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Austin John's story

Austin had it tough in the Queensland detention centres he was sent to in the 1970s, but he feels like he was lucky in some ways. He didn’t get abused as severely as some other people did.

He’d been doing ‘a few bad things’ when he was a kid, such as wagging school and driving a car when he was 12. His mother couldn’t cope with him in the end and he was made a ward of the state when he was 14.

At the first centre Austin was sent to, the abuse was more emotional than physical. The staff told Austin his mother wasn’t coming to visit because she hated him. ‘Mum come up and seen me about two weeks later. I said to her, "Why didn't you come and see me?" She said, "I was here, but they wouldn't let me see you”.’

He tried to jump the back fence and was beaten. He was transferred to a centre run by the Salvation Army when he was 15, where an older boy called Bill befriended him.

‘When I got there, he picked me straight out and said, "Come with me, I'll look after you”.’

But Bill later came into Austin’s bed and raped him. The centre staff were well aware of the abuse, Austin said.

‘They had to know, because I come back, I was bleeding and bloody – plus he beat the crap out of me as well and they seen me.’

Austin told no one; he was ashamed. He still feels shame about it.

‘I thought I was a bit of a fighter, and a bit of this and a bit of that, and when it come down to it, I was nothing, you know: I couldn't stop him.’

His mother came to see him after just one week at the new centre and noticed the change in him. She came back the next week and said, ‘I want to take him home’.

But back home, Austin started to become ‘a bit of a bad boy’ and committed a series of crimes. Ironically, it was for something he didn’t do that saw him sent to a low-security prison at the age of 16. When he arrived, he was stripped naked in the yard, before all the inmates. He was forced to kneel there for hours. Then the staff hosed him down. It was mid-winter and Austin ended up in the medical ward.

This time, when a fellow inmate sexually assaulted Austin, he fought back. He feels lucky because he served only a couple of months of his sentence.

But even though his sentence was reduced, the emotional damage had been done. Austin felt angry and acted violently, hurting many people around him and using booze and drugs. ‘I tried to kill myself, and I was an alcoholic by the time I was 19. It just went from worse to worse.’

Austin was also suffering from depression. He couldn’t hold on to jobs, even the good ones. And in his football team he couldn’t stick to a team plan; he always played as an individual.

He started taking antidepressants but didn’t disclose the sexual abuse to his doctor. Austin told the GP that he was okay but his marriage wasn’t going well. This was true enough. Austin’s marriage ended after 18 months.

Austin was overly protective of his children when they were growing up. ‘I suppose I brought them up hard, the way I wanted, to make sure that they were safe.’

None of his family had any idea what he’d been through because he was still too embarrassed to tell them. But the impact of the abuse kept ambushing Austin. He is also traumatised by sexual violence he witnessed in an adult jail in Queensland.

‘See, you're good for two or three years and then bang, it comes back.’

‘I'll go to work and start a job, and I'm so happy and grateful to be working, then it hits’.

Even in a Brisbane psychiatric hospital Austin didn’t tell the staff what made him depressed, though he knew perfectly well. He trusts no one.

Austin received counselling after he complained to the Salvation Army about the home he was sent to. He still didn’t bring up the sexual abuse. ‘I can sit there and talk about other things, but I just can't do that.’

Austin came to the Royal Commission because he hates to see abuse happen to kids and because the suicide rate among children disturbs him.

‘And you know what's going on, when they're suiciding like that. You can put your finger straight on it.’

Austin has given up drinking but he still uses marijuana. He’s now in a relationship that he trusts but he wouldn’t say he was really happy.

‘I don't know whether I know what love is … Excuse the expression, but I used to think sticking me dick in and saying hello was love. Today, I'm just not sure what love is, whether it's sexual love or it's … I really don't know. And that's the biggest thing that I don't like.’

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