|Posted by Shawn Paris on May 29, 2012 at 9:50 PM|
Forgotten no longer
Andy Parks | 10th May 2012 12:27 PM
Some of Lismore’s ’Now Remembered Australians’: (l-r) Paul Stephenson, Vanessa Amy, Graham Wilson, Barbara Lane, John Bigelow and Peter Gould.
At the beginning of a Senate Committee report into the "Forgotten Australians" is a quote from Nelson Mandela. It says; "Any nation that does not care for and protect all of its children does not deserve to be called a nation".
But for decades children living in institutions and orphanages run by the State or the Church in this country were subjected to all sorts of physical, mental and sexual abuse. It is a shameful secret that was kept hidden away from most of us until 2009 when a formal apology was offered by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
The Senate report estimates that up to half a million children were affected from 1930 to 1980.
The apology was seen as a significant step towards healing and redressing some of the issues that had been identified by the Senate report, but nearly three years down the track many of those affected feel that the bipartisan apology offered from our Federal Parliament was a "waste of time".
In Lismore a group that calls itself the 'Now-Remembered Australians' meets once a fortnight to provide support to those affected and to keep pushing for justice, recognition and compensation.
Paul Stephenson is one of them.
The story of his damaged life is but one of many.
At the age of about seven Paul and his brother were taken to St Joseph's Orphanage for boys in Kincumber because his "violent, alcoholic" father and "ill-treated" mother could not look after them. They had one sister who was taken by his mother's family and another sister who was adopted.
Paul described the environment where he was brought up as "very regimented".
"There was no emotion, no love. We were treated as second class citizens and used as cannon fodder," he said. "When you are deprived of emotions you don't grow up. You live in the mind and (I became) an immature, scared, frightened boy inside.
"I couldn't trust anybody because I was bashed and hit so much."
Paul described one morning when he woke up with an erection and one of the nuns beat him at least 100 times with a cane.
"I thought 'what have I done'?"
For Paul, the splintering of his family and the years of emotional and physical abuse led to years of alcoholism and counselling.
"My psychiatrist told me that for someone to go through what I went through as a child was the equivalent of 48 years of abuse for an adult... But they haven't crushed me yet," he said defiantly.
Paul proudly tells me he has been sober since 1985 and that he has a strong spiritual belief that has helped get him through.
"The one thing they couldn't touch, no matter how emotionally broken, humiliated, flogged or bashed I was, was my spirit."
He is now the proud grandfather of 10.
"They love me to death. They trust me," he said with a smile.
Paul believes he deserves $1 million in compensation.
"I'd spend it all on the grandkids. You should leave your children and your grandchildren a heritage and I'd like to leave them something."
The Now-Remembered Australians meet for lunch every second Friday at Pulse cafe and they invited The Echo to come and listen to their stories.
The group came together after the 2009 apology. After going down to Canberra, there was a strong desire to keep something going when they got back.
Several people told me that being part of the group makes them feel as though they are "not alone".
"Some people have been through worse than me and we all give each other a lot of support," Vanessa Amy said.
The president of the group (and the glue that binds them together) is Barbara Lane.
"That woman deserves a medal," Paul said enthusiastically.
Barbara said NSW is lagging behind other states in terms of providing financial redress to victims and would like to see that changed.
"People are living with a lower quality of life; with physical disabilities, post- traumatic stress disorder and a lack of education that has affected their capacity to be financially independent. (Financial compensation) is not the total answer. People will always have the scars of their trauma, but at least we should achieve parity with other states," she said.
If you would like to get in contact with the Now-Remembered Australians, phone Barbara on 0408 769 766 or John on 6624 5567.
Southern Cross University PhD candidate Gregory Smith would like Forgotten Australians to participate in his research so that future government policies can be developed.
"I spent time in institutional out-of-home care intermittently from 1965 until 1974, and the childhood experience has influenced my life greatly," Mr Smith said.
The interviews will last for approximately one hour and will be audio recorded with the permission of the participant.
Gregory Smith can be contacted during on 6659 3151 or via email: [email protected]