Guy Armstrong opens up about child abuse

South Australia's Guy Armstrong has come full circle after testifying at a Royal commission.
South Australia's Guy Armstrong has come full circle after testifying at a Royal commission.

Guy Armstrong was just 14 when a loaded .303 rifle was pointed at his head on his first day at boarding school. 

Senior students had pointed the rifle at him before firing a round past his head and out the window in an attempt to intimidate.

This was Guys' initiation to institutional life – a life which included time spent at the infamous Daruk Boys Home in New South Wales.

In November, aged 58, Guy left his home in Middleton, South Australia, to tell his story before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual abuse - a story of victimisation and abuse in a system which should have protected him.

Guy is one of more than 1000 people who have testified during private hearings since the Commission proceedings began in September.

The commission is tasked with investigating how institutional abuse was allowed to go on behind closed doors, and how organisations such as churches, the Scouts, the YMCA and the government responded.

The rifle incident was typical of the type of bullying from other boys that went on at Guy’s first boys’ home - a country boarding house in Hay, NSW. Guy said the staff were incompetent and could not deal with what was happening.

He also told the commission about his time at a second boys’ home that was allegedly run by a pedophile and of his life in other institutions where he encountered sadistic bullying from his peers and assault and mistreatment by those in charge.

“They’ve compiled all of this information and they’ve found common themes in juvenile institutions. Hopefully they’ll rectify it to help some people who are really struggling," he said.

Guy has drawn inspiration from a network of people with similar experience - Care Leavers Australia Network or CLAN.

CLAN helped him to form a case in 2012 to apply to the NSW courts for compensation as a victim.

“Others like me doing the same thing have created a groundswell of information.”

There were many other children growing up in the 1960s and 70s who went through the court system without anyone to defend them.

“A lot of those kids were victims of circumstances. No consideration was given to them as a human being whatsoever," Guy said.

The largest demographic to have testified at the commission are men, 64 per cent, aged between 50 and 69 years old (60 per cent) and who were in institutions in NSW, 38 percent. 

Guy falls in this demographic. 

At the age of 11, Guys' father passed away and his mother worked two jobs to care for  him and his sister.

“At night mum would do bar work and I’d have to look after my sister, so it was doomed not to be a good environment for me," he said.

He was taken out of his mother’s care and placed as a Legacy ward into a boys’ home where he was described as uncontrollable and said to be unresponsive to treatment.

Guy said he tried to run away on occasions because of the threat of bullying and even pedophilia.

“I was an angry young kid - but to fight your way to survive you had to be tough, otherwise you just got walked over and abused.”

After two boarding homes Guy was sent to Daruk Boys Home in Windsor, NSW.

Daruk was a juvenile detention centre where boys aged 13 to 16 were sent for a variety of reasons ranging from bad behaviour to stealing cars.

“The things that they did were just horrendous. It was like a penitentiary.”

Guy Armstrong

Guy said 60 boys would share one dormitory, with only one man in charge.

One form of punishment at Daruk was a solitary concrete cell, known as a dog box – a cell with a sunken floor.

Guy said boys would be locked in the "dog box"  for 24 hours as a form of punishment not matter the time of year.

Inside the floor would be filled with water and the boys would spend 10 hours scrubbing the concrete through the night.

At Daruk the boys were also forced to swing picks for several hours a day, digging in a crew.

“You were treated pretty abysmally in there," he said.

At 16, Guy left Daruk and headed to Perth to live with relatives where he found work and a positive environment.

Guy said he was thankful he escaped the institutional system.

“It’s had a traumatic impact on a lot of people and I was lucky to get out," he said.

“Institutionalisation can lead to a dependency - some people never got ahead of themselves to build up relationships or they didn’t have family that could help out,” he said.

Today, Guy is the proud father of three children who have had a very different childhood to his own.

“I’ve brought up all of my kids with friends around them and I’m really proud of their childhoods,” he said.

“Because of my experiences as a kid I try to be more caring and considerate for other people. I’m lucky that there are some beautiful parts of my childhood to look back on - some wonderful things like adventures.”

Since childhood, Guy has enjoyed music and is an avid guitarist who builds drums out of timber as a hobby. Over the years he has allowed local bands to use his shed for jam nights. 

“I like the opportunity to see kids perform at their best," he said.

This care extends to the many others who have had a childhood much like his.

Guy said he hopes his story, along with the thousands of others, will help the commission improve practices to prevent the abuse of children in institutions.

“There are thousands of people out there in Australia in care - from immigrants to people in families that have broken up and put into homes.

They can be a one-way trip to institutions.”

Anyone who has experienced care as state wards, in foster homes and other institutions, can seek assistance through CLAN. For information visit www.clan.org.au