Sexual abuse survivors, baby migrants vow to struggle for Tuart Place help service amid eviction menace

A crucial support service that has become a “second home” for former child migrants and survivors of sexual abuse in institutions is fighting possible eviction by its landlord, the Christian Brothers.

Key points:

  • The service counsels abuse survivors from Christian institutions
  • It has been renting its Fremantle premises on a peppercorn lease
  • Christian Brothers say they now have to sell the premises

“We’re not going to go, the people will not go,” said Philippa White, the director of the service which has been operating from a property in the West Australian port city of Fremantle for 15 years.

Tuart Place provides support and specialized counseling services to over 500 clients, many of them men who attended Christian Brothers’ institutions as children and have the lifelong scars to prove it.

Philippa White says Tuart Place provides a crucial support service. ( Supplied: Sum Effect Photography)

Dr White said the Christian Brothers had been renting the property to Tuart Place at a peppercorn rate, but in June last year they were notified that the lease was ending.

“We have tried everything to find an alternative place, or to convince the Christian Brothers to let us stay,” Dr White said.

“But, they are saying they want us out.”

A lady talks to a man in front of a book case Tuart Place has more than 500 clients from a variety of backgrounds.(ABC News: Claire Moodie)

John Ryall is a former child migrant from Wales, who, at the age of six, was shipped to Fremantle and ended up at the Christian Brothers’ Castledare Orphanage in the Perth suburb of Wilson.

Mr Ryall said he was “terrified” when he first came to Tuart Place in 2008 but has since taken on a leadership role as a board member.

“I’d been nearly 25 years in recovery as a recovering alcoholic and I thought I’d done a lot of work on myself,” he said.

“But, when I came here, I realized boom, there’s a whole heap more of the Pandora’s box to open up.”

John Ryall John Ryall says it would be “another slap in the face” from the Christian Brothers if Tuart Place was evicted.(supplies)

It was a “brutal” existence at Castledare, he said, which featured regular floggings for reporting the brothers who were molesting him.

“I ran away from Castledare about two or three times.

“Funnily enough, the same sergeant picked me up twice and nothing was ever done, but I got a flogging for running away and being disloyal and telling lies about the brothers.”

An old photo of John Ryall as a child John Ryall says life at Castledare orphanage was “brutal”.(ABC News: Claire Moodie)

Now after a “long, long journey”, the 76-year-old was determined to fight the sale of Tuart Place.

He said the Christian Brothers had previously challenged Tuart Place over its role in referring sexual abuse survivors to a legal firm that was handling civil claims against the brothers.

As well as support and counseling services, Tuart Place helps clients apply for compensation under the National Redress Scheme but it also assists clients with accessing legal support for civil claims.

a support group Clients say that Tuart Place is like their “safe place” and their “family”.(ABC News: Claire Moodie)

Dr White said since the law changed in Western Australia, lifting the statute of limitations on civil claims in 2018, the service had been referring clients to a law firm to assist with their cases.

“The Christian Brothers approached us after the law changed and asked us not to refer people to … a particular law firm that was getting very high settlements,” she said.

“And of course, we couldn’t do that.

“We’ve always been really strong advocates for care leavers and once the law changed, of course we were going to refer them to the most effective legal support.”

Dale Lynch (left), Kevin Collins and Robyn Williams Dale Lynch (left), Kevin Collins and Robyn Williams say Tuart Place has helped them turn their lives around.(ABC News: Claire Moodie)

The late Paul Bradshaw was the program’s first client to secure a settlement through Rightside Legal.

He was awarded a record $1 million in compensation.

Whilst Tuart Place says it first heard about the sale in June last year, in a statement, the Christian Brothers Oceania Province said it had advised Tuart Place and FACT (its governing body – Forgotten Australians Coming Together Inc) three years ago of the intention to sell the building.

Province leader, Brother Gerard Brady, said they did not want to discuss the building’s sale in the public domain, but said Tuart Place had been given plenty of financial support over the past 25 years.

In addition to the low lease fees, they had contributed $100,000 to support the sustainable transition of the service to new premises.

He said the Province had spent $123 million supporting those who had been abused in Christian Brothers facilities in WA through settlements and the provision of counseling and other supports.

