Born in Newtown, Sydney, in 1937, the eldest of two sons to Mary and Reginald Beauchamp, Carl Beauchamp was brought up in a dysfunctional household and first put into care in a church home at the age of seven. He spent the rest of his childhood and teenage years in and out of homes where […]
Come home, you little bastards
An evocative and at times harrowing account by octogenarian Carl Beauchamp of his poverty-stricken childhood in Sydney’s Inner West during the 1940s and ’50s, Come Home, You Little Bastards (180pp, $24.95) is a tale of neglect, abuse, hope and love.
Deputy Leader of the Opposition Tanya Plibersek’s moving speech at the book’s launch went viral on Facebook in December. The ebook edition is published today to tie in with an extract in the Australian Financial Review.
Born in inner-Sydney to an alcoholic mother and an absent father, Carl Beauchamp and his brother Neville ran wild until they were taken into care. That care turned out to be a nightmare, with the boys placed in separate boys’ homes, and in Carl’s case in the hands of sexual predators.
The boys survived, but Carl kept the horrors he had endured secret, even from his brother, for decades. When Carl found the strength to speak out, he discovered the tragic aftermath of life in the Church of England Charlton Boys’ Home for many of his fellow inmates.
Despite the adversity and the pain, Carl’s story is overwhelmingly optimistic and heartwarming. It contains recollections of 1940s and ’50s Sydney that will intrigue anyone who loves Newtown, Glebe and the surrounding suburbs, and is told in his own authentic voice.
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Rainy days were a great delight for us kids: the heavier the rain the better we liked it. We had a game of racing our ice cream sticks through the torrents of the gutters. We used to paint the sticks and write the names of our favourite racehorses on them. We would race up and down the gutter for hours.
My ice cream stick horse was named Flight. Flight was a mare bought for next to nothing by a Mr Crowley who was on the AJC committee, Flight once beat the champion horse Bernborough, and made Mr Crowley a small fortune.
We would all have a go at being Ken Howard, the famous horse race caller. Davey always called his ice cream stick Bernborough, and Ivan had Russia and Ken had San Dominico. I recall Barry Chapman used various names, but I always stuck with Flight, my favourite. We enjoyed our gutter racing; it was simple and didn’t cost anything.
Some days we would congregate on the verandah of one of our homes. We would sit around and play cards or play car games. Each of us would guess say how many Fords, Dodges or Buicks would come past us in the hour, or what cars would have the same colour.
During the winter weekdays, my mates and I would often visit Erskineville Oval and play footy on the grass outside the Oval. On the winter nights, the Newtown Bluebags rugby league team would train, beginning at five o’clock. Uninvited, we would train with them, running around the oval. My favourite player was Keith Froome and I ran near him, but steered clear of Frank “Bumper” Farrell who was a well-known policeman. He often told us to “piss off.” Big Mick Carter had bright red hair and owned a fruit shop on Erskineville Road. He trained harder than most. Jack Troy was a very fast winger and there was Jack Debenham, the fullback who later went to Wests. These were great days rubbing shoulder to shoulder with our favourite team. They were unforgettable moments in our young lives.
Moira Hartigan ran a respectable business at the Cosmopolitan Hotel. In those days, a separate room was set aside for women drinkers, called the ‘Hen Pen’. It did not take Mum long to join the Hen Pen set and soon she was spending her afternoons drinking. Needless to say, our lives suffered as a result. Seldom were meals cooked, and money soon ran out due to Mum’s drinking. If it was a hot day and she could not be bothered going over to the Hen Pen bar, Mum would give me this large glass jug with money and have me – a five-year-old little kid – go over and beckon one of her boyfriends or other men friends to the hotel door and ask them to fill the jug for Mum. Mum always warned me: “Don’t let Moira Hartigan see you.”
In those days the people doing bar work had no access to the till. Moira had a special area set up in the hotel centre where she had her cash register. The barmaids would take the money from the customer, give it to Moira and then return the change to the customer. If they received a tip they had to give it to Moira and she placed it in a jar for them to divide up after work.
Most of the men were very happy to do Mum a favour. God only knows how many favours she did them in return. Often when handing me the beer they would give me a penny for myself. I then had to walk slowly back to our house carrying the beer jug. Sometimes it was too full and I would stop and drink some so as not to waste any. Nobody could say I was stupid: I liked the beer taste.
Many a time when Mum had no money for beer, she would force open the gas meter box and take money from it, but of course this would have to be repaid. Well one day the meter collection man arrived before Mum had a chance to pay back what she had taken, so she said: “Someone has broken into the house.” Did they believe her? Mum and her smile and good looks would even convince the devil.
Sometimes while I was waiting for the man to fill Mum’s jug with beer, some of the men in the pub, feeling sorry for me, would put some money in my hands, saying: “Don’t let your mother have it: buy some lollies.” I felt like a king as I later chose various lollies at the corner shop, choosing carefully, one of those and some of these. It brought a smile to my face. Mum was greedy and if she knew I had some money she would take it from me.
