available at http://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/public-hearings/practice-guidelines/ but to simplify things I have attached a Word version here.
Counsel – Case Studies
Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse
I duly sent in the form a week before the deadline. The Commission wanted me to go to Sydney, at short notice, and considerable cost, just before Christmas, to discuss the matter. This was impossible (see previous posting). Next I got this e-mail:
Dear Mr Blayse
Thanks for your detailed leave application, which will be considered by the Chair along with any others we receive. In your case, though, I also attach a letter, the substance of which is to invite you to come into the Royal Commission so that we can speak to you about your potential to give evidence as a witness in the public hearing to commence on 28 January 2014. We are keen to speak with you initially over the phone, if convenient, but do not have a phone contact for you. Are you able to provide a number for us to contact you on?
Kind regards Tony
Tony Giugni Counsel – Case Studies
As mentioned before, I had a phone conversation with Ms. Ralph about my concerns and received this reply on 23rd December. It had been difficult to arrange the phone conversation since I have a sleep disorder whereby I sleep from dawn to dusk (my psychiatrist says it may be because I feel safer sleeping during the day):
Dear Mr Blayse,
Please note that I have progressed (sic) your request to be heard by the Royal Commission. As discussed on the telephone on the 19/12/2013, I have requested a private session to take place in the New Year between yourself and one or more of our Commissioners, as I know how important it is for you to tell your story. The Royal Commission has now suspended for the Christmas period and will resume at full capacity from the 6 January 2014. I also have leave commitments during that time and will contact you on my return.
Thank you for contacting and I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a safe New Year. 23/dec.
Fran Ralph – Assessment & Inquiry
T: 02 8282 3831 I E: firstname.lastname@example.org
So, O.K. I was prepared to wait until 6th January, on the assumption that a meeting would be arranged on about 8th January, as discussed during the phone conversation. However, I became concerned when I noticed on the Commissions Facebook page that it was back in business from 1st January, not the 6th.
The 6th January has come and gone and I have not heard from the good Ms. Ralph or Mr. Giugni.
I have only one question absorbing my mind at present – why?
I have sent an e-mail tonight to Ms. Ralph requesting an immediate explanation and confirmation of my appearance at the enquiry, and acceptance of my submission.
In the absence of an acceptable reply tomorrow, I will have no choice but to take the step of beginning a hunger strike, against the Commission on its door-step, until my request is met. This may be the last chance I will have to finally get something done about the Boys’ Home.
Thank you for reading this far and I hope that, whatever happens, I will be able to return to my more usual postings on the Royal Commission after that.
[Postscript: I am not asking anybody for help. Home boys never do that.]
TOMORROW: Who knows?
That’s all I can say
Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)