Meet Hilly. One of my new mates and heroes.
He only recently learned of his full name, Gordon Hill, and his date of birth. He used to be called Number 29.
You see Hilly was placed in the Catholic St Joseph’s orphanage in Ballarat when he was very young. He was just a number to them. And when, in his early teens, they needed to make room for the new-comers, they heartlessly kicked him out. Number 29 was around 14yo at the time, all alone in this world, left to fend for himself. St Joseph’s gave him the meagre sum of two shillings and nine pence, enough money to pay to return by post the suitcase they lent him. Because he couldn’t read, he didn’t realise he was meant to return it. So he kept it. He still proudly has the suitcase.
During his years at the orphanage, he was treated with brutal inhumanity, ostensibly by religious people. Individuals who pray regularly to their God, people who believed the rest of us were going to pay gravely for our sins, unless, of course, we joined them.
He was deprived of his dignity and basic human rights; no education, food deprivation, mental abuse, brutal physical and sexual assaults, and the like. The nuns used to force him and his peers to cut the whips from the trees with which they would brutally assault them. They even pulled out his teeth with pliers; he was caught eating a carrot he found while working because he was starving. While as an adult he received false teeth, they no longer fit in his mouth due to the damage they caused to his cheek bones when the brutes pulled out his teeth. As you can imagine, Hilly has scars all over his body – not to mention his emotional scars. As he tearfully told me, he never even got a hug. Listening to his harrowing ordeal, I had to wipe away my tears, too.
Hilly was constantly on the run. He pretty much ran as far as he could within Australia; from Ballarat (Victoria – Australia’s East) to Western Australia.
Despite his brutal introduction into this world, Hilly made a life for himself. He got married, has four children, and several grandchildren. He taught himself to read and write. In fact, he's currently writing a book about his life. He's worked on cattle stations. Most importantly, Hilly has regained his identity. And it's not as if he had it all going for him in his adult life. His dear wife died of cancer a while ago.
And he's a caring, loving and beautiful soul. He's even volunteered plenty, earning recognition from the Rotaries – a medal he wears proudly around his neck to prove it.
Due to his age and experience, the Ballarat group of courageous survivors, their family members and support staff in Rome – there to attend the Royal Commission public hearing with Cardinal George Pell – referred to Hilly as their shepherd. But as Hilly told me, even a shepherd needs to be looked after. And he feels he has that in this incredible group I was honoured to spend time with in Rome.
So next time you're struggling, take inspiration from this incredible human being, Hilly. Indeed, from this entire group of courageous survivors whose stories are no less harrowing. I'll certainly endeavour to do so.
I'm proud of my new mate and hero Hilly. In fact proud of the entire courageous Ballarat group. And I'm delighted to call them mates.