Child abuse inquiry: 'we were given a number, my name was 29', survivor of abuse gives evidence

By Samantha Donovan
ABC - World Today
May 20, 2015

[with audio]

ELEANOR HALL: First let's go to Ballarat where the royal commission into child sexual abuse has been hearing extraordinary evidence of brutality in Catholic institutions in the Victorian city.

A survivor of abuse at the St Josephs children's home has told the commission he was sexually abused by priests and physically and mentally abused by nuns at the home.

Samantha Donovan is at the commission hearing in Ballarat.

And a warning some of the evidence you hear will be disturbing.

So Samantha, tell us a little more about this witness who's been revealing his story today?

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Well the first witness today Eleanor was Gordon Hill. He's 72 now, but as a young child he was put into the St Josephs home in Ballarat, which was run by the female Catholic order, the sisters of Nazareth.

This is what Mr Hill told the commission about the conditions in the home.

GORDON HILL: We were, as I used to call it the drones of St Joeys. We didn't go to school and we did all the work around the orphanage. Most of us didn't even know our full names and we were just given a number. My name was 29 because that was my locker number. I didn't learn of my surname until I was 10 or 11 years old. When I started working that's when I started working in the kitchens. Sister Reginald who was in charge of the kitchen said to me 'not another Hill'. I didn't know what that meant.

ELEANOR HALL: That's Gordon Hill who says he was known in the home as number 29, giving his evidence at the royal commission hearing in Ballarat this morning.

Samantha, what did Mr Hill tell the commission about his abuse by priests?

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Well he told the commission Eleanor that a priest used to come and stay at the home on Friday and Saturday nights, the priests would move on every six months or so. Mr Hill gave evidence that he was sexually abused by several priests, he told the commission he vividly recalls being sexually abused in what he describes as the horror room.

GORDON HILL: I was first abused by a priest at St Joeys when I was around five-years-old. One day I was cleaning the tile staircase when one of the nuns grabbed me by the ears and said 'Father wants to cleanse you 29'. I was thrown into one of the horror rooms where I was made to strip off and get into an old fashioned small bath. A priest gave me a drink, didn't know his name, but I remember that he looked as though he was in his forties. After I finished the drink I just bloody well blacked out. I don't know whether there was drugs in the drink but I have no memory of what happened after that.

When I came to, I heard like bloody hell. I was bleeding from the top of my back down to my shins. My genitals and my bottom were the worst. They hurt like they were on fire. I later discovered I had bite marks on my privates. I don't know how long I was out for. When I woke up the priest told me to get out and pushed me out the door where the nun, who had told me to go to the priest, was waiting outside. She was laughing, big joke to her and told me to get back to work.

ELEANOR HALL: Harrowing evidence to the sexual abuse royal commission from former St Josephs Children's Home resident Gordon Hill.

So Sam, how did Mr Hill get out of this home?

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Well he gave evidence that as a young boy, perhaps a few years after that incident Eleanor, he escaped the home by following an older group of children out to pick blackberries.

He got lost and he described his overalls being torn to pieces. He said he found a hut and hid there.

But the next thing he knew he was waking up in a clean and comfortable bed in the Ballarat base Hospital and something he said was a real luxury for him, he'd never known such cleanliness and comfort and he remembered the kindness and concern of a female doctor who asked him why he had so many scars.

Those of course were from the beatings he'd received at the home.

He said he was also missing six or seven teeth and the doctor couldn't understand that at all and he explained to her and told the commission that the nuns as a punishment at the home would remove a tooth with pliers.

Policeman were called into the hospital but rather than being helped, Mr Hill told the commission policeman rejected the doctor's concerns and said that he knew the home and children certainly weren't being abused there and this was just a runaway kid. So Mr Hill was returned to St Josephs and he said that episode left him unable to ever trust anyone in authority again.

He did eventually leave the home a few years later, unable to read or write because he'd never received any schooling. He told the commission he found some happiness in farm work, he became a bit of a workaholic he said to try and put things out of his mind.

He married and has fostered more than 20 children but he wants the Catholic Church and the state government who's inspectors never picked up on the abuse at St Josephs to be held to account.

Several people here at the Ballarat courts have also been in care were quite emotional after his evidence, and as he came out of the courtroom, thanked him for speaking up on their behalf.

ELEANOR HALL: Certainly an extraordinary witness. Samantha Donovan in Ballarat covering that hearing of the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse.


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