Historic: Lismore The North Coast Children's Home. Circa 1970. Photo The Northern Star Archives
Historic: Lismore The North Coast Children's Home. Circa 1970. Photo The Northern Star Archives The Northern Star Archives

Voices to be heard, at last

Since former Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the voices of children abused within the walls of the nation's institutions would finally be heard, the royal commission has travelled to every state and territory and heard horror stories from more than 800 people.

With the extraordinary response comes an uncomfortable reality- the commission was so long coming that too many of the perpetrators died without ever being held accountable, and many of the victims are unlikely to live to see the change it brings.

But even those living on borrowed time, like the Lismore victim known only as CK, the importance of being heard and believed can be more significant than any amount of counselling or compensation.

The first witness to take the stand on Monday, the man who described a cancer diagnosis earlier this year as "the best news I have ever received", told the commission the pain of child abuse was the kind that made victims hope for death.

"It was a piece of steel covered in leather and she used to whip the back of my legs and back with it. It would leave red marks, bruises and cuts on me
which sometime took two weeks to heal. I would be whipped for the most trivial things like not using my manners"

His brother, the man told the commission, had taken his own life as a result.

He said the wrongs of the past had not been talked about or brought out in the open, and he hoped that "this commission, by the end of it, will prevent things in the future being done to destroy people's lives where the pain doesn't go…you may have the absence of it but it all comes back".

With that, the first public hearing was under way.

Hundreds of documents from events spanning six decades were tendered as evidence along with a witness list that included the names of the most senior members of the Anglican Church.

Counsel Assisting the Commissioner Simeon Beckett said the hearings would explore whether relevant protocols and procedures were applied by the Diocese of Grafton and what effects that had on the former residents of the home.

The hearing is a step towards finding out why, if as victims like CK claim, "the Anglican Church did everything within their power to be a hindrance..., utilising top-ranking solicitors to make their moves for them and disowning any connection of their responsibility" for the home where so many alleged horrors took place.

Former Grafton Bishop Keith Slater, former registrar Pat Comben and Primate of the Australian Anglican Church Dr Phillip Aspinall will have the chance to answer that question when the hearings resume in Sydney next week.

"I shall pass through this world but once; if, therefore, there be any kindness I can show or any good I can do, let me do it now; let me not defer it, nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again." - North Coast Children's Home motto - 1947

Historic: Lismore The North Coast Children's Home. 1965 Photo The Northern Star Archives
Historic: Lismore The North Coast Children's Home. 1965 Photo The Northern Star Archives The Northern Star Archives

CRUSADE FOR JUSTICE CONTINUES

"THE committee will not be liable or responsible in respect of any injury or damage suffered by the child."

If only the hundreds, who handed young children over to the care of the Anglican Church, had been able to foresee the sins a haunting clause in the original North Coast Children's Home enrolment form would cover in the coming decades.

Following the Second World War, the transient home took in orphans and the children of those that couldn't or weren't allowed to care for them.

In a cruel irony, many were given up by post-war, poverty-stricken relatives who thought they would be better off in the hands of the Church.

But as the nation recovered from the torment of war, the battle for a generation of young children was only beginning.

It would be almost six decades before the systematic physical, sexual and emotional abuse inflicted on children at the home would be revealed, but in 2005 when the actions of a sadistic priest, Winston Morgan, and Matron Jean O'Neill were only just being called into question, another name was entered into the history books.

Richard "Tommy" Campion, a successful photographer who could no longer deal with the nightmares he suffered from his time at the home, told his story to the Anglican Diocese of Grafton.

What began as a simple request for an apology, turned into a five-year battle for recognition that ended with Mr Campion and 40 other victims receiving a joint pay out of $820,000.

When some got as little as $5000, Mr Campion continued to push for an inquiry - which this week became a reality.

He said the hearings were not just for him but for the other abuse survivors, one of whom has told the royal commission into child sex abuse that "the ones who had suicided... they were possibly the lucky ones".
In his final submission to the commission, Mr Campion said the sums did not reflect the gravity of the abuse suffered and he knew his job in getting the Church to accept responsibility was not over yet.

"I thought 'Wake up to yourself Tommy...You can not let them get away with it. What they did was cruel. They have lied. They have cheated. I knew I had to keep fighting to get the truth."


VOICES FROM THE PAST - VICTIMS TELL OF WHIPPINGS, RAPES AND SADISTIC RITUALS

"I would be made to lay naked on the floor, and the minister would put this stuff on my chest, like a cross, and then he would lick it all off and right down to my genitals. That was called a cleansing process."
CK - Lived at the home 1949-58
Compensation - $10,000

"I once saw a group of about five older boys pin down one of the young girls who lived in the Home, and they all raped her.They said words to the effect of 'you open your mouth, and we'll beat the crap out of you'...the girl was there, naked and crying, and I couldn't say or do anything."
CD - Lived at the home 1976-83
Compensation - $22,000

"While I was in the Home, I only saw my mother three times. I remember getting birthday and Christmas presents from her, but they were always stolen from me.
CB - Lived at the home 19-76-80
Compensation - Nil

"It was a piece of steel covered in leather and she used to whip the back of my legs and back with it. It would leave red marks, bruises and cuts on me
which sometime took two weeks to heal. I would be whipped for the most trivial things like not using my manners"
CM - Lived at the home 1959-69
Compensation - $7000

"It smelt terrible, like faeces, and there was vomit on the ground. It was horrific. I felt that I couldn't protect myself or my sister."
CN - Lived at the home - 1959-67
Compensation: $22,000


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