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Billy James's story

Billy admits to ‘a lot of confusion’ in his childhood about who was looking after him through the 1960s. His Aboriginal mother was kicked out by ‘the white side of the family’ and his father was an alcoholic. He was often cared for by his grandmother but also spent time with different aunts. They were all poor and life was not easy.

‘I spent a lot of time outside and as far away from the house as I could’, Billy told the Commissioner.

He was sent to a Catholic primary school in south-east Queensland, where the parish priest, Father Bryant, took a special interest in him. Billy enjoyed being one of Bryant’s favourites for a year. ‘I guess at the time I just liked that an adult person was paying attention to me.’

But Billy now knows he was being ‘groomed’. When Billy was eight, Bryant sexually assaulted him. The abuse continued for months until Billy was suddenly shifted to a nearby state school.

Billy suspects someone in his family realised Bryant was an abuser. Nevertheless Bryant continued in his position at the church and school.

After the abuse Billy began to play up. He describes stealing a coin from a relative:

‘They found out and I got clipped over the ear, and I thought, “Gee that’s strange, I do the right thing no one takes notice, I do the wrong thing somebody takes notice of me”. Call it attention seeking, I guess.’

Billy started getting into trouble with the police for stealing. He discovered cheques and how to defraud people by forging their signatures. He became very good at forgery, but the police eventually caught up with him.

At 14, he was sent to a reformatory in a regional town. He was shocked by the military culture of the place, which he found frightening. Again he responded to special attention shown by one of the adults there, a sports coordinator, Mr Strong. Again he was sexually abused, this time for 18 months, until his release.

Billy committed further offences and, as a 16-year-old, was sent to a harsh adult jail in Brisbane. ‘One of the Aboriginal elders took me under his wing and said, “Get over here”.’ Billy was not assaulted while at that prison because of that protection.

However, at 17 he was moved to a different correctional centre in the city. There he was abused by two older inmates serving life sentences. Billy was a ‘young, vulnerable country fella’ and he hints that the sex at that time was consensual and ‘may have been a means of survival’. He was protecting himself from worse abuse by other prisoners by forming a relationship with the ‘lifers’.

Billy believes his early history has left him ‘sexually confused’. He shuns intimacy and is deeply distrustful of people.

Much of his adult life has been spent in prison, with multiple convictions for theft and fraud. In the 1990s Billy was jailed for child sexual assault. He is a registered sex offender. But Billy plays down a direct link between his own experience of child abuse and his later offending.

‘There may be a connection but I think it was just a moment of weakness for me, a moment of actually getting even – “What’s happened to me is going to happen to you too”.’ Billy admits that this is wrong but that is what was in his head at the time.

‘And I will admit at the time of the abuse … I probably had more alcohol in my system – I had a very big session, probably about a $300 session. At that time I was told my brother had hung himself … We were close. Not close-close but we shared a lot of things.

‘Between that and everything else that was going on in my life, it was like the old pressure cooker just went off.’

Billy has not told friends or relatives about his childhood abuse. He feels shame and embarrassment still. He has not received counselling, but did write an account of his abuse in the late 1990s for the Forde Inquiry and received some cash compensation.

He wants to contribute his story now. ‘If the Royal Commission can get enough knowledge to help just one child …

‘If we can get more of an understanding in general … How do you nip that in the bud, before it happens? One child is only one kid. But the ripple effect of that person getting abused is tremendous. Unreal.’

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