Watchman quit over violence
A former watchman at a state home for boys says he saw so much violence he quit after just four weeks on the job.
Now elderly and living with Parkinson’s, Pulotu Arthur Solomon has broken a lifelong silence to stand with the survivors of the O¯ wairaka Boys’ Home in Auckland. His testimony was read out by his daughter, Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i.
During his short stint at the home in 1962, Solomon watched boys being forced to fight each other, witnessed a senior staff member beat a child ‘‘to a pulp’’, seemingly for no reason, and was encouraged to verbally abuse the boys in his care.
It made him feel ‘‘crook’’, he said in his statement, heard at the Royal Commission into Abuse in Care’s Pacific inquiry.
‘‘Being a newcomer to the place, I didn’t want to open my mouth, so I just sat there and watched,’’ he said of the violent boxing matches put on by the staff.
Solomon was forbidden from ‘‘fraternising’’ with the children, and told to make them repeat mundane tasks over and over again.
Colleagues both good and bad warned him not to speak up about the violence he saw there, including children being ‘‘thrashed’’ to discourage them from trying to escape.
‘‘I felt helpless to say or do anything about what I saw because the abuse was coming right from the top,’’ Solomon said.
‘‘I think that is why my colleague used to say to me, ‘Don’t waste your time boy, you’re just going to get a bad name and be out the door. They could fix you up, you know.’
‘‘And I was still young at the time; I was just out of school. I think if I was older, I would have reported it.’’
Until he told his family recently, and decided to share his story with the commission, Solomon had never told anyone what he’d seen at O¯ wairaka.
Solomon-Tanoa’i’s voice began to crack when she shared her father’s statement.
‘‘I struggled with the job because it wasn’t what I wanted; I wanted to help and teach the kids in any way I could,’’ he said.
‘‘But that wasn’t my function here. My function was just to watch, make sure that they were there, make sure they were supervised going to the toilet, and make sure they didn’t run away.
‘‘It was just the complete opposite of what I was trained to do. It was a sad environment and one that I was not accustomed to, especially coming from an educational institute.’’
Before O¯ wairaka, Solomon had trained with the Marist Brothers, starting aged 18 in Tuakau, then in Claremont, and a year in Auckland training to be a teacher. He spent 20 months in Samoa, where he is from, and returned to New Zealand where he taught as a Marist Brother for two years.
Eventually he left the Brothers to marry, and joined the O¯ wairaka staff as a 26-year-old. Four weeks later, with a heavy secret, he left, and returned to teaching.
He dedicated his life to lifting Ma¯ori and Pasifika children into higher education, founding Martin
‘‘My dad wanted to break the silence and speak now . . . because he wanted to show he was on the side of the boys then, and he is on their side now.’’
Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i, pictured
Hautus, the Pacific Peoples’ Learning Institute in Auckland in 1990 and an alternative education programme for teenagers kicked out of school. Later he and his wife added an early childhood centre to help parents attend their classes.
In 2015, they were made Officers of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to education and the Pacific community.
‘‘My dad wanted to break the silence and speak now . . . because he wanted to show he was on the side of the boys then, and he is on their side now,’’ Solomon-Tanoa’i said.
The Pacific investigation into abuse in state care, which is being held in south Auckland, continues until July 30.