I now understand why I was so disturbed by Maori boys’ accounts of their life under a brutal regime at an Anglican boys’ home in Masterton in the late 1940’s.
The boys from Sedgley Anglican Boys Home came to the Bible class I attended at St Matthew’s Church in the town. They also came to the local YMCA.
We went to the same State schools and I got on well with them. Most of the boyts I knew were Maori.
I knew they had a hard life and some of them told me of the vicious beatings they got in the Home.
Even for minor crimes, Staff would lash them across the buttocks with a large leather strap as they lay on a table, they told me. And if my memory serves me correctly, the boys said they would have to remove clothing for this punishment.
Later, some of these boys went to the Epuni Boys Home in Lower Hutt; and I recall visiting that institution at least once. Many of the boys were Maori.
Why did this happen?
I guess I was a sensitive kid and I remember thinking, ‘why is this happening?’
And I also remember asking myself: ‘Why is it these boys never seem to go further in life?’ They just disappeared from sight, bound for borstal and then prison — never going onto to further education.
But we lived in post WW2 times and I came to realise that this was some people’s lot in life. Of course at that time, and perhaps for a long time after, New Zealand was a brutal place.
Corporal punishment rife
Corporal punishment was the norm in schools, in children’s homes, and in many of our homes.It was the rule, not the exception. So underneath the quiet respectability of small-town life lay a cess-pit of violence and abuse, known but not talked about in polite circles.
Note: The boys’ home closed in the 1980’s after it was disclosed sexual abuse there spanned four decades. But the Sedgley Family Centre operated out of the same site and its board, which was appointed by the Anglican Church, undertook an investigation and appointed the inquiry team.
I didn’t understand any of this at the time.
But I do now.
And I hope the Royal Commission into the abuse of children in care will prevent this ever happening again.