travel and life with lee mylne

Out of the darkness: Tommy’s story

Imagine this. It is 1949. In small-town Australia, a young woman makes a decision that will change her life and – immeasurably – those of her two small children. Defeated by an abusive marriage and a life of poverty, far from the support of her own family, she leaves her toddlers in the one room they live in, and takes the train to a new life without them.

Their father, unable or unwilling to raise the children himself, delivers them to a local children’s home, run by the Anglican Church. Sometimes he comes to visit, but after a while stops. Four-year-old Suzanne and two-year-old Richard never see either of their parents again.

This is where you might want to shut your imagination down. What followed is the stuff of nightmares, unimaginable for those of us who grew up in warm, safe and loving homes. Suzanne and Richard, along with many of the other orphaned or abandoned children who lived in the home with them, were subjected to years of physical, sexual and emotional abuse. Punishment was meted out in the harshest ways; abuse was at the hands of the children’s home staff and of visiting clergy. The children’s lives were filled with fear, devoid of the tenderness, affection and care every child deserves.

When she was 12, Suzanne was sent to a foster home; her little brother was distraught at losing the only person who loved him. Eventually, the family decided to take him too and for a short time the siblings were reunited. But the family didn’t like “the boy” and sent him back to the children’s home. He did not see his sister again for eight years.

More years of abuse followed. There were escape attempts, with other boys, but they were always caught and dragged back to more punishment.

When he was 16, Richard was able to leave the “home”. As an adult, he reinvented himself and became one of Australia’s most flamboyant and successful news photographers: Tommy Campion.

Tommy smiley

Tommy in his hey-day as a photographer.

Tommy is loved by everyone. He’s loud, brash, colourful, a clown, a character. He’s charismatic and funny. His photos filled the front pages of Australia’s leading newspapers and made their way – in some cases – around the world. He won awards, and the hearts of a string of beautiful women.

But under the laughs, there was always the pain. The scars on his back from whippings that broke the skin may have faded under the Queensland sunshine, but the scars in his heart and mind remained. In his late 50s, there came dark years, in which he struggled to come to terms with what he had suffered. The nights were worst, with the memories of the beatings, the cries of other children – and his inability to help them – haunting his dreams.

In 2005, he wrote to the Anglican Church, detailing what had happened to him, his sister and others in the children’s home. His pleas for help ignored, he advertised to find other children who had been in the same home, the Church of England North Coast Children’s Home in Lismore, New South Wales. Responses flooded in; he estimates about 200 children were victims of abuse in that home.

Resilience is something Tommy learned early in life, and it still serves him well. He is stubborn, angry, determined that the Anglican Church will be brought to account for the failure of its duty of care for the children in that “home”.

About two years ago, Tommy’s battle with the Anglican Church moved from letter-writing (about one a week for around eight years) to direct action.  He established a website and last year began a relentless social media campaign on Facebook. But it was his one-man protest outside the Anglican cathedral in Brisbane that soon resulted in a meeting with the Anglican Primate, Archbishop Philip Aspinall.

Daily Tele Tommy

A double-page spread in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, as Tommy campaigned for justice, with a response from the head of the Anglican Church, Archbishop Philip Aspinall.

There have been more meetings since then, and a continuing campaign – helped by his friends in the news media – that has seen his story widely told.  Last month, the Bishop of Grafton (the diocese in which the children’s home was located), to whom Tommy had written hundreds of letters, resigned from his position, over his mishandling of abuse claims.

Today, Tommy is presenting his evidence to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. He’s wearing bright pink socks. Tommy’s not one for an understated look, and his favoured pink socks have become a symbol of his fight; his friends and supporters wear them to show solidarity. I’m wearing them too. Tommy is my dear friend, and as regular readers will know, many of his photographs have appeared on this blog.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was announced last November by the Australian government, to look into “how institutions with a responsibility for children have managed and responded to allegations and instances of child sexual abuse”.

It will make recommendations on how to improve laws, policies and practices to prevent and better respond to child sexual abuse in institutions. This includes where the commissioners consider an organisation caring for a child is responsible for the abuse or for not responding appropriately, regardless of where or when the abuse took place.

For Tommy, the invitation to address the commissioners in a private hearing is a huge victory.

“For eight years, I battled the Anglican Church for this,” he says. “They admitted the church was associated with the home. That church clergy and staff abused 200 children. That the church had a moral responsibility to protect the children. They said no child should have been subjected to cruelty or abuse as I was. However, they would not admit the church had the duty of care. With all that (and much, much more), I want to speak to the Royal Commission and tell them of the sexual and physical abuse of children, and how the church for eight years used their cunning and lies to try and escape the truth.”