Mum then started bringing a few of her drinking friends – mostly women – home each day when Reg was at work. They would sit around all afternoon talking, singing and drinking. When they emptied one jug they would go over to the hotel or have me go over and have their men friends refill the jug, over and over again all afternoon. Needless to say, housework never got done and meals were not prepared. Mum was often too pissed to care. As the housekeeping money was being used for Mum’s pleasure, my brothers and I became much like the children under the control of Fagan in a Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist: no shoes and with the backsides out of our pants, we never had sheets and only a few threadbare, worn-out army blankets.
For a long time after the owner Mr Isles had fumigated our house, we also had no mattress to sleep on nor a pillow, because all these had been burnt down the backyard to prevent a reinfestation of bugs and fleas. So Mum placed old newspapers over the bed wire. They were very uncomfortable to sleep on.
Well with all the drinking, it did not take Mum and her friends long to start fighting and become enemies. I recall one instance with the Hardman family next door at 37 Albert Street. Old Mrs Hardman had two daughters. One was bitchy Agnes. The other was a good-looking redhead who was a little jealous of Mum. She had been one of Mum’s close drinking friends, but they had a falling out over the men giving Mum more attention than her.
One day an argument using extreme foul language was heard everywhere out in the street: another day of entertainment for the busybodies of Albert Street. I soon learnt what swear words were all about: my Mum invented lots of foul words. Eventually Mum turned it into a violent brawl in the middle of the street. Mum fought the Hardman women. Soon she had the mother, who she called “Bitchface”, on the ground, punching and pulling her hair out. She had Agnes on her back and the old Hardman mother ran inside nursing a broken nose, blood everywhere. Mum shook Agnes off, got up and smashed Agnes once in the centre of her face. She fell to the ground and Mum kept punching her head. Shortly a few of the hotel drinkers decided everyone had had enough free entertainment. They grabbed Mum, pulling her away. I tell you, these men were brave: as they released their grip on Mum, she swung a wild punch which hit one quite hard and he backed away, retreating back to the hotel and calling Mum a maniac. “Keep away from that blonde whore: she’s lost her mind,” he told his mates.
Someone had called the police. When they arrived, everything was quiet: all combatants had retreated to the safety of their homes. The police could hear swearing behind the respective doors of the female warriors, so they knocked on our door, but Mum would not answer, and eventually the police drove off.
This battle provided the ingredients for Mum and Dad to have one last fight. Mum had taken up with Flossie Forest, who lived six houses up in the next block near the John Street corner but two, and they had become real good drinking mates; there was also another lady, Sylvia, who was only a learner drinker. Sylvia lived in Campbell Street, Newtown, and worked for the Post Master General’s Department. Sylvia liked me a lot and was always hugging me and kissing me and touching me all over my body. I liked Sylvia: she made me feel real good and she always gave me a few pennies. Often whilst my father was at work Mum and some of her friends – Flossie, Sylvia, Joyce or Agnes – would take men up to the bedrooms. I often walked in on them doing it: I would watch and they never paid any attention to me being present. At first I was confused but after a while I knew what was going on.
Mum just could not get enough sex. No matter how many times Mum denied having sex with other men, my father Reg always had doubts about her faithfulness.
One day, Mum had placed Neville and myself in bed and when we were asleep she sneaked out to meet Bill, her latest boyfriend. He was a conductor on the 300 bus that went from Erskineville to Sydney. Her girlfriends Joyce and Flossie were both having extramarital affairs with the bus driver. The bus would stop outside our house and Mum and one or other of her girlfriends would get on the bus, with the driver stopping under the MacDonaldtown railway bridge. This was only a hundred yards from our house but was secluded. All lights in the bus were switched off and here on this winter evening, they all cuddled up and had sex.
Our father had come home earlier than expected and found us asleep, but Mum was nowhere to be found. Some time later Mum came in with an excuse that Reg accepted. However, a few weeks later as he came home, Agnes Hardman – the brave warrior next door – called out: “Reg, have you a spare moment?” Reg said: “Yes, what do you want?” She said: “I don’t want to cause trouble, but Bebe has been having an ongoing affair with Bill the driver’s conductor on the 300 bus.” She added: “She and her girlfriend only a short time ago jumped on the bus and on the return trip parked as usual under MacDonaldtown railway bridge.” She then swiftly departed inside. So much for her not wanting to cause trouble!
Reg was in a mad rage and he waited for the bus to arrive. Shortly it came around the bend. Reg jumped aboard and ran to the driver, placed one arm around the driver’s neck and punched him with the other, over and over. The bus was all over the road. As it came to the tunnel bend at MacDonaldtown railway station the driver lost control and the bus nearly rolled over.
