Academic highlights Forgotten Australians
GREGORY Smith was a homeless man sitting on a park bench beside a building site in Tweed Heads when he had an epiphany.
He suddenly saw that his future could be a different landscape from his past.
Last week the Southern Cross University academic, who now lives in Coffs Harbour, completed the final draft of his PhD thesis.
Titled Nobody's Children, his thesis is an exploration into the sense of belonging by children in institutional care.
It builds on his honours thesis Forgotten Australians and other work he has published on trauma.
The subject is an intensely personal one for Mr Smith, who spent nine of his first 19 years in care.
The topic is now seeing Australia-wide scrutiny.
Researchers are looking for people to take part in the Long Term Outcomes of Forgotten Australians Study, the first national research study to examine the range of experiences, both good and bad, of children in childhood institutions or out-of-home care between 1930 and 1989.
"It is important to have this information documented," Mr Smith said.
"It will provide material for researchers for many years to come, not just for the forgotten Australians but for people in care today."
Surrendered by his parents at the age of 10 and removed from a Tamworth home riven by poverty, alcohol abuse and domestic violence, Mr Smith recalls little of his childhood.
His dominant memory is that nobody ever told him what was going on.
By the age of 14 the angry and frustrated boy had been labelled uncontrollable and diagnosed as a borderline sociopath by a NSW government psychiatrist.
He did not begin to emerge from the psychological and social trauma of his early years until he was 45.
Then: "I realised 'I don't have to be what they say I am'. "
What finally saved him from a lonely and withdrawn existence was his love of learning.
The building site next to that park bench in 1999 was pivotal for Mr Smith.
He asked the workmen on the site what they were building and when they said "a university", he made up his mind to go there. He enrolled at TAFE and began studying even before he had a roof over his head.
People who are interested in being part of the Long-term Outcomes of Forgotten Australians study can find information and complete the survey at www.forgotten australians.unsw.edu.au or can contact the LOFA office on 02 9385 1516.
Coffs Harbour has a local support group, Coffs Harbour Never Forgotten Australians, which meets regularly and can be contacted via Coffs Harbour Neighbourhood Centre on 6648 3694.
There is also an inter-agency organisation, Voice-Up Australia, which advocates for funding to work with traumatised people.
Voice-Up holds a healing circle for women in Coffs Harbour every Monday.