‘The system just broke me. I was like a little scared kid, too scared to do anything let alone try and be a bad kid.’
Carlos is a member of the Stolen Generation, taken from his Aboriginal parents in the late 1960s and eventually placed in an orphanage run by the Catholic Church in Brisbane. Carlos was three years old when he was taken. He remained in care until he was 15. He was frequently physically and emotionally abused. Carlos was also sexually abused and witnessed many attacks on other children.
‘I’m going to speak on behalf of a lot of kids who didn’t make it’, Carlos told the Commissioner. Many of the children Carlos shared his dormitory with have now taken their own lives or are lost to alcoholism. Children also died at the orphanage.
‘The church bell was rung for a good five or 10 minutes to let everyone in the orphanage know someone had passed away.’ Carlos remembers funeral services for nuns or other staff who had died, but when children died the bells would ring. Then silence would fall. ‘There was never ever a funeral service, but there was a fire pit. If you could find that fire pit you’d find where those kids were rested.’
John Woodward was a house parent and a teacher at the home. He regularly dished out very harsh physical punishment and sexually abused many of the girls at the home. Woodward severely beat Carlos. ‘He made a cricket bat up with a lump of metal and he’d flog me from here down and I couldn’t stand or sit and I’d be peeing blood for weeks after a flogging with that thing.’
Woodward also singled out the Aboriginal children, segregating them in the dormitory and making them do all the chores. ‘He’d throw us in the cattle dip, bang us on the back of the milk cart, down to the pig sty, shovel the pig sty out.’ Carlos had a number of ear infections as a child which he attributes to being forced to swim in cattle dip. He blames his adult hearing loss on this, and the frequent beatings.
When he was 10, Carlos was drafted as an altar boy one morning by one of the nuns, Sister Sophia. ‘She was a nasty violent nun. She was the scariest.’ She left Carlos holding a pile of vestments and told him to do what Father Mascord asked. The priest arrived minutes later and closed the door.
‘And he’s trying to dress me. I thought this was a bit strange and he starts playing with my penis. I started to get a bit worried then. He walked over – I’ve never seen a priest take his pants off.’
Father Mascord masturbated in front of Carlos and then forced Carlos to masturbate him too. ‘I was so scared all I wanted to do was get out of there. He made me stand there.’
Mascord was getting dressed again as Sister Sophia returned. ‘She said, “Has Carlos been doing what he’s been told to do” to the Father and he said, “Yeah, he’s done everything I asked him to do”.’
Carlos told the Commissioner, ‘Sister Sophia knew all about it. She used to line up boys for the priest … The Catholic Church just didn’t give a rat’s arse what these people were doing to the kids. … My oath they knew.’
When he turned 15 Carlos was ‘dumped’ at an old men’s shelter and left to fend for himself. He took off and tried to make a living. He did not contact his lost family at this time. Carlos was an alcoholic for most of his younger years. He has had a nervous breakdown and attempted to take his own life twice. The first time, he attempted to hang himself on the grounds of the orphanage.
After an attempt at taking his own live, Carlos was put in touch with the Catholic Church’s Towards Healing team. Carlos feels cheated by the negotiations, which he believes were lop-sided in support of the Church.
‘I ended up getting an apology from the Archbishop in Australia, the Catholic nuns, and the Child Welfare. And to this day – it was like an insult. But the more important thing to me was the “Sorry” letters. They offered 15 grand. I wanted the letters. The money was a bonus.’
Over the years Carlos has re-connected with his large family. He’s planning to spend time with his own children and make a difference in their lives. ‘I’m tired, I’m worn out - I just want to stop and rest, put my feet up and live life I suppose.’