‘I always wish I had been a better dad for my kids. The scarring I received in these places directly impacted on my ability to be a good parent when my children were young. I believe this is the most important impact from the treatment I received. These types of transgenerational trauma issues are unfortunately not uncommon problems facing Indigenous Australians today. Many young Indigenous Australians also deal with legacies like mine today because of the impact that people like me have left them. My family is no different in that respect.’
Alwin was born at the beginning of World War II and in his early years moved with his mother and sisters around northern New South Wales and southern Queensland. He remembers his mother as a cruel and physically violent woman to the extent that he was always trying to get away from her. At 11, he made his way to Sydney and was picked up by police and taken to a boys’ refuge before he was escorted back to his mother.
In a private session and written documents to the Royal Commission, Alwin described continuing to run away until before long his mother wrote to the Queensland Government requesting that her son be placed in care.
‘There’s one letter I’ve got here to the Director of Native Affairs’, Alwin said. ‘It says: “Dear Sir, would you accept my son … and take him into your control and place him in one of your settlements for 12 months as he is out of my control. I wish to give you all custody and control of him”.’
Sent to an Aboriginal Mission in Queensland in 1952, Alwin was repeatedly sexually abused while he was there by a teacher, Clive Jennings, who worked in the mission school. Jennings initially told Alwin he needed extra tuition and organised for him and a friend to come to his accommodation quarters outside school hours. The abuse started with Jennings touching the boys; he made them perform oral sex on him and over a short period of time got Alwin alone and raped him.
Alwin and his friend reported the abuse to the dormitory supervisor who asked Jennings about their allegations. Jennings said the boys were lying and as a result of the disclosure the boys were severely beaten by the supervisor with a strap until ‘there were strips of skin off my butt, legs and back’. The assaults by Jennings then increased to three to four times per week.
Shortly before Alwin was due to get out of the mission, the abuse stopped. ‘The cunning bastard knew when to stop and get a couple more new recruits’.
In 1955, when he was 16, Alwin unwittingly received a stolen watch and was caught by Queensland Police and sent to a juvenile detention centre for three months. Here he experienced more physical abuse, including having his jaw broken on his first day by one of the staff. ‘I literally survived in constant fear of my life in that place’, Alwin said.
After leaving the detention centre, Alwin travelled throughout various states of Australia working in labouring jobs, boxing with travelling shows and doing seasonal work. At 17, he met a kind Scottish man who, together with his wife, took Alwin under their wing and showed him ‘more or less how to mingle with society’ and made sure he had clean clothes and money in his pocket. ‘They were good to me’, he said. ‘He was like my father’.
In 2007, Alwin was encouraged by his university tutor to apply for compensation through the Queensland redress scheme and two years later received $29,000.
While he’d been a good provider for his family, Alwin said he regretted not being a better father and that he was unable to settle down in one place in his early years.
‘I sometimes wish I had been capable of holding down a job for any length of time and building a career for myself and my family.’
He still had nightmares about the abuse. ‘I think it was about three or four weeks ago I woke up crying. The point is, you think you’re big and brave and all that, but I don’t know. It affects you like that, but I mean I’m only one; there’s a lot of people I know that’s gone on the streets, that didn’t care you know, just said, “Well that’s the only way out” and hit the booze or hit the drugs. It just shows, because you know, a lot of them suffered worse than what I have.’
‘As an Indigenous elder I never have had, and probably never will have, any real degree of respect for authority or that which is supposed to amount to, or serve the interests of justice.’