By this time the conductor, who was upstairs with Mum, had raced down and punched Reg. Reg turned and punched him, leaving the conductor a bloody mess on the floor. The driver had now stopped the bus and run away, and in the other direction ran Mum and her girlfriends. The bus was damaged – in his rage Dad had broken some of the windows – and the conductor was dripping blood all over the place, but no driver could be seen.
My father then returned home to confront Mum, but before he had a chance to do so the Newtown Police arrived. They charged him and placed him in a cell. Reg later came before the Magistrate charged with assault. The Magistrate must have felt sorry for Reg and only fined him, with a severe warning to keep the peace. My Uncle Seth prior to his death had told me the Magistrate had been going to send Reg to gaol but took pity on him because he blamed Mum for causing all these problems. This Newtown Magistrate was no fool.
Mum had gone into hiding, but Reg eventually found her. By this time he had calmed down. He knew it was no use continuing with the relationship. Well Reg then packed all his personal belongings and moved out, leaving my little brother Neville and me with Mum. I was about five at this time and Neville was three. In later years Dad said he had no choice in the matter as Mum had full custody sanctioned by the Court. I don’t know if that was true.
And so Neville and I were left to many more years of neglect and violence. Always hungry, cold and sick, often with boils and suffering malnutrition to such an extent that we were very lethargic a lot of the time. The drunken sex orgies continued, and we became even more neglected. Every weekend was a love-in at 39 Albert Street, Erskineville. Some neighbours, like the Thorne family, called our house “The Whorehouse”.
With Reg gone, Mum had to get a job. Soon she was working for JJ Hoelie, a factory that made bakelite light switches, in Darlington. This now gave her a new wave of friends, men and women, and new and bigger weekend drunken sex parties, which took place in full view of Neville and myself. We were learning too fast about what adults did together.
My first really bad experience came from what I at first thought was goodness on Sachisthal’s part. It was school holidays, and he chose about 20 boys to go on this Christmas camp down Camden way where there was a river nearby. The camp was called ‘Toc H’ and was a part of the YMCA, as were the many men who organised the camp. About 50 boys went, and every boy was enjoying something they had never been part of previously. Sporting activities were part of every day’s recreation. We all participated in cross-country races and swimming races in the river. I was very good at most sports and won more races than I lost.
During this summer of 1950 it was very hot and after breakfast most of us would enjoy a few hours swimming in the river under supervision. There was a swinging rope attached to a large tree, which was real fun and we all took turns by lining up for our turn of the swinging rope. We then would return to our tents and line up in front of our tents for the daily inspection. Points were given each day for how tidy your tent was and how well your own space was kept.
The meals were ever so good. We even had eggs each day with our toast and even butter to spread. We had a choice of cereals and we poured Sunshine powdered milk over it and we could use as much sugar as we desired. The tea was better than at the Home and did not have that terrible bromide taste. Sometimes we even had bacon. At lunchtime we often had sandwiches and fruit and cakes to eat with our cup of tea. Our evening meals were really good with the usual vegetables around sausages and even steak and sometimes we had a mince stew. So we had real variety and there was always plenty left over for seconds.
But even the best things must end and what was good suddenly turned evil. One night in a sound sleep, I woke to strange things happening to me, and my pyjama pants down near my feet. I could not turn, as Mr Menzies who was beside me was holding me down and was hurting me badly, penetrating me. I tried very hard to push him away but he was stronger than I was. Once he was satisfied he got up off me, leaving me in pain and distress.
After he had left me, I noticed I was bleeding and there was cum all over me. I felt really dirty and I could not get back to sleep. I got up early before the sun started to rise, and I went by myself to the river to wash everything away. I was crying and very frightened by the bleeding from my backside. I had a short swim and arrived back to the tent as the others were getting dressed. I was the tent leader and checked my own gear was in order and checked all the other boys’ gear. I was so ashamed of what Menzies did to me, I could not look anyone in the eyes. We all went to breakfast and there I saw Menzies again, who I avoided: I could not bring myself to look or speak to him. All day long I avoided him until just before bed that evening, when he cornered me and warned me about speaking to others of what he had done to me the previous night. There was no need to warn me: I hated him so much and wanted to report him, but I was too ashamed and was not going to tell a living soul.
That night I found it hard to sleep and I kept looking out of the tent as I was nearest the entrance. Soon everyone was asleep except me. I recall praying and asking my God to help me, over and over. I must have fallen to sleep because next thing I remember it was morning and one of the boys was shaking me awake.
The camp was over and we all packed and climbed on the back of the truck, which took about twenty of us, and then we were off on our return to the Home at Glebe. Sachisthal was waiting in the yard as we arrived home and told us to take our gear to our rooms and report back to his office. In the office was Ray Menzies laughing and joking with Sachisthal. After that Sachisthal told us what jobs we had to do. I wanted to tell him what happened, but because of the previous incident where little Alan Smith had reported being raped and was punished by Sachisthal ever after, I decided to keep my mouth shut and try and get over it.