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John Kingston McMahon


A Long Way to Goulacullin ďż˝

John Kingston McMahon


Copyright Š 2013 by John Kingston McMahon. Library of Congress Control Number: ISBN: Hardcover Softcover Ebook

2013922133 978-1-4931-3116-7 978-1-4931-3117-4 978-1-4931-3118-1

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

Rev. date: 12/03/2013

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Goulacullin (gill-a-cullen) Goulacullin (1429 acres) Gabhal a Chuilinn—Forked place of the holy. In the centre is Barrboy_Barr Buidhe (yellow summit) on which are remains of a prehistoric dwelling, beehive-shaped and probably thatched.

Gaelic translation: Cullin—glen or woods Goul—river Goulacullin—River by the glen


In memory of Snr. Constable Christopher Cameron Malone, Victoria Police 21999. 1959-1988.


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dedicate this story to all the young men and women brought up in the often-harsh world of child welfare homes and loveless institutions. We had no parents to love and guide us through our childhood, and our parent, the state, denied us our basic right of knowing our identity. We are the children of yesterday. Old and forgotten. Who will give us justice? Who will give justice to those of us who have suffered in silence for a lifetime? In silence because if we spoke about our pain and the abuse we suffered, it made those to whom we spoke uncomfortable. So we suppressed the pain. We waited and waited, but still nothing happened; no acknowledgement of our abuse was forthcoming from the politicians and others who could have done something about it. For them it was too hard to address the suffering of a generation of children that were in their care, even though they must have been aware of it. Who will give justice to those of us that didn’t survive in the homes where evil lived? My sad little companion whose eyes had seen no joy or laughter and whose only crime was to be born to parents that had no room in their hearts or lives for a child. Who will give him justice? If I hadn’t suggested to him that we run away, he may have survived! But I was 11 years old and he was 10, I did suggest we run away and he died. I feel so melancholy when I think of that little boy who had no tears left to cry. Why was he beaten again that day and I wasn’t? Why did I live and he didn’t? How many other nameless children died at the hands of their abusers, and how many are buried in nameless graves? Who will give them justice? We cannot undo the past anymore than we can cleanse our memories, and the ultimate responsibility for our welfare lay with our parent, The State. They fed us and they clothed us, but they turned a blind eye to our torment, our pain, and our suffering. Any parent that does that is a bad parent, and the current governments of all political persuasions should now make amends with more than just platitudes. Every child in care should have the right to know about their past, whether it be good or bad. To all of you who have not found what you have been searching for, stay strong and believe in yourselves.


By the time that I was 15 years old, I was a criminal. I had been charged numerous times with being an uncontrollable child, and being uncontrollable was a crime in the 1950s in New South Wales. This was reality. A few years later, this criminal record would see me sent to Long Bay Jail for a theft that I didn’t commit. I was a dumb welfare kid. I stood in the dock at North Sydney Magistrates Court charged with stealing forty dollars’ worth of second-hand saucepans and a car. It all happened so quickly. I spent a night in the North Sydney police cells, and the next morning, I would front the magistrate. The charges are read out, I was declared guilty and sentenced to six months’ jail. The whole process took about two minutes. Nobody asked me for my version of events. The police prosecutor told the magistrate that I had numerous prior convictions, so I must be guilty and I am going to jail. I was 18 years old.


The seasons of my life have passed by so quickly, and now as I reach the autumn of my life, I reflect on what has been and what might have been. I have been lucky and am somewhat surprised that I have made it this far on my journey of life. Now I look back and remember, on these pages, those that I knew and those whose lives were never fulfilled. I am only one of a quarter of a million people who were brought up in the child welfare system in the 1950s and ’60s in Australia, and who are now referred to as the Forgotten Australians. This is my story and the recollections of the years that are called by some ‘the good old days’!


