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Thursday, 20 August 2009
Page: 8572

Ms GEORGE (9:39 AM) —Geoff Meyers is a constituent of mine. He is 73 years old, recently widowed and very proud of his four children, 11 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. He had a loving and long relationship of 52 years with his recently deceased wife, Marion. Meeting and speaking with Geoff it is hard to appreciate that behind this picture of family happiness is a dark past which Geoff has only been able to speak about in more recent times.

He was abandoned when 14 months old and made a ward of the state. He spent time at Bidura and at the Roylestone Children’s Home, in between periods of being fostered out to eight different families. The scars of being orphaned and institutionalised make a deep impact, particularly on a child as young as Geoff was. If this was hard to bear, it was made manifestly harder living through sexual and emotional abuse. He was totally alone, without anyone to turn to, and deeply mistrustful of adults. He recounted to me that the first present he ever received was at the age of 20 from his then fiance, Marion, later to be his wife of 52 years.

Geoff’s story is but one which sheds light on the pain of the 500,000 children who grew up in orphanages and children’s homes. After almost nine years of public hearings, the Senate Community Affairs References Committee recently tabled its report Lost Innocents and Forgotten Australians Revisited. It found that many of the 500,000 Australian children raised in more than 500 institutions between 1920 and 1980 had been the victims of brutality. Of the 900 former wards surveyed, 21 per cent had been sexually abused and 35 per cent had suffered physical abuse.

Many former wards have gained strength from their membership of the Care Leavers Australia Network, CLAN, and they are known as ‘Clannies’. They are very much assisted by the inspirational work of Leonie Sheedy, their leader. Mr Meyers is one of hundreds calling for an apology from the federal government for the abuse and humiliation suffered in institutional care. They are also calling for funding for support services and for their organisation, CLAN.

Geoff Meyers said to me that an apology was an important issue for him. In his own words: ‘I would like Mr Rudd to come to my door and say, “Mate, I know it happened to you and even though I’m not responsible I’m very sorry for what happened.” I would then invite him inside and offer him a cup of coffee.’ I hope that one day his wish for an apology, along with the wishes of so many other former wards of the state and the CLAN group, will be fulfilled.