Boy, 10, snatched from UK home and sent to Australia to be treated like a slave
At just 10 and seven years old, Rex and his younger brother Kevin were faced with a life-changing bombshell.
They’d always known that Margaret, the lady who looked after them, wasn’t their real mum.
But they loved her – she was kind, affectionate and caring.
They’d spent years wondering why their real mum didn’t want them.
Then one day, there was a knock on the door.
Margaret and her partner let a lady in, exchanged awkward hellos, and the lady walked up to the boys’ bedroom.
"Are you our mum?" asked Rex nervously.
"No, I’m afraid not, I’m Dorothy and I’m here to help you two.
"You’re about to begin a new chapter in your lives, a very exciting one, and Margaret said I could come and talk to you about where you’d like to go."
Living a lovely life in rural Cornwall with their foster mum, they didn’t understand why they had to leave.
But Margaret had just had a baby with a new partner, and now the newborn had arrived, Paul, the father, turned his back on the boys.
He’d never been particularly kind to them – he was nothing like sweet Margaret.
Choking back tears, the boys were offered three options – boarding school, to work on a pig farm, or a new life at a children’s home in Australia.
"I loved animals and we’d just been studying Australia at school so it seemed amazing," explained Rex.
Within weeks the boys were being shipped over to the other side of the world, given suitcases packed full of brand new clothes and told stories of glorious beaches and amazing animals.
"A couple who were accompanying us on our flight came to meet us and we were both really excited," explains Rex.
"When we stopped off at Singapore we realised they hadn’t spoken to us much, but we were too busy playing with our toys.
"It turned out to be the least of our worries.
"The second we landed in Tasmania, after taking a small plane from Sydney airport, we saw a couple stood on the tarmac.
"A skinny lady and a balding well-built man. Harry and Lily.
"The couple who travelled with us handed us over to them and walked away.
"It was the last time we ever saw them.
"I turned to my brother and said, ‘I don’t like them.’"
That’s when the reality of life in Australia started to unravel for the boys.
With the scorching sun heating up the car, the brothers took the 15-mile journey to the care home.
Set in sprawling acres of land, the huge stately home looked majestic from the outside.
But inside, the living conditions were basic at best.
"The rooms were dark and dingy," recalls Rex.
"We were led down a long corridor to our dorm room and were met with hard wooden beds with a thin sheet on top.
"No home comforts, just a comb each on our bed.
"We asked for our suitcases because we were excited to wear our new clothes, but instead we were given uniforms.
"We felt alone and scared."
With shower rooms made of concrete (and a strict scrubbing the floor routine after each shower), the next morning the boys were woken up for morning exercise.
They were to run laps of the garden three times before starting their daily chores.
"The other boys in the home warned us that if we stepped out of line we’d be severely beaten," says Rex.
The chores ranged from polishing the banisters, cleaning the owner’s room, peeling vegetables for meal times or scrubbing the floors.
"Slowly I started to hate it and resented their commands," explains Rex.
With just support from each other, Rex and Kevin found themselves thrown into the same hellish routine every day.
After exercise and chores, they’d walk to school ("Even in the pouring rain we’d never be allowed a lift,"), and get home to finish their duties around the house.
Then, the physical violence started.
"One day while working in the kitchen the phone rang, so without a second thought, I answered it," says Rex.
"All of a sudden I’m face down on the floor with a searing pain in my chin and blood bursting from my bottom lip. Lily was standing over me screaming at me."
Although both the boys were frightened of life at the home, it was Rex who started to rebel.
Rex began to steal money from Harry, which only led to more punishments. One of the worst resulted in a vicious dog bite.
"Harry called me into his office to punish me for stealing a banknote from his pocket.
"He started striking me on the head until I fell to the ground.
"His dog’s jaws sunk into my ankles and I wailed in agony as I tried to kick him off.
"The last thing I remember was Harry calling to Lily to ask for help clearing up the blood."
Rex and his brother felt no love and were constantly exploited.
They were bullied at school because of their accents, and any friends they did make they weren’t allowed to socialise with out of school hours as it ate into "chore time".
Letters arrived regularly but they were never given to the boys.
At the weekends they were forced to do additional work – Harry would drive them to a large house owned by two old ladies to work as cleaners.
"We’d tend the thistles in the garden and injure ourselves on the tools," explains Rex.
"They’d have us doing all their household chores and when Harry came back for us the ladies would pay him. He was using us for his own financial gain."
One thing that Rex did like about Australia was the animals.
He’d always been an animal lover and was occasionally allowed to feed and play with the farm animals at the home.
But Harry saw this as a way to traumatise Rex once again.
"About two years after we’d arrived, Harry took me to the aviary and asked me to pick up a goose – I was delighted.
"I loved cradling the peaceful creature in my arms, feeling the warmth of its feathers.
"’Snap its neck,’ demanded Harry.
"I told him I loved the goose and I didn’t want to.
"The more I protested, the more aggravated he became as he snatched the goose from me, killed it and made me carry its lifeless body into the kitchen to prepare it for a meal.
"He called me a coward as tears pricked my eyes."
By the time Rex was 12, he’d started drinking heavily.
Stealing money from wherever he could, he’d frequently run away but was always found.
One particularly awful time, Rex tried to escape and hitchhiked with a man who raped him.
"I hated myself for a long time after that," says Rex solemnly.
"It made things worse."
Hitting rock bottom, Rex’s spiral into alcoholism resulted in a short stay in a young offenders Institute after he was caught stealing.
"I felt bad for leaving my brother behind, but I would have done anything to be away from Harry and Lily."
By 16, in a detention centre once again, Rex contemplated taking his own life.
"I thought I’d never see my brother again, I’d never get any qualifications, I had nothing to aim for and couldn’t sink any lower.
"I started drinking weed killer but became overcome with guilt.
"I stopped myself and spent days in hospital recovering. I just felt so low."
Living with trauma
Rex’s upbringing dramatically affected his whole life.
He lost touch with Kevin after he ran away from the care home, and ended up living a violent and criminal life.
"Eventually I realised Australia wasn’t for me, so I headed back to England to search for any remaining family," Rex explains.
Working in a metal factory, he saved up enough money for a ticket, and set off to find out more about his past.
But the trauma ran deep, and when Rex returned to England, he struggled to connect with any surviving family and fell once again into a spiral of self-destructive behaviour.
"I felt as if I hadn’t achieved anything in my life at all.
"I blamed the authorities for failing to see how my brother and I were treated and continued rebelling.
"I ended up in court several times, alcohol plagued my life and with no job or direction, I found myself in a homeless shelter."
Eventually, following health problems, Rex knew his lifestyle had to change.
He started to get his life back on track.
Moving into a caravan he became involved in the community, built friendships and tried to put the betrayal he had faced behind him.
He met his wife, Annie, and ended up back in Cornwall, where intense therapy helped him come to terms with his past.
He’s campaigned to the Government about his mistreatment, and slowly but surely, he began to piece together his life.
Kevin stayed in Australia, and the brothers are now close again, visiting each other regularly.
Rex discovered that their biological mum, Marina, had died 10 years ago.
"I don’t hold any resentment towards Mum at all.
"She wanted us to be adopted – it was the system that failed us."
– Read more about Rex’s story in The Last Orphan. Get 10% off The Last Orphan (RRP £7.99) with offer code X10. Call 01256 302 699 or click here.
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