The Retta Dixon Home, Darwin, and Matters Arising from
the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse

Background: Proceedings began in August 2014 and the Royal Commission sat in Darwin from 22nd September to 2nd October 2104 and a Report from the Commission was released in July 2015. The outcome of that was that AIM offered public apology for any hurt that had been caused to those whilst they were in Retta Dixon Home. An ex gratia offer of recompense was made through the provision of the proceeds of the sale of the AIM Winmalee property. The sale of the property has proceeded and proceeds are with AIM.

Legal Action: Before disbursement of these funds occurred there was a class action launched by some of those who had been at the Retta Dixon Home against the Commonwealth of Australia and AIM {including personnel Merv Pattemore (superintendent) and Ed Long and Howard Miles (Council members at the time)} for breaches of care for the children at the home.

There were over 70 plaintiffs who resided at the home between 1969 and 1975 who were seeking compensation for loss and damage for being injured through abuse and neglect whilst at the home. Of this number 12 are seeking additional compensation for being assaulted by Mr Donald Henderson whilst he was a house parent at the home. There are an additional three siblings not involved in this class action who are seeking compensation separately.

There have been a number of hearings and AIM has agreed to have our barrister and lawyer act on behalf of Mr Pattemore, Mr Miles and Mr Long as well as AIM. Because all three are in poor health family members were appointed to communicate on their behalf.

Mediation: Toward the end of 2016 the Commonwealth agreed to engage in a mediation process and those acting for AIM recommended that we join in that mediation. The Supreme Court of the Northern Territory set a timetable for mediation for 6th -10th February in Darwin and this process was undertaken.

Legal representatives indicated that they believed AIM would likely win the legal argument if the case continued, however to engage in this process would involve some millions of dollars of expense, and even if the court found in favour of AIM, there would be no way to claim back costs. The mediation process simply concentrated on finding a mutually agreeable financial settlement to the case, given that an extended court case would cost many millions of dollars. At the close of the mediation all parties have agreed to a settlement.

Outcome for AIM: Whilst it is a great relief to know that this matter is resolved, the result has placed a heavy burden on the funds of AIM. There will be a requirement to sell our Humpty Doo property near Darwin to meet the commitment. In addition AIM has had to meet legal costs of $97,000 up to the time of writing.

For those genuinely injured and abused whilst at the Retta Dixon Home we must offer heartfelt sorrow and be prepared to do what we are able to help alleviate the hurt and continue to pray for their spiritual well-being. We need to be before the throne of grace seeking the will and blessing of the One who is totally just and righteous, yet full of grace and mercy.

The words of Jesus seem appropriate to our circumstances: In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says: “If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.” (Matthew 5:40). In another place, speaking of the cost of discipleship Jesus says: “Suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” (Luke 14:31-33)

AIM can face the future with confidence knowing that this matter is finally put behind us. We are thankful for the prayers of the Lord’s people and ask that you continue with us in prayer and support as we look to the Lord for his guidance and direction into the future.

Yours in Christ Jesus,

Rev Trevor Leggott
General Director
Australian Indigenous Ministries