November 30, 1939, is a date that will forever be ingrained in the mind of former Tardun Farm School orphan John Walsh.
Then eight years old, his life changed forever.
He and his seven brothers and sisters were taken from their mother by government agencies while his father was training for the Australian military.
For the next five years he lived in institutions operated by the Christian Brothers, a Catholic Church order.
He describes a “life of hell” during three years at Tardun, from March 1942 until February 1945.
He claims he witnessed sexual and physical assaults — and the death of a fellow orphan.
Mr Walsh said physical abuse was a daily occurrence.
“It was a life of hell. We were just getting belted all the time,” he said.
“You always made sure you cried because if you didn’t cry you’d get another six.”
Mr Walsh said children lay in fear at night of getting sexually abused.
“They’d creep around at night time. They wouldn’t leave the kids alone,” he said.
“The poor buggers would wet their beds and would receive a cold shower if they screamed.”
He said he was never sexually abused because he fought off any advances.
“They tried, but I fought them off,” he said.
“I kept kicking out all the time. I’d sleep with my right leg cocked ready to kick.”
He said orphans were forced to live off food from the bush and surrounding farms to Tardun.
“We had to go and get our own food in the bush, killing galahs and stuff like that,” he said.
“We used to knock off the wheat and boil it up. That’s how we used to survive up there.”
He also spoke of living in a tin shed and being made to wash in horse troughs.
The torment ended for 13-year-old friend Charlie Brunard, an English orphan, who Mr Walsh claims was tragically crushed to death when a truck carrying 30 orphans ran over his chest.
“He was sitting on the front mudguard and I was on the other side,” he recalled.
“He was getting all the boiling water from the radiator and the Christian Brother wouldn’t stop,” he said.
“So he jumped and the truck went over his chest and it went down as fractured skull.”
He alleged another orphan died when he was flung from a balcony while his brothers Billy, Terry and George were at Tardun.
A 1997 UK House of Commons Report named Brunard as one of three boys who died at Tardun.
It states Brunard was 13 when he died on October 17, 1943, from a fractured skull after he was run over by a motor truck.
Another boy, Kevin Leopold Glasheen, 12, died on May 1949 of a fractured skull, which a coroner said occurred after he fell from a balcony at Tardun.
Anthony Gale died at Tardun on April 10, 1956, from “peritonitis and intra abdominal abscess”.
The report is scathing over the lack of official investigation into the deaths: “The absence of inquests into these boys’ deaths indicated the lack of value that had been placed on their lives.”
Tardun housed British and Maltese orphans and State and private admissions aged 12 to 16 between 1928 and 1967.
Mr Walsh said he escaped Tardun in 1945, aged 16, with the help of a milk truck driver and landed a job with a confectionery factory in Perth.
Now aged 81 and based in Roma, Southern Queensland, Mr Walsh is one of 92 Tardun orphans who have received ex-gratia payments from Redress WA.
He moved to Queensland in 1975 after marrying and worked for various oil companies.
He was reunited with his mother in 1949 and again from 1965 until her death in 1967, but lost contact with his father after a brief meeting in Perth in 1949.
Mr Walsh said his father, a World War II prisoner of war, was homeless on his return to Australia.
Mr Walsh tracked down his four brothers in the 1970s.
He has two sisters, who are alive in Victoria.
Now a grandfather of seven and father of six children, he lives with his daughter.
He received the maximum $45,000 from Redress WA, which he described as an “insult”.
He said the Federal Government should apologise to the parents of children put into WA institutions.
“It was a crime that they stole children,” he said.