Tommy’s story is, sadly, one of many. There are many other institutions as guilty as the one he has been fighting for the truth. There are many other children – and adults who were once children – who are victims of abuse, struggling to live “normal” lives. There are many who did not survive. There are many heart-breaking stories that will be told to the Royal Commission.

But today is Tommy Campion’s day. He is telling his story for the umpteenth time, but the difference is that today he knows that it will make a difference. His listeners today are charged with making change. With using the power given to them by the government to try to ensure that no child should be violated or abused. And that those who breach their duty of care to children are finally held accountable.

Imagine this: a world where all children are safe and loved.

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53 Responses to “Out of the darkness: Tommy’s story”

  1. Bev

    This is a sad tale of wickedness and deceit. Sadly, this is not an unusual story, it is being told again and again, every day somewhere. Children to many, have no value, and adults continue to hurt, humiliate and break them for their own cruel intentions. The church and institutions that should protect all children are the main offenders, but family members, friends and strangers do the damage too. And for the victims who survive into adulthood – that’s often when the dark days and memories surface and continue to breathe toxic life into the men and women who have to relive these moments. If this is hard to read – so be it – let everyone read and understand the nefariousness that is the underbelly of our society. Perpetrators must pay for their sins . . bring them all to justice, hopefully a cruel one. The church can no longer hide under its cloak of silence.

    Reply
    • Lee

      Great words, Bev. You are right in everything you say. And Tommy has made sure the church (in particular the Anglican Church) can no longer hide. So much emphasis has been put on the Catholic Church regarding abuse, but there are many other institutions just as guilty. Thanks for your support, and good words.

      Reply
  2. mamacormier

    Thank you Lee for a beautifully written piece on such a sensitive subject. It boggles the mind that people could be and unfortunately continue to be so cruel to children. I’m glad that Tommy had the strength to tell his story and fight for those who are afraid or unable to speak out.

    Reply
    • Lee

      Yes, it does boggle the mind, doesn’t it. And anyone who has had children themselves (or loved a child) can’t imagine how anyone could so hurt small defenceless people. Tommy is strong, he’s a fighter, and it’s not over yet! Thanks for your kind words Carol.

      Reply
  3. Tommy

    A well written piece about lies and deception, cruelty and uncaring by a bunch of cowardly religious bastards. The day of redemption is nigh. Thank You Lee.

    Reply
    • Lee

      Happy to help you Tommy. Yours is a story that has to be told, and I’m honoured that you asked me to help tell it for you.

      Reply
    • Ms Peebody

      Tommy, I’m so sorry for the abuse you suffered at the hand of the church. I’m not pleased with your story nor your suffering but I am pleased that you will NOT let yourself be silenced. Keep up the good fight for yourself as well as the other unfortunate victims.

      Reply
      • Judy

        Ms Peebody, I agree with everything you have said. I don’t watch TV, nor listen to radio very much. Hardly read News papers so I appreciate my friend bringing Tommy’s (in pink socks) story to my attention on FB. I support him and wish him strength to carry on to bring these ** people to justice.

        Reply
  4. phillip apogremiotis

    Hey Tommy you have waited a long time to fix these mongrels, I give you ten points for your strength in this matter and the fact they will pay in some way. Good luck Tommy, you did a great job.
    Phillip

    Reply
  5. Anonymous

    go getim Tommy
    abuse on children i can not even put into words
    your campaign will be cheered by many
    flush the dirt away and we will all be cleansed
    J.T

    Reply
  6. The goddess

    A beautiful, beautiful piece Lee, about a courageous survivor. X

    Reply
  7. Corina

    Beautifully written Lee but so heart-wrenching and agonising. How can people and especially those entrusted to look after the little ones be so cruel? Your story of Tommy and Suzanne brought tears to my eyes.

    Reply
    • Lee

      Thank you Corina. It is truly awful what is done behind closed doors under a veil of respectability, isn’t it?

      Reply
  8. Anonymous

    Brilliant piece, Lee. I, too, wore pink socks for Tommy today in honour of his gutsy determination.

    Reply
  9. Anonymous

    Such a moving story and Tommy is an inspiration to all of us. I admire his ferocious tenacity in bringing the truth to the public and wonder how on earth he managed to persevere in spite of all the rejection and delays over 8 years. What a lesson in courage
    and may his life get happier every day.