CHAPTER 1 M

y sister Cathy and I were born in England. Our mother was English and our father was Irish. These days I prefer to think of myself as Irish rather than English; that’s just one of my many idiosyncrasies. England was still in turmoil, as the Second World War had ended two years prior to my birth. My parents had left their little Irish farm and its poverty to travel to England, to search for work. Instead they ‘found’ immigration to Australia. My father died within seven months of arriving in Australia, and my mother just disappeared, leaving Cathy and myself in an orphanage in Sydney. We of course knew nothing of this. It never appeared to bother my sister (not knowing where we came from), but not knowing about my roots, and in particular not knowing about my father, had created a deep inner turmoil. It would take another forty plus years before I could soothe my inner demons to find the truth about my father and my heritage. Before this happened, I would be involved in the death of a man under the wheels of a train. As fate would have it, this death would become the key to unlocking my past. I have vague memories of my father but none of my mother. I remember my father laughing, and now, as I get older, I like to think that the one legacy he left me is the ability to laugh. Our family’s emigration to Australia happened in 1949. My father was a farm labourer, and on our arrival in Sydney, he was offered employment as a laborer on a farm at Kybeyan, outside the small town of Nimmitabel in the southern highlands of New South Wales. Even today, it is a remote and desolate place. God only knows what it was like in the 1950s. We lived in a small farmhouse at Kybeyan. I think that there were two or three houses together, all for the farmworkers. The farm was large, over three thousand acres, and my father would spend days away from us. I later learned that my mother formed a relationship with another farmworker. The solitude and loneliness of that desolate place, coming from the bright lights of London, must have been unbearable to her. She left Cathy and I and disappeared with her new lover. My father got sick. The stress of having to look after two young children, with no family to assist him, took its toll. In his little room, he knelt on the floor next to his bed, as if he were praying. He had a rifle; he put the barrel to his chest and pulled the trigger. I think I saw this, but I didn’t understand what had happened. As a child and into adulthood, I carried the burden of not knowing what had happened to my father.

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Where were my roots? Who was I, and where did I come from? I wanted to know, I needed to know. There was no freedom of information laws in those dark days. I was a ward of the state of New South Wales, and therefore, the state was my parent. Not a very good one. It wouldn’t tell me what I desperately needed to know. As I grow older, my mind wanders and I think of fate and how it entered my life twice. I wonder if in my overwhelming desire to learn about my roots, I forced fate to lend a hand. But before fate pointed me where I needed to go, I would firstly be involved in the death of a policeman, and then secondly, fate would have it that I would make a late-night phone call, on a whim, to Ireland. That whim would see me travel there, where I would find the answers to the questions I had been searching for, for more than forty-nine years.


CHAPTER 2 A

fter the death of our father, Cathy and I were taken to an orphanage in Ashfield in the western suburbs of Sydney. There were many children there, nuns in dark habits and women in what appeared to be nurses’ uniforms. The dormitory that I slept in had a dozen or so iron-ended beds covered in grey blankets. I don’t remember when I first started to wet the bed, but I think I was about two and a half years old. It is my first recollection of being punished. I remember a nurse woman yelling at me because my pyjamas were wet. Another morning after I had wet the bed again, the other children had gone down to have breakfast and I was told to stand next to my bed. The nurse took off my wet clothes and gave me a hiding; she was smacking me on my bare bottom and yelling at me, ‘What a naughty boy you are.’ I was crying after the beating, and I saw her take the wet sheets from my bed and replace it with a dark rubber sheet. I was still crying and naked when she told me to get back onto the bed, the rubber sheet was cold and I had to stay on that bed for a very long time. I wasn’t allowed to join the other children for breakfast. Later on, I recall another woman coming into the dormitory and dressing me before sending me down to dinner; it wouldn’t be the last time that I would go all day without being fed. I continued to wet the bed, and depending on which nurse was on duty, the punishment was always the same. The play area at the orphanage was on a slope and went down to a stone fence where we would sit. The highlight of our day was when an old man would walk along the path below the stone fence. He always carried a tin of lollies (sweets). He would hold up the tin so that we were able to take one lollie each. I clearly remember that tin because it was oval and I could never remember seeing an oval tin with lollies in it before. Some days some children would be called out, and then dressed; somebody had told us that when you were dressed in new clothes, it meant that you were to meet your new parents. I don’t know how long Cathy and I were at the orphanage before this happened to us. Our new parents were Alice and Paddy McMahon. Paddy was a public servant who worked for the taxation office. He had been a soldier during the Second World War and had seen service in the Middle East; he was a man of few words and fewer emotions. My recollections of Paddy are of a hard man. On the other

