Boyd Charles's story

‘I’d like to see a plaque with all the Aboriginal people’s names put on it who were forcibly removed from their parents and put into missions or on to reserves. A remembrance plaque like they have for the Anzacs.’

Most of the reserves and missions Boyd lived in as a child were run by Christian churches, and the kids were taught they were loved by God.

‘The so-called church people, they’re supposed to believe in Jesus ... Jesus loves us. Who loves us? No one.’

Boyd was removed from his family in the early 1950s, when he was around four years old. ‘They stole us, in broad daylight, in the name of Jesus.’ At seven, he was at a Catholic mission for Aboriginal people, in the mid-west region of Western Australia.

One of the Brothers there was well-known among the kids, ‘as a result of his sexually molesting the boys. He and two of the other Brothers would trap us boys, hold us by the hair and force their fingers up us’.

Boyd was onto his fifth and final placement – an Aboriginal mission, run by Protestants in the south of Western Australia – by the time he was nine.

The missionaries there regularly sexually assaulted the children. Boyd particularly remembers one missionary. ‘I was one of missionary George Earle’s “favourites” and he would take me round the back of the house and rape me at nine or 10 at night – this happened about four or five times.’ Earle also kicked and squeezed Boyd’s genitals so hard that he required surgery.

Boyd told the Commissioner that other missionaries had also raped him and other kids, ‘masturbated on top our stomachs’, and forced them to watch and participate in sexual activities with other adults. Some of the girls got pregnant, and were forced to surrender their babies.

Living conditions were harsh at the mission too. The food the kids were given was poor, and the discipline harsh and unfair. They would be fed weevil-infested porridge, and there was never enough to go around. Sometimes the girls who worked in the bakery would try to get them extra bread, but would be beaten if caught.

The children were required to work long hours, picking fruit and vegetables, milking the cows, and doing domestic tasks. It was very hard work, especially for the younger kids, who would struggle to keep up. They were never paid for this labour.

All this time, the parents of these children were expected to pay ‘maintenance’ for their upkeep, and would be imprisoned if they didn’t do so. Boyd’s dad was locked up once for this reason. ‘All the kids in the mission, they should be paying him money, for having the kids working for them.’

Punishments were cruel, and frequent. Boyd recalls being taken down to a river, and being beaten ‘so the water and the stick would hit us at the same time’ and sting more.

After Boyd left the mission he travelled around the state, working on farms. ‘When I got to work, all the oldies were gone, all my aunties ... They were all gone with the lingo and that.’

The people around him drank heavily, and he did too, trying to escape the bad memories. He gave up alcohol when he realised the damage it was doing to his health.

He still lives with depression, and has become increasingly angry about the abuse he was put through there. ‘I get terrible headaches thinking about this stuff, and sometimes I get sharp shooting pains and terrible images come into my head.’

Nightmares plague him. ‘It still comes to me, I wake up in sweat. I jump out of bed and I turn the lights on, looking around. There’s no-one there. Now I sleep with a stick.’

It was only a year ago that Boyd started to speak about the abuse he experienced, first to a counsellor. He has never reported to police, as he did not expect they would believe him.

Boyd applied to the Western Australian redress scheme, but did not tell the whole story to them. He received a moderate sum of money, much of which he used to help fix up the graves of Aboriginal elders. He also gave some money to some young Aboriginal people who needed help to get started with their lives.

He tries to help young Aboriginal kids who are in trouble, but won’t tolerate any drugs or drinking in his house. He suggested that families dealing with the impacts of child sexual abuse need to be better supported, particularly in relation to addiction as many people use drugs or alcohol to deal with their trauma.

Throughout his life, Boyd has retained his strong sense of Aboriginal identity, and fought for his rights to keep his own beliefs and traditions. He won’t allow non-Aboriginal people in his house, and ‘would rather die in the bush’ than go into care run by white people.

Even back in the missions as a young fella, he refused to accept the imposition of white culture. ‘I got a hiding ‘cause I wouldn’t stand up ‘cause they were saying God Save The Queen. I wouldn’t get up ... That’s not my queen. My queen is my grandmother. There you go again. The same old routine.’

When the kids were baptised, he wouldn’t join in, even under threat of punishment. ‘They tried it on me, and I don’t care. I take my hiding. I don’t believe in Jesus ... I don’t even know him. He don’t come from my tribe.’

As he said to the Commissioner, ‘Blackfellas lived here for 60,000 years without Jesus. All of sudden they’re ramming Catholic and everything down our throats, and Jesus and the Bible down our throat. But they’re flogging hell out of us’.

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