Shining a light on Forgotten Australians

LOOKING AHEAD: Gregory Smith has completed four-years' of research into Forgotten Australians.
LOOKING AHEAD: Gregory Smith has completed four-years' of research into Forgotten Australians. Leigh Jensen

A SURVIVOR of institutional care, who then spent years living off the grid in the NSW bush, has completed a PhD highlighting the experiences of the Forgotten Australians.

Gregory Smith, a lecturer at SCU, has spent four years conducting an in-depth look at the experiences of 21 people who grew up in care - of whom he is one.

Gregory's own story echoes many, and it is one he is only recently learning to share.

He was born in Tamworth in 1955 and surrendered by his parents to a Catholic orphanage at the age of 10.

"I'm a product of domestic violence, alcoholism, dysfunctionalism in an era when it wasn't acceptable, but at the same time it was tolerated - there wasn't a lot done," he said.

"When I was 10, I was told I was going to Armidale to visit an aunty and then I found myself being unloaded at an orphanage.

"In line with the times, children weren't informed of the decisions that affected them."

For the next nine years, Gregory would live in multiple care homes and spent his later teenage years in the punitive system after attempts at absconding.

"We learnt to march, how to clean grease traps, and given a diamond tipped crow-bar for busting rocks for six hours a day," he said.

"I didn't learn how to communicate, how to live a basic life out in society... What I did learn was how to march, how to fold my clothes. Discipline was more important."

When Gregory came out of the institution, he found short-term jobs but had no baseline reference of how to conduct himself.

He said alcohol and drugs led to the catalyst to the darkest period of his life.

"I became a hermit. I went out and lived out in the bush by myself, with myself, for myself, for 10 years. I neglected myself very deeply and very badly and got very sick out there."

At age 45, he walked out of the bush. He said from the experience, he found a way to reconcile himself with society.

He completed a tertiary preparation program, much of which he completed while still homeless, and went on to finish a Bachelor of Social Science at SCU and an Honours degree.

Mr Smith said his focus was now on making a difference in the lives of the Forgotten Australians - a driving force of his PhD.

"Key finds showed majority of participants experienced challenges in developing relationships in their family, within their community and in society more broadly."

Gregory said of the multiple inquiries and commissions into the out of home child care and punitive systems since 1853, little had been achieved.

He believes more political willpower and social awareness are ways to improve outcomes.

"I look at what's happening in the NT, and from those kids' perspective - regardless of what offence they've committed and their attitude - I understanding where they're coming from.

"For those kids to simply 'get on with ther lives' ... You can you develop the ability to manage and cope with it, but you can never leave it behind."

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