Mittagong Training School for Boys and Daruk Boys Home are two of the worst offending children’s homes in New South Wales – and no one knows this better than child abuse survivor, Don Windle.
Don was born in Sydney to John and Jean Windle. He was one of eight children. His mother was an alcoholic and their homelife was volatile – Jean would drink with the neighbours and his father would come home from work the next morning to smash the empty bottles.
Don got in trouble a lot as a kid, so his mother admitted him to the Disturbed Children’s Unit in the North Ryde Psychiatric Centre in 1966. He was in-and-out of the hospital for months at a time. When he was finally released in 1967, he discovered his parents had separated and his sisters had gone to live with their mother.
Life didn’t improve for Don living with his father and he and his brothers continued to get into trouble with the police. Don was taken into custody multiple times. Over the years he was charged with stealing, breaking-and-entering to steal food and money, being neglected, and being declared “uncontrollable” by the Ashfield Children’s Court.
Mittagong Training School
In 1968, Don was placed at Mittagong. Prior to his admission, Don had suffered third-degree burns on his right leg and right hand. The hospital had given Don a letter detailing the treatment he needed – but the officers at Mittagong refused his treatment.
“You should have thought about this before you got in trouble,” the officer said.
The scars never healed properly. Don said his hand looks like it has been run over by a truck, even to this day.
On his first day at Mittagong, he was also beaten mercilessly by one of the officers. He was thrown across the room and punched in the back of the head with a closed fist. He was told it was to “teach him a lesson”. The officer was showing him who was the boss.
Within the first week, Don tried to escape. For this, he received regular floggings for three weeks. He was covered in bruises from head to toe. He also lost three month’s worth of privileges and was forced to scrub the concrete in freezing cold weather until the bristles of his brush had worn away.
When the concrete was clean, the officers would hose it down and make him start again.
The officers at Mittagong were cruel men. They would play with the boys’ emotions and psyche, pitting them against each other for their own entertainment. For example, boys would get in trouble for the actions of others, because they knew the boys would retaliate.
Boys would also become “lackeys” for the officers – doing their bidding and beating the other boys. They would be rewarded with dessert and being left alone. According to Don, you either played alone or faced the consequences.
Daruk Boys Home
Located in Windsor, North-West of Sydney, Daruk Boys Home has become infamous for its horrendous living conditions and the regular sexual abuse of boys in the 1970s and 1980s.
During the Royal Commission, gruesome details were shared of genital mutilation on boys as young as 13. The procedures were completed by staff who did not have any medical qualifications.
In 1973, Don was admitted to Daruk. He was released a year later. Little did he know, his one year stint at Daruk would be a life sentence of trauma.
There were four dormitories with six sections and eight beds per section. The dormitories were separated based on age-groups. There were three or four house officers per dormitory, along with one house master who would sleep in with the boys.
Don’s house master was Frank Valentine. He was also the Deputy Superintendent of Daruk. Don believes Valentine targeted him because he never had visitors. Don’s father visited once – otherwise, he was alone and vulnerable.
Towards the end of 1973, Don had become one of two “Privileged Boys” in his dormitory. The boys received less attention from the officers and gained rewards like recreation time. One movie night, Don and the other Privileged Boys were allowed access to the pool table with biscuits and Milo.
However, Don had also become Valentine’s “House Boy”. Don would help Valentine’s frail, unwell-looking wife with the washing, vacuuming, cleaning and mowing the lawn. He would also help her with the groceries – Don described this as “heaven” because he was allowed to leave Daruk for short periods of time.
In January 1974, Don went on his first camp at Wisemans Ferry. Valentine insisted Don ride along with him in his truck. The rest of the boys travelled by bus. When they arrived at the camp, they went canoeing and Valentine again insisted Don go with him. In the canoe, Don sat in front and Valentine pulled the boy into his groin.
At night, Don slept in a tent with 16 other boys – and Valentine. Don woke up in the middle of the night and felt someone fondling his genitals. Don couldn’t see who it was, but Valentine then made Don leave his sleeping bag and forced him to perform oral sex.
He was too scared to tell anyone. He thought he would be bullied or ridiculed for the abuse.
The next day, Valentine told the other officers Don was upset and he was going to take Don for a walk. They walked for half an hour, then Don was once again forced to his knees and told to “get to work”. Again, Don was forced to perform oral sex. Valentine was more aggressive this time.
The two did not interact on the walk back to the camp. Valentine then ignored Don for the rest of the trip.
Back at Daruk, Don got into a fight with one of the house officers and was sent to isolation. It was a small concrete room with a thin mattress, a bucket for a toilet, and a single piece of chalk. Boys were sent there for one to three days as punishment.
