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Australian community campaigner John Hennessy (1936-2016) was in institutions as a child.

John was put into an orphanage in Bristol, England because his single mother could not care for him. In 1947 he was shipped to Australia and he then spent five years at Bindoon, a farm school in Western Australia.

At Bindon, John was physically and sexually abused.  

John Hennessy has told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses into Child Sexual Abuse that when he was 12 he was publicly stripped and nearly flogged to death by a Christian Brother while at St Joseph’s Farm and Trade School, Bindoon.

“No one came to my aid,” said a visibly upset Mr Hennesey, the first witness at the 11th case study examined by the commission.

“I am now left with a stutter.”

The man who beat him, Brother Paul Keaney, also repeatedly sexually abused Mr Hennessey. (The Guardian).

John Hennessey was actively engaged in his local community of Campbelltown in NSW. He campaigned for Campbelltown to become Australia’s first green city during the 1990s. He also organised memorial services for Nelson Mandela so the local African community could express their grief. For his service, John was awarded an Order of Australia medal in 1999. 

“I did not want to be a nobody,” he said. “I have picked myself up out of the gutter and tried to serve the community.

“Everything I have done, I have done it on behalf of my mother. I take her picture everywhere. She is the love of my life.” (Egan).

He eventually reconnected with his mother after forty-seven years with the help of the Child Migrants Trust.

John Hennessy was a key campaigner for the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, announced in November 2012 by then Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and which ran from 2013 to 2018. 

“The beauty of the royal commission is it will show people in churches and other organisations they’re not above the law — the law should be for all.”


“Bindoon (1936 – 1966).” Find & Connect, 2021. 

Chenoweth, Ben. “Commission welcomed but the pain will live on for Ingleburn’s Hennessey.” Campbelltown Macarthur Advertiser, 9 April 2013. 

Egan, Colleen. “John yearned for mum amid abuse.” Yahoo!News, 29 April 2014.

“‘I was exploited and abused by criminals’ in a place ‘devoide of love’.” The Guardian, 28 April 2014. 

Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Zautsen, Daniel. “John Hennessey remembered by friends as a tireless community worker.” The Daily Telegraph, 10 June 2016. 

Image available here.