Brian, who’s now in his 60s, says that he was a happy-go-lucky kid most of the time. There were lots of children in the Queensland mission where he grew up and he regarded them as one big family. It’s not surprising – his mother gave birth to Brian when she lived in the girls’ dormitory of the mission and he was moved straight into the babies’ quarters.
Brian lived at the mission until he was 11 or 12. He never knew his father – ‘never even sat in a room with him’. His sisters lived there too, but Brian didn’t know they were his sisters until he was older. Conditions were harsh for the children. ‘If you had to go stay with an uncle or aunt up the mission you had to have a little piece of paper … You had to see the matron or superintendent … If you run away the police’ll give you a hidin’. Then when you go back to the home you get a hidin’.’
They were beaten every day for trivial things, like missing buttons or dirty fingernails. ‘They’d grab you by the hand, start lifting you … They’d take your shorts off, you know, keep flogging you and you’d go in a circle, cryin’ and cryin’. And the belt’d put marks on your back and your arms and legs.’
The beds in the dorms were close together and Brian remembers that when he was about four, the older boys would ‘stand over’ him and fondle his genitals. This happened until he was about seven. The boys were sexual with each other generally but it was just normal behaviour. ‘You’d see boys in bed, well, you’d join in and think it’s fun, you know?’
Brian said one of the teachers at the mission would often give the older boys cake in exchange for sexual favours.
When Brian was about 11 he went to Brisbane to live with his mum. He grew into an edgy adolescent who steered clear of any physical contact. If anyone tried to touch him he’d threaten them with a stick.
His mother’s partner was a violent, hard-drinking white man. Brian stayed at mates’ places to avoid him but one day ‘all the violence come out in me and I really give it him’. He punched his stepfather and laid him out flat.
Brian took off in his early teens and worked all over the place. Then he’d go back north and get on the drink with his mates. All the ex-mission boys were hard drinkers and drug takers, Brian said. ‘All my dormitory boys always drinkin’ or in jail, you know? But I steered away from crime … I used to say, “I’ll see youse at the dance next week if youse not in jail”.’
Brian stayed away from trouble because he yearned for something very specific. When he was a little boy he used to admire the well-dressed families, the mums and dads and kids, as they walked past. He’d think, ‘Gee, I’d like to have a family one day’. And the thought of it kept him going.
Years later Brian did get married and have his own family, once he started to trust people enough to have relationships. But when his wife left, he had to be a single parent. He’d iron the kids’ clothes and make their lunches, but the darker side of the mission discipline emerged as well. One of his kids told him, ‘“We used to be frightened of you, Dad, the way you’d talk … Angry talk”. I didn’t know I was scary to them. I said, “I‘m sorry if I done that”’.
Brian has calmed down as he’s gotten older and he sees his daughters just about every day. He doesn’t drink anymore and has lived happily on his own since his children left home. He also spoils his grandkids rotten.
Brian never reported the sexual abuse to the police but did receive a redress payment.
He regularly sees some of the ex-mission boys he grew up with and finds it incredibly valuable. ‘We joke around and talk silly … I think that’s the way we got over it, just joking … We still stick together, you know? It’s like a big family. Well, that’s the only family we knew.’
Brian’s anxious for other men from the mission to join the group. He knows many of them are carrying a lot of hate and thinks it would help them.
‘That’s the healing part there, I reckon – all come together.’