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Adam David's story

Scars were the only things Adam took with him when he finally left the home for Aboriginal children in Darwin. He went in as a baby in the 1960s and was allowed to leave, after many fruitless attempts to escape, when he was 18.

His house parent in the Darwin home was the ‘very nasty’ Mabel Hewitt who had a range of punishments. Adam remembers very painful ‘tonguings’, where the children’s tongues were stretched out and then twisted back. She’d get them to open their mouth if they ‘said the wrong words’ and pour soap powder down their throat.

Adam sometimes had to lie across his bed with his pants pushed down to his ankles and his shirt up. He then had to wait for Hewitt to finish whatever she was doing and come and give him a caning. It was often a long wait, in full view of everyone, including the girls. Hewitt would also make some of the kids brush her hair.

When he was about eight or nine, Adam had to go for a drive with a staff worker called Angus Caldwell to help him with a cleaning job. Caldwell used to go round regularly looking for kids to help him with jobs. Adam was told to get in the front of the car. Then ‘he grabbed my foot and rubbed it on his penis’. Caldwell kept his foot there all the way there and all the way back. ‘I couldn’t pull my foot away. He was too big.’

A schoolteacher at the home also sexually abused Adam but he can’t remember his name. The kids were too scared to tell any of this to the welfare worker who visited regularly.

Adam’s dad also came to visit Adam and his brother, who was in the home as well. They both knew their dad would ‘run amok’ if he heard about the abuse. So they kept a lid on it.

Adam doesn’t know if Mabel Hewitt and Caldwell ‘had something going’ but he’s sure that she sent kids, including his brother, over to Caldwell.

He has a bitter memory of his brother running back to him, crying, and saying Caldwell ‘had his trousers down, trying to fiddle with him’. Adam went to Hewitt when that happened and told her about Caldwell. She slapped him across the face.

‘I still remember that day … kids remember a lot.’

When Adam finally did leave the home he started drinking heavily, and getting into trouble. He found his mum but didn’t disclose anything to her. ‘We felt the shame. All feel shame.’

He didn’t tell police either. ‘I kept it bottled in. That’s why I got in a lot of strife. And I took it out on other people and that.’

When Adam went to see a medical specialist about his ongoing ear condition, the specialist said that it was often a result of long-term physical abuse. Was that the case here? Adam said no.

Adam is on medication for panic attacks and anxiety. He can’t be in crowded shopping centres and much prefers being alone. But the worst consequences of the abuse have been the bad memories – he still vividly remembers Hewitt stabbing a girl in the hand with a fork – and ‘a lot of hate, lot of anger’.

These days he’s less upset with the world in general but when it comes to his anger at Caldwell and Hewitt, ‘nothing’s changed’.

Visiting his homeland down south has been good for Adam. ‘Family just took me straight in … The old people taught me language, how to hunt.’

He’s in a better place compared to years ago, Adam says. He’s stopped drinking and smoking, has a roof over his head in Darwin and a bit of garden to work in. As for wanting an apology from the Mission that ran the home, ‘the damage is done’.

He would like to see Angus Caldwell charged and punished though. And he’d like to see a memorial at the site of the home, to honour all the kids who were abused there.

As for financial redress, ‘Make sure this mob pay some compensation. I could do with some money … to pay for my medical expenses’.

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