Alma is a respected Aboriginal elder. When her brother’s wife died she took on the responsibility of looking after their children, referring to them as her grandchildren as was the custom in their small community.
Within the community was a Catholic priest, Brother David. Brother David was embraced by the whole community. As Alma told the Commissioner ‘He was my Brother brother’, meaning he was not only a Catholic Brother but also adopted as part of the family.
One weekend, Brother David took a group of boys including Alma’s grandson away for a camping trip. While they were away a tropical storm hit the region and they were forced to be away an extra night. At the time Alma remarked to her husband that she was concerned there were no elders or guardians with the boys.
The next day the boys returned and told Alma they had stayed with Brother David. Although they were home safe and seemingly unaffected by the storm, something was very wrong. The boys were all unsettled but too upset to talk about what had happened. Alma bathed her grandson, wrapped him in a blanket and put him to bed. She and her husband agreed they would try to speak with him when he was ready as he was too upset to speak straight away.
Some years later, when he was 14 years old, Alma’s grandson asked her if he could use the cord from her radio. Alma loaned him the cord as requested. Not long after he was found dead, having used the cord to hang himself.
It turned out that Brother David had been abusing boys when he would invite them over to his home to go swimming. At that time Brother David had a lot of contact with children and many of them now have mental health problems, smoke marijuana, have tried to harm themselves and won’t listen to their elders. Alma found out some time later that her grandson had disclosed the abuse to his aunt only two days before he committed suicide.
Alma recalled a time in church when a young boy started yelling at Brother David ‘stop, stop!’ and saying to anyone who would listen, ‘That Brother, he’s a bad man’. Alma told the Commissioner, ‘They took him outside instead of letting him talk’. The incident was a big shock to the community but it wasn’t discussed. ‘No one talked about it … In my family we never talked about it.’ It is only with hindsight that Alma now realises the boy was trying to tell Brother David to stop the abuse.
Alma has never made a report to the police nor sought compensation for the abuse Brother David perpetrated in her community. It is unknown where Brother David is now, but as Alma told the Commissioner, ‘I don’t call him brother no more’.
Alma is extremely sad and ashamed, and blames herself for what has happened. She believes the community can’t heal unless they talk about the abuse, but told the Commissioner that victims of sexual abuse feel such pervasive shame that no one is prepared to discuss it. Alma has tried to start the conversation but has not had much success. ‘[They] wanted to pretend not to listen to me. And us mob want to listen to that but they do not bother. But maybe one day they can come up and say something.
‘We can help talk about it …
‘We have to heal them.’