The North Coast Children’s Home in Lismore is one of the worst offending institutions in New South Wales.
During the Royal Commission, several child abuse survivors testified, sharing horrific stories of physical, psychological and sexual abuse at the hands of the Anglican Church.
History and conditions of the home
The North Coast Children’s Home was established in 1919 through St Andrews’ Anglican Church and the Church of England. The home was designed to house children who were orphans, wards of the state, or had been abandoned by their parents.
The orphanage was strongly associated with the Anglican Church and under the home’s constitution, at least two-thirds of the board of management had to be members of the Church of England.
Despite this close association, the home was very poorly funded in the 1950s and 1960s. A survivor known as CN said there was limited clothing for the children and the home was unsanitary.
In one of the Royal Commission’s hearings, CN recalled arriving for the first time and being mortified.
“It smelt terrible, like faeces, and there was vomit on the ground. I could see about twenty-odd children, all dirty,” CN said.
“There was no maternal instinct at all… all you heard in that place was kids bawling and screaming”
According to survivors who testified at the Royal Commission, beatings were regular and incredibly brutal. Survivors said they were beaten with a wide range of weapons including:
- A pony whip or riding crop made of steel and covered in leather
- A strap or an electrical cord
- A cane or tree branch
- A leather belt and buckle from a member of the clergy’s cassock
If the children wet their beds, their soiled sheets would be wrapped around their heads and they would be paraded around in front of the other children as a form of public humiliation.
Additionally, the children would be forced to stand in uncomfortable positions for hours on end. For example, a survivor known as CB was forced to stand with his arms outstretched, naked, with a Bible in each hand. The other children had to watch him and he was beaten if he moved.
A survivor known only as GG has been fighting the Anglican Church over the physical abuse he experienced at the North Coast Children’s Home since 2008. He told reporters “everyone was abused” at the home and by the time he left, he was suicidal and struggled to function in everyday society.
“I’m not playing down the sexual assaults, but everyone was abused and it’s not how you got to the result, it’s what the end result was,” GG said.
“Kids were bloody terrified… there was no maternal instinct at all. All you heard in that place was kids bawling and screaming.”
“They used to walk around with this horsewhip. They would sneak around and the next minute they’re coming up behind you… and for the slightest misdemeanour, they would beat you.”
After his stay at the North Coast Children’s Home, GG applied for an army apprenticeship but was rejected because the army psychiatrist didn’t have the “time or money” to treat his mental illness.
“That was the best opportunity I could have had in my life… but because of how I was treated in the home I was kicked out and that’s why I reckon they (the Church) owe me (compensation).”
“There are so many mental illness things that go on because of what went on there.”
Sexual abuse was rife at the North Coast Children’s Home
Sexual abuse was horrifically common at the orphanage. The crimes were committed by members of the clergy, staff members, other residents and their relatives. These instances included oral sex, sexual intercourse and gang rape among the children.
The Royal Commission heard the emotional, physical and psychological abuse caused lifelong problems with anxiety, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, sleeping problems and the inability to maintain meaningful relationships. Many have also considered committing suicide.
In 2006 more than 40 former residents of the North Coast Children’s Home in Lismore banded together and submitted a group claim against the Anglican Diocese of Grafton.
What the claimants didn’t expect was an extra slap in the face – the Anglicans denied running the home and claimed they had no legal liability for sexual or physical abuse committed at the orphanage.
The Church took a hostile defensive legal position against the group claim. The Church’s lawyers required claimants to sign a deed of release before they could receive counselling, acknowledgement, apology or financial settlement – going against the Sydney Pastoral Care and Assistance Scheme that the Diocese of Grafton had adopted one year prior.
The claimants were also not referred to a Professional Standards Director.
After several arguments and counter-offers regarding financial reparations, the highest offer given was $22,658.54. However, after Medicare and Health Insurance Commissions, the claimants could have received less than half that amount.
In the following years, more survivors of child abuse at the home came forward to receive compensation. Two survivors known as CB and CC were refused financial compensation and offered a support person. A third survivor known as CD received a payment but no pastoral support.
It wasn’t until 2013 that the Anglican Church revised its handling of child abuse claims. The new acting registrar in Grafton reported the mishandling to the Anglican Church Primate – the official leader of the Anglican Church in Australia.
In May 2013, the Bishop of Grafton released a statement apologising for not giving claimants access to a Professional Standards Director and resigned. A series of apologies were also published in local newspapers and the Diocese passed a revised Care and Assistance Scheme for claimants.
Cases that had not been investigated were also re-opened.
The Diocese of Grafton backflipped on their original statement and said there was no doubt about their responsibility for the residents of the North Coast Children’s Home.
Between November 2013 and January 2014, the Royal Commission heard from various former residents of the home including the group claim’s lead plaintiff, Mr Tommy Campion and various anonymous survivors like CA, CB, CD, CH, CK, CN and two others.
CK told the Commissioners about the trauma inflicted from living at the group home.
“The pain that we have, we will take to the grave. The ones who have suicided, they’re possibly the lucky ones. We’re the living dead that remain.”
No child should ever be subjected to the kind of pain and torture these individuals experienced. Their childhood was a living hell and there was no one to help them – no friends, no family, no trustworthy carer. These individuals were cast aside and abused from day one at the North Coast Children’s Home in Lismore NSW.
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