WA victims tell commission they were ‘forced’ to sign settlementPerth child abuse inquiry told about the horrors of sexual abuseVictim became Christian Brother only to be ‘treated like outsider’
Concerns about the living conditions at Bindoon Farm School were raised in documents from the West Australian government department responsible for child welfare at the time, an inquiry into institutional abuse has heard.
WA Department of Child Protection acting director general Emma White presented the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse with a number of documents on the third day of the public hearing being held in Perth.
An inspection report written in November 1947 about a visit to Bindoon Farm School the month before raised concerns with “the cleanliness and physical environment in which the children were being kept”.
A letter from the secretary of the government department to the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Perth in regard to this visit addressed these welfare issues.
“I have no doubt when I next visit in three or four weeks there will be a decided improvement along the lines I wish, and more particularly in the educational facilities.”
In further reference to the visit in another document also raised the issue.
“I think you will agree as Minister for Education that boys of school age being brought out from England under the migrant scheme must at least be given a chance to be decently educated”
There was also mention in a report that no more boys should be admitted to Bindoon until the “general standard of clothing and cleanliness and better facilities for education provided.”
There was no mention of sexual abuse being noted in any available documents.
Few details of the role the department played were found after records from much of that period were destroyed, as per department policy.
Ms White told the commission no one currently working in the department had any working knowledge of the events in question. She said there were not even any living former employees able to be found who had worked for the department at the time.
Ms White said as far as she could tell the department at the time had “obligations” which included site visits and institution inspections but these were listed as “discretionary powers” and were “ad hoc in nature” and “at the discretion of the minister”.
Independence of Christian Brothers service for ex residents questioned
The independence of a body set up by the Christian Brothers to assist ex-students from Christian Brothers institutions has been called into question at the hearing.
Maria Harries, the head of the Christian Brothers Ex Residents Service, which was set up in 1994 to “meet the needs of former students” said the body was meant to be independent from the church.
Professor Harries said the service “was ever growing but different for all of them [clients]”.
Among other services, CBERS assisted men originally from Malta and the United Kingdom to travel there for “reunification,” assisted with family tracing services, literacy programs and offered ex-students 12 sessions of counseling.
During questioning it emerged that Brothers were present at meetings but Professor Harries said matters were only discussed in “general terms” with the Brothers.
She said this was required “in order to tell them [the Brothers] what we wanted to do, because we needed money to do it”.
She said having transparency about the relationship with the Christian Brothers was important as “we owed it to the men”.
Professor Harries said matters being dealt with by CBERS were not always private from the Brothers.
“Sometimes the Christian Brothers knew things that I hadn’t told them,” she said.
“Nothing is ever that neat.”
Professor Harries said she’d never set up an organisation before and she worked in a team alongside Dr Paul Carman and Professor David Plowman, two people who had been recommended to her by the Christian Brothers.
She said the popularity of the service saw it expand from part time to a full time service.
Professor Harries admitted that at the time, 20 years ago “post traumatic stress disorder was only emerging as a concept,” and there was a lot of “learning” as the service was operated.
She said, however, “there was never any closure, you cannot ever get back the life you lost”.
The service operated until a review in 2005 showed there was reduced demand for it.
Professor Harries gave evidence after the last of the victims testify gave evidence on Wednesday.
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