Valentine visited him in isolation. He forced Don into oral sex again – but Don knew it was his only way out of isolation. Afterwards, Valentine chastised the house officer who put Don in isolation – Don later realised Valentine was mad because Don had lost his privileges and he would no longer have access to him.
But that wasn’t quite true – Don was still Valentine’s House Boy and still had to help Valentine’s wife with the chores. He was taken to Valentine’s house in North Sydney, where Valentine had the freedom to rape Don. The pain was excruciating and Don was bleeding and sore for weeks.
Discharge from Daruk
A few weeks later, Valentine told Don he was being discharged from Daruk. Valentine was going to take Don back to his dad in Little Bay and he was going to help his father get money from Social Security.
When they arrived at Don’s father’s house, Don ran for his life. He didn’t want Valentine to touch him. He hid under his friend’s house and waited for Valentine to drive away. Eventually, Don went home to his dad, who was surprised to see him.
Valentine returned a few days later to help Don’s dad get payments from Social Security. Again, Don ran away as far as he could. His father was furious until Don admitted Valentine had orally and anally raped him.
“Nobody will believe you, boy,” his father said, clearly upset. “Nobody will believe you.”
Effects of the abuse
Don left Daruk feeling violated and worthless. Don said he felt like “a real piece of shit”. For months, he’d been told he was useless and a waste of space, so he had started to believe it.
He was furious after Daruk. He decided no one could tell him what to do and ran into trouble with the police for vehicle theft, assault and resisting arrest.
By the time he was 19-years-old, he had three children. Don said he felt he needed to to prove his manhood. He never cuddled his children because he didn’t know how it would be perceived, or felt uncomfortable doing so.
Don’s eldest son told him he was “a hard bastard”.
His kids don’t know what happened to him.
In his 20s, Don had no control over his bowels. He saw doctors about the problem, but it has been an ongoing problem his whole life. He doesn’t know if it’s a mental or physical consequence of the abuse.
Don also had problems connecting with his family. He found out his brother was gay and didn’t speak to him for many years. His brother’s sexuality reminded him of what happened at Daruk. It took Don a long time to accept his brother was not like Valentine.
Don struggled with depression, anxiety, insomnia, and suicidal tendencies. He couldn’t trust anyone and saw kindness from others as a sign of weakness. His family and friends said he had no empathy, because he was angry, emotionally and physically abusive, and otherwise couldn’t show his emotions.
Reporting the abuse
In 1996, Don told his sister what had happened to him at Daruk. He went into detail and explained how the abuse had impacted his life – Colleen, his sister, said this helped her to understand why he could never trust anyone and why he was so angry all the time.
From the age of 30, Don reported the abuse to multiple psychiatrists and psychologists. He was being treated for anxiety and depression. He didn’t feel 100% comfortable with the psychologists, so he never revealed the full extent of his desperation and despair.
He felt judged and didn’t go back for a second consultation with them.
For a time, Don thought Valentine was dead – until he saw Valentine on Channel 9 News in 2016. He started sobbing uncontrollably. His partner, Wendy, was confused by his reaction. Don told her it was Valentine, the officer who had raped him as a teenager.
Don lost 20 kilograms after seeing Valentine on the news. He would chew his nails, refuse to eat, and thought about ending his life on multiple occasions.
Don started doing his research. He came across the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, then found Kelso Lawyers. Don spoke to Peter Kelso and was given the contact details of Detective Tim Paul of Strike Force Bilvo.
In 2017, Don provided an initial statement about the abuse he suffered at the hands of Valentine. He would be an official witness in the trial against Valentine. He also had a private session with the Royal Commission.
Life after Valentine
Since the Royal Commission, Don says it’s hard to come to grips with how the abuse has affected his life – because he feels he’s never had a life. He doesn’t know what “normal” feels like and still suffers from depression and anxiety, despite ongoing therapy.
Don was mentally and emotionally wrecked by Valentine. He still often wonders what he did to encourage Valentine – but he didn’t do anything to deserve sexual abuse. He didn’t deserve the lifetime of torment and illness he’s suffered.
Now, Don is seeking compensation from the State of New South Wales for the pain and injuries forced upon him. We will not stand for the suffering and loss Don has experienced over the years.
We will achieve retribution for Don, although some wounds never truly heal.
In sharing his story, Don hopes to help other victims of abuse to have the courage to come forward and seek help. At Kelso Lawyers, we’re supporting Don and all survivors of child abuse to achieve compensation from offending individuals and institutions.
Together, we can make a difference.