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Thursday, July 5, 2012

From the Wayside Chapel

Dear Inner Circle,

Since the Four Corners show this week, I've been caught in a swirl of worries.
Thank God for Four Corners but let's not think that the issue of child
se*ual abuse is the exclusive problem of the Catholic church.
When I was younger I worked for a State run home for children.
We were supposed to care for boys from the age of 9 to 15 but there
were often enough 8 year olds and a few 16 year olds. We cared for
 somewhere from 60 to 90 children in the home and I was often the only
 one managing all these children. I had to occupy them, feed them, shower
them and put them to bed. It was at bed time that tough kids broke their hearts,
 longing for their mum and home. I didn't see it at the time but it's clear that
this set up was a predator's paradise. The superintendent of the home was actually
 a humane man fighting an impossible battle against history and a system that was
brutal at every level. There were some senior staff who in an odd way were
committed people but what they were committed to was completely alien to me.
They made it pretty clear that I was an alien to them. Difficult boys, just babies
 as I look back, were put into a "cooler" which was a solitary cell with high
walls and a slot window that allowed some light in but offered no view. There was
 no furniture in the cooler but only a rubber mattress. No TV, no books and
 no contact with anyone except when food was placed in or taken out.
I knew little boys who were kept in these cells for 3 days and even 5 days.
To even have this memory breaks my heart. I have a grand daughter who is
 7 years old and the thought that anyone could treat her in the way I saw kids
 treated all the time is too much for me. As brutal as this sounds to our
ears in 2012, this punishment was considered more humane than other options
 available for punishment. I could explain a punishment called "the tunnel"
but it will suffice to say that this form of brutalisation involved every kid in the
 place at the same time. I'm not 120 years old and this is not ancient history.
I'm only 60 ("only", that's funny).
When I was a student, Aboriginal children were State wards by virtue of their birth.
Aboriginal parents had no legal authority over their children. That authority was
 vested in what was often a young social worker who'd studied the latest in psychology
 but knew little about life. I was taken by a supervisor into an Aboriginal home
without any notice or invitation. "That bed must be made". "If I call again and that
 child's nose is runny, I'll remove him from your care". All of this is unthinkable in
 our day. One old Aboriginal man told me once, "Dogs have fleas and we have
social workers." Years later, I read that same quote in an anthropology text book.
I spoke to an old white man in a country town who told me that he remembered
going with his father to leave poison bates out for Aboriginal people. He told me
that in his father's day, Aboriginal people were considered to be little more than pests.
Our memories are short. The world that we've emerged from was blind to systemic
 abuse of children. In the home where I worked, it was considered that a background
 in the military was a highly desirable qualification for a staff member. In those days
 I constantly walked into conversations that were lamenting all that was going wrong
in the world only to find such discussions were cut short at my entrance. Abuse of
 children took place in churches and religious institutions and also in state run
 institutions. It happened in scout groups, guides, youth groups and in schools.
We generally couldn't see and didn't believe that such abuse took place even when
it was under our noses. Those in authority, State, Church, NGOs, generally sought
to bring about resolution in a quiet way. Police were almost never called as
it would bring disgrace to the institution. Confidentiality was held as the highest
value and no one could really see at the time that this policy only compounded
 the abuse of the children. 
We have emerged from an age that brutalised children. Thanks to Four Corners for
the blow torch this week and I hope the heat brings some justice. I wish, however,
we could make this effort without righteous indignation as if we'd never known.
I'd like to think we could endure what ever must be endured in order to name this evil
 for what it is and was and with a sense of brokenness that comes from knowing
we were all blind.
Thanks for being part of this inner circle,

Rev Graham Long

Pastor and CEO
The Wayside Chapel
Kings Cross
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Link to Four Corners Programme

Please note I am not the reporter Geoff Thompson on the Four Corners programme. Graham Long is a personal friend of our family.

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