A former guard at a boys’ state house says he saw so much violence that he quit work after just four weeks.
Now an elderly man and living with Parkinson’s, Pulotu Arthur Solomon’s testimony was read by his daughter, Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i, to break a lifelong silence and assist the survivors of that home.
During his brief stay at the Ōwairaka Boys’ Home in Auckland in 1962, Solomon saw boys forced to fight each other, witnessed a senior staff member beat a child “to a pulp”, seemingly for no reason, and was encouraged to take care of the boys.
It gave him a “crook,” he said in his statement, heard with the Royal Commission into Abuse in Care’s Pacific investigation.
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“Being a newcomer here, I didn’t want to open my mouth, so I just sat there and watched,” he said of the violent boxing matches held by the staff.
Solomon was forbidden to “fraternize” with the children and was told to repeat everyday tasks over and over again.
Colleagues, both good and bad, warned him not to talk about the violence he saw there, including children being “battered” into the secure unit for threatening them that they would try to flee the house.
“I felt powerless to say or do anything about what I saw because the abuse came straight from the top,” Solomon said.
“I think that’s why my coworker always said to me, ‘Don’t waste your time boy, you just get a bad name and go out the door. They can fix you up, you know.’
“And I was still young then; I just got out of school. I think if I had been older I would have reported it.”
He also believes he would have reported the violence if there had been a supervisory authority responsible for the home.
Until he recently told his family and decided to share his story with the committee, Solomon had never told anyone what he had seen in Ōwairaka.
Solomon-Tanoa’i’s voice began to crack as she shared her father’s statement about struggling with his job there.
“I struggled with the job because it wasn’t what I wanted; I wanted to help and educate the children in every way possible,” he said.
“But that was not my function here. My job was just to watch, make sure they were there, make sure they went to the toilet under supervision, and make sure they didn’t run away.
“It was the exact opposite of what I was trained for. It was a sad environment and one I was not used to, certainly not coming from an educational institution.”
Before Ōwairaka, Solomon had trained with the Marist Brothers, at age 18 in Tuakau, then Claremont, and a year in Auckland to become a teacher. He spent 20 months in his native Samoa before his first assignment and returned to New Zealand where he taught for two years as a Marist Brother.
He eventually left the brothers to get married, and then he joined the staffwairaka staff at the age of 26. Four weeks later, he left with a heavy secret and returned to teaching.
He devoted his life to raising Maori and Pasifika children for higher education, and in 1990 founded Martin Hautus, the Pacific Peoples’ Learning Institute in Auckland, and an alternative education program for teenagers who were kicked out of school. Later, he and his wife added a center for young children to help parents attend their classes.
In 2015, they were made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for our services to education and the Pacific community.
“Our father is a storyteller and he calls himself a man of memories,” said Solomon-Tanoa’i.
“My father wanted to break the silence and speak now… because he wanted to show that he was on the boys side then, and he is on their side now.”
The Pacific State Care Abuse Inquiry, being held in southern Auckland, will run through Friday, July 30.