    Reply
  10. Healing From Complex Trauma & PTSD/CPTSD

    Reblogged this on Healing From Complex Trauma & PTSD/CPTSD and commented:
    Amazing man, such courage, doing something about the abuse allowed, condoned, ignored within these religious institutions. No child should ever have to go through this, and there is an added layer of deeply painful betrayal, that it was by ‘religious’ people, claiming to love Jesus. I support this man fully. He a man of courage, integrity and persistence, and more of these people are needed in the world, not mindless sheep and weak leaders.

    Reply
    • Lee

      Thank you for the re-blog. The more people who hear this story the better. And thanks for the kind words.

      Reply
      • Healing From Complex Trauma & PTSD/CPTSD

        I found Tommy via his facebook page and have been sending words of encouragement. He is a brave man that has enabled the victims of that home, to receive validation, recognition of the abuse and also support financially due to the affects of abuse. I support him fully.

        Reply
  11. Briar Jensen

    Wonderfully moving piece Lee. thanks for the story. I’ve always admired Tommy’s photos that you have shared but had no idea of his traumatic childhood. It beggars belief. Lets hope his story, and those of others, bring about the changes necessary. Though nothing can compensate for the lost innocence and stolen childhood. Good luck Tommy and thanks again for the post Lee

    Reply
  12. Anonymous

    This story can’t be repeated too often. Every time a child is abused all humanity becomes poorer. Such abuse has been hidden behind locked doors and the pretence of piety for too long, so it is heartening when the truth gets heard by someone who can actually do something about it. To add insult to injury (trite, but true) the abuse and victimisation are most often carried out by a few (albeit condoned by others) – yet whole organisations and institutions are stigmatised as a result. Tommy is a wonderful person in whom the ‘milk of human kindness has not been curdled’ despite the treatment meted out in his childhood. It’s fantastic to see that his persistence and refusal to accept rejection (by some pretty powerful church leaders) are finally paying off. I’m proud to know him.

    Reply
    • Lee

      I am too. Thank you for your comments. I am so happy to share this story and do a small thing to help Tommy.

      Reply
  13. carolinescabinfever

    Lee
    A wonderfully-written and oh, so sad piece. I wish Tommy all the very best of luck with this.
    I was tearful reading his tale. What a gutsy man though…..

    caroline

    Reply
  14. Judy

    Tommy, you must be so very proud of yourself in what you have achieved from such a cruel beginning (in life). Thank you ever so much in sharing your story with us. Your story was passed onto me through a friend on FB. I hope you have the strength to carry on to bring these cowards to justice. I wish you well and good health and support you…good luck.
    Jude

    Reply
    • Lee

      Thank you…I was the same. I didn’t know Tommy’s story until I met him again about two years ago. He is a truly wonderful man.

      Reply
  15. Julia Kovach

    “Imagine this . . . ” It is a beautiful thing to imagine. You touched my heart and reminded me of words by John Lennon. Thank you for a beautiful post. Blessings to you always. xoJulia

    Reply
  16. Browsing the Atlas

    Tommy’s story is both heartbreaking and heartwarming. What a courageous man! The world is a better place for him and his fight for justice. Bravo!

    Reply
    • Lee

      Yes, I agree entirely. The world is indeed a better place for having people like Tommy in it.

      Reply
  17. Tommy

    To all the wonderful people who wrote the above posts: I thank you so much for your kind words of praise – they will encourage me to fight on.

    Reply
  18. Fiona Harper (@careergypsy)

    It takes immense courage to revisit shocking trauma. Lee thank you for sharing this heart wrenching story. Tommy be proud that those gutless bastards have not defeated you. I hope this inquiry brings you peace

    Reply
  19. Bronnie - Maid In Australia

    As a journo by a trade, I know that everyone has a story. I remember being a relatively young journalist on the Gold Coast, and finding out Tommy’s. I was in awe of him then, and I am in awe of him now. What a lesson in resilience and strength and in never giving up. And Lee, I’m in awe of you too. You have told this story with such respect and warmth. Thank you for sharing, this is such an important fight and I’m so glad he is finally getting the justice he and those other little innocent children deserve.

    Reply
  20. maidinaustralia

    What a wonderfully written piece, so full of warmth and respect. My heart aches for Tommy and his sister and all those innocent children, still so scarred today. I admire Tommy so much for having the courage to stand up for what is right and for continuing to fight for justice. He is one of the inspirations in my life. His grace and dignity in the line of fire has taught me to never give up when times are shit, and his sheer delight in life has taught me to celebrate the good stuff. And his photos and cheeky sense of humour always cheer me up. Go pink!

    Reply

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