Graham Rundle’s harrowing account of the sexual, physical and emotional abuse he was subjected to as a child is horrific, challenging and yet remarkable – and now it is finally in print.
The Bucketty resident’s book ‘44: A Tale of Survival’ details his childhood at the Salvation Army-operated Eden Park Boys Home at Mount Barker, near Adelaide.
He was sent there in 1960 by his father at the age of seven, and was subjected to eight years of sexual abuse from a sergeant at the home, William John Keith Ellis, who was convicted and jailed in 2009.
‘44’ was the number that Rundle became when he was initially put into the facility, as his clothes and possessions were taken away and he was given the oversized clothes of the previous number 44.
Rundle fled the home as a teenager in 1968 before re-building his life as an adult.
Life brought him to a property in Bucketty in 1979 where he married and raised two children, but the horror of Eden Park never left him.
It was in 2000, after years of struggling with the memories, that Rundle decided to drive back to South Australia.
After returning to the home, criminal and civil proceedings against the Salvation Army began to materialise, and so did the idea of writing his story.
Lawyers asked Rundle to write down his experiences for the purposes of evidence and so, over two weeks, he began to painstakingly recount the horrors that had occurred four decades earlier.
At his Bucketty property Rundle shut himself off from the world for a fortnight, often spending 10 hours a day transcribing his thoughts onto paper.
After retiring of an evening, Rundle would often be plagued by nightmares that would he would then re-visit when he sat down to write the next day.
Even after completing the account Rundle said he never even considered the text becoming a book.
“I’d written submissions to court before but nothing like this, and reading it back I was surprised at just how clear I was able to remember,” he said.
“It wasn’t ever intended to be a book at all.”
It was only after feedback from the South Australia’s Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) that Rundle began to explore the option of having the transcript published.
“After the trial was all over and everything and he (Ellis) had been sentenced, the DPP told me that this should be published, and that everybody should know about it,” he said.
“A few other people started telling me the same thing too, but I never thought people would want to read about it.”
Following the conclusion of the criminal trial in 2009, which saw Ellis sentenced to 16 years’ jail, and the settlement of Rundle’s civil case in 2010, he sent out the transcript of his notes but encountered little interest.
That all changed in in 2012, when Rundle was called to give evidence at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse.
“All of a sudden that changed and a lady I know (children’s writer Susan Gervais) suggested to ring an agent named Brian Cook and I did,” he said.
“When I told him my story he ummed and ahhed about it, but he agreed to meet with a number of publishers.
“Twenty-four hours later we were sitting in a meeting and his daughter, who was then in Adelaide and knew what had happened, rang and said ‘Dad, you’ve got get this published’.”
Rundle’s inspiring account piqued the interest of Australian publisher Five Mile Press, and from there his desire to have his story on the public record became a reality.
When he had initially tried to gauge interest in a book back in 2009, he’d done so after having his notes heavily edited, but what he found was that the life – his life – had been sucked out of the story.
“The editor from Five Mile Press, Jenny Lee, was fantastic with it and she called me five times a day to ask questions, and to clarify details of it,” he said.
“She kept insisting that my personal side of the story was kept – she didn’t want to wreck it by over-editing it.
“A lot of it I wanted to take out, and she said ‘if you want really want to you can but it’s those bits that make the story personal’.
“I don’t really want it to be my story, the main thing is I wanted it published for it so that it is on record and people know what it was like.”
Rundle said he has been amazed at the reaction to the book’s publishing, both from those close to him, from complete strangers and even former residents at Eden Park.
But even positive reaction hasn’t been easy to accept.
“It’s been overwhelming, to be honest,” he said.
“The feedback that I’ve gotten…it’s hard to take, I can take criticism but I have a hard time taking praise and I think that’s ingrained from the home.
“I acknowledge people appreciate it but sometimes I really don’t know what to say.”
The most striking feedback for Rundle, however, has been from his children, who while growing up watched him struggle to deal with the memories, but were unable to comprehend why.
“I remember my son telling me after he’d read that he knew I’d had a hard life – he just didn’t know why,” he said.
“That’s the good bit, to hear from my children.
“They realised there was an element, but they just didn’t understand the horror.”
'44: A Tale Of Survival' by Graham Rundle is available through Five Mile Press.