Barry Keith's story

In the 1950s, Barry and his siblings were taken away from their parents.

‘In our family there are five of us. Every one of us has been put into missions and institutions. Every one of us has been abused.

‘Both parents were taken away, too. Our father was in the mission and … Mum was in [care] … So, it’s a generational [thing] and we find it really difficult to come to terms with all that sort of stuff … in our own lives and how to deal with it.’

Barry’s grandparents had also been taken away from their communities.

Barry still doesn’t know why he and his siblings were taken from their parents. He was only a few years old when he was placed in the first institution. As he grew older, Barry and his younger brother were placed in a Presbyterian-run children’s home for Aboriginal children in Perth. It was here that Barry was frequently physically and sexually abused.

‘I still remember when I was six or seven, the oldest girl, she must have been a teenager, her and her girlfriend used to take me to the bushes and rape me all the time.’

The girl was the daughter of the cottage parents and was left in charge of the children when her parents went out. The cottage father was also ‘sexually active’ with the residents in the cottage, including Barry and his younger brother.

‘I think there’s only about three of us left that are still alive … Others have committed suicide because of the sexual abuse that used to go on in that cottage.’

Barry was a quiet child and felt powerless.

‘I [tried] to do what I was told all the time. So I don’t have to get the stick. One poor fella used to wet the bed every night and had a cold shower every morning. I’m glad I didn’t wet the bed … What can you do when you’re a small age?’

He felt there was nothing he could do about his situation so he blocked it out.

‘I just tried to block everything out … If I had kids I’d try to look after them the best I can … I try to keep what I never had [for them] … They’re all adults now and as far as I know nothing happened to them.’

Barry has an injury from the last home he was in, a Catholic-run boys’ home in regional Western Australia, which still requires ongoing management. He describes this home as a tough place but tries not to remember those times.

‘With my kids, I try to show I’m strong for them, so they can be strong. When I go to bed, I just let it all out by myself … Most times when I go to bed … I cry myself to sleep.’

While he was married for many years the relationship has now ended. ‘I just tried to block her out too sometimes … now she’s moved on and we get on better now … I never told her anything’.

Barry finds some comfort in meeting others who were also in the homes. He doesn’t have to explain himself as they went through similar experiences.

‘Just that I can’t … I’m getting old and I’m getting too emotional. Don’t like to say much … I can say where I been but I can’t say what happened to me.’

He has only ever disclosed the sexual abuse to his younger brother and coming to speak with the Commissioner was emotionally distressing. He finds it very difficult to talk about his years in care in general but especially the abuse.

‘I don’t really tell anybody. This would be about the first time … It happened and I just tried to forget about them things … the older I’m getting the more emotional. Maybe I’m thinking about things.’

He felt talking to the Royal Commission was important, though.

‘Just to tell what happened to me, what happened to other people. It’s not only me … a lot of other people should really come up and talk. Maybe I never got much off my chest but like I say, I can’t get much out of me. I don’t like talking much.’

Barry still wonders why ‘adults do it to kids’ when they are small and powerless ‘little fellas who hurt nobody’. As a parent he made sure his children were protected and tried to be the best father he could be.

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