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hand, Alice was quiet and loving in her own way, but the needs of Paddy would always come first. Alice could not have children of her own and desperately wanted a little girl. But baby girls for adoption were few and far between, so Cathy who was nearly 4 would have to do. The problem with Cathy was that she came with baggage. ‘Me.’ The McMahons didn’t want two children, and they certainly didn’t want a little boy. The problem that they had, though, was that we couldn’t be adopted at that time because our mother was still alive. The law in NSW wouldn’t allow a child to be adopted if a parent was still alive, even when, as in our case, our mother had abandoned us and couldn’t be found. My sister and I were available to be fostered out only, and that meant if they wanted Cathy, they had to take me as well. Such was the system of the child welfare agency in NSW in the 1950s. Put a child into a foster home even though they weren’t wanted. I was standing in the hallway, next to Cathy, dressed in my new clothes, a new small suitcase stood on the floor with us. This was the day Alice and Paddy McMahon were taking Cathy and me to our new home. Alice was quiet and gentle, overly sensitive and compliant to Paddy’s wishes. Paddy was short and stocky. A disciplinarian. I think his time in the war had scarred him emotionally and love to Paddy was just a word in a dictionary.


CHAPTER 3 T

he McMahons had a big house in suburban Arncliffe, about eight kilometres from Sydney; it stood directly under the flight path for the big planes landing at Kingsford-Smith Airport, a few miles away at Mascot. As a kid, I loved to stand in the backyard and watch the big planes flying low as they came in to land. Alice and Paddy were devout Catholics. Sunday Mass was mandatory, as was going to confession every Saturday night. I didn’t understand confession, but Alice would always tell me what to confess to the priest. She would list any or all of the things that I had done during the week that she and Paddy thought constituted a sin. The priest would listen to my confession before handing out my penance, which was usually anything from saying two Hail Marys to a complete rosary. A sin was anything that I had done that displeased Paddy. During mealtimes, Cathy and I were not allowed to talk, unless we were asked a question. Before we could eat, we had to say grace. We were not allowed to leave any food on our plates. It didn’t matter if we didn’t like what Alice had cooked, we had to finish what had been put there. And it didn’t matter how long it took, we couldn’t leave the table until she had checked our empty plates. One night when we were eating, Paddy was talking to Alice and I accidentally burped. Without any warning, he grabbed me by my earlobe and dragged me outside. He was in such a violent rage and I was so scared. He held me down and belted me on my backside until his rage had subsided. He told me to stay outside in the dark. I fell asleep on the cold concrete, and sometime later, Alice came outside and woke me and took me to bed. That night was the night the fear of Paddy was instilled in me. I was about 5 years old. Alice and Paddy were children of the Great Depression of the 1930s. This was brought about by the stock market crash in America in 1929. There was massive unemployment and no social security, which saw people living under road bridges and in camps. People who had nothing were not about to waste anything, so there was precious little scavenging to be done. As this was the way of Alice and Paddy’s childhood, it was now the way of my childhood. Nothing was wasted, and money was not spent on anything frivolous. The next-door neighbours had chooks, and Paddy grew his own vegetables, so Paddy would swap his vegetables for eggs. One day we were having boiled eggs for lunch. Alice had cut the top off my egg; it was nearly black inside and smelt

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A Long Way to Goulacullin - by John Kingston McMahon  

The seasons of my life have passed by so quickly, and now as I reach the autumn of my life, I reflect on what has been and what might have...

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