“We have tried earnestly over the past three years to assist Tuart Place, its Board and its Management relocate in a managed and sustainable way, and we remain open to continuing to work collaboratively with them so that they can achieve that goal and secure a new one home for their organization,” said Brother Brady.

But, Tuart Place says they first became aware of the Christian Brothers plans in June 2021 and had been trying to negotiate with them since.

The annual financial report for the Trustees of the Christian Brothers ending December 2021 shows the organization paid over $90 million in legal and litigation expenses.

Its total equity was stated to be about $60 million.

But, Dr White, alleged, the Christian Brothers had well over that amount in assets and selling the Tuart Place property was a choice, not a necessity.

Paddy Cannon with his brothers, Michael Derrig (left) and John Joe Derrig (right) standing on the street in Fremantle Paddy Cannon with his brothers, Michael (left) and John Joe (right) in Fremantle.(ABC News: Claire Moodie)

She pointed to a new $9 million housing development the Christian Brothers were building in the Perth suburb of Waterford as an example.

Dr White said the Tuart Place property was valued at $2.3 million and the service had even been offered to buy it under a “vendor finance” arrangement but there had been no response to the offer.

As Tuart Place prepares to ramp up its public campaign to fight the eviction, it has got some political support in its corner.

The WA Labor government, which provides operational funding, has written to the Christian Brothers, who are based in Melbourne, urging them to reconsider the sale.

WA Community Services Minister Simone McGurk in an open area with trees and grass in the background. WA Community Services Minister Simone McGurk has urged the Christian Brothers to reconsider.(ABC News: Rebecca Carmody)

WA Liberal Senator Dean Smith, a patron of Tuart Place, has also written to the Christian Brothers, calling for a moratorium on the sale of the property, cc-ing in the Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne Peter Comensoli .

Dr White said the service had avoided going public about the situation for as long as possible because of the impact on the people who supported Tuart Place.

She said these people largely fall under three groups – former child migrants, stolen generation survivors and Forgotten Australians (Australian-born people who were taken into care).

“It is so traumatizing for people to feel that their service is under threat, to feel that once again they’re under the control of the Christian Brothers, that they have the power to decide whether they will have a service or not,” she said.

Counselor and woman sit at desk with vases of fresh flowers The service offers support and counseling for survivors, including those who suffered abuse at Christian Brothers institutions. (Supplied: Sum Effect Photography)

Dr White said it was very difficult for Tuart Place to find another home because of the scale and nature of the services offered, including a large area for clients to meet and share meals together.

An aged care navigator was also based on-site to help people access care.

Robyn Williams did not go to a Christian Brothers’ institution but depends heavily on Tuart Place as a “safe place”.

portrait shot of Robyn Williams with background blurred out Robyn Williams says she’s determined to fight the possible closure of Tuart Place.(ABC News: Claire Moodie)

Ms Williams said she was in her early teens when she was raped by a staff member while in care.

She escaped and hitch-hiked to Sydney to try to find her mother, only to find that her mother did not want her and subsequently took her to Parramatta girls home.

After a crippling long-term heroin addiction, she has been clean for 20 years and credits Tuart Place for keeping her alive.

“The one thing we’ve got that has until now been reliable… and they want to take it away,” Ms Williams said.

“I’ve managed to get my life back on track and I’m frightened now, if they take this away from me, I don’t know what will happen.

“We’re not going anywhere. If they want to drag us old ladies out of here, let them try.”

77-year-old former child migrant, Patrick McGowan, said now was not the time for the service to fold.

woman and man sit together holding up black and white photos Ann McVeigh and Paddy Cannon are both former child migrants and regulars at Tuart Place.(ABC News: Claire Moodie)

“Let’s face it, we’re not getting any younger, so we need this place more than we’ve ever needed it before,” Mr McGowan said.

“So I think that’s one thing they [the Christian Brothers] should think about.

“The reason we come here is because we know we are going to see people who’ve had the same experiences as we’ve had, so we can relate to each other.

“When you see some of the guys around here, you know they need somebody that welcomes them with open arms.

“You always feel at home here.”

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