Clarrie was four years old in the early 1960s when he and his little sister were taken from their grandmother in Central Australia and moved to a Methodist Aboriginal mission more than a thousand kilometres away.
‘I’m getting removed with my little sister when my grandmother is in Adelaide doing medical stuff … so she’s not there, we’re gone. Big sister comes home from school, and we’re gone. She’s darker – my big sister’s darker than me, and my little sister, she’s a bit lighter than me. The reason I’m saying that is because you see what happens with the colour you got, it all comes out in my story. So she’s left behind, me and the little sister get sent this way to [the mission].’
While he was at the mission, Clarrie was sexually abused by an older boy, Peter Hines, in the bedroom of the cottage.
‘They were fairly basic housing. You could hear anything that went on, and this older kid, I don’t know when it started, but we were told by the carer that if he comes into our room to call out – I heard a couple of times kids call out – and she’d come in, “Go back to your bed”, that type of stuff. How long that went on, I’m not sure, I was a little kid. And then he came to my bed once – I only recall it once – and it was too late for me to call out, he was already on top of me. And I was too frightened, although I’m not too sure why but it seemed too late and yeah, it just happened. I didn’t tell anybody.’
On another occasion, Clarrie was reported missing one day and when found, he recounted to the carer that he’d been in the long grass with Hines. Asked whether anything had happened to him, Clarrie said it hadn’t, but soon after this Hines was removed from the mission.
Clarrie doesn’t have strong memories of some of his time there. He remembered his sister suddenly disappearing – she’d been taken to another state by a missionary couple – and not being told. When he was older other boys told him that when he heard his sister had gone, he ‘ran back inside screaming’.
He thought his experiences weren’t as bad as that of others he’d later met who’d been in different missions and boys’ homes.
‘I think the women there tried their best. In the circumstances I really can’t fault them, seriously. Some people say, “Oh it must be terrible”. While you’re there, yeah, but not, it’s hard to explain I suppose but the culture of the place and they tried their best, and I can’t fault them.’
He described some of the missionaries as being into ‘freedom stuff’.
‘They were coming out of the civil rights movement, out of America. All those songs and things – Kumbaya and all that. It seems strange when you hear about all the other kids growing up [in other] boys’ homes.’
Once when Clarrie was in his mid-teens he saw Hines looking ‘old and haggard’ and begging in the street. ‘I sort of looked at him. I thought, poor bastard.’
During his teen years and into adulthood Clarrie tried not to think about the abuse. He told his partner once but didn’t want to talk about it in any depth.
‘I just dismissed it. I said, “Look don’t worry about it too much” or something like that, I forget the exact words. But it was an institution, a heap of blokes there, these things happen.’
Clarrie is now a leader in his community and over the years he’d spoken in public and private about the experience of having been taken from his family.
He’d worked with government and community organisations but despaired sometimes of the bureaucracy and barriers to getting things done.
‘It’s almost psychological abuse, and it’s been institutionalised by some of the very organisations that we’ve developed. I just don’t know how to deal with it. It drives me mad.
‘Over the years when the Stolen Generation report was done – the Stolen Generation report – the funds out of that went to the medical service. We never said our issues were medical. It shouldn’t have went there and we tried in the Territory, but it was a national thing and it was going national. That’s how it was organised so it sits there now, so it’s been medicalised.’
He saw large amounts of Commonwealth funds spent, often with little benefit to Aboriginal people.
‘What upsets me is so much millions of dollars go into places like Alice and Darwin and we don’t see the results. It’s actually working backwards. That’s what I guess my original complaint was. We’re not seeing the results.
‘The taxpayers are providing the funds so we can’t argue with the taxpayers … but it’s how it comes down and through these bureaucratic processes so we [need to] cut through all the bureaucratic processes. The other thing is that we’re not all, and this is going back to my original stuff about the Territory, one size don’t fit all because of the federal system.’
Clarrie found the different redress schemes in various states – and none so far in the Northern Territory – difficult to accept. He pointed to Canada’s model of compensation to its First Peoples as an example of a fair and equitable scheme.
‘We done all the paperwork to support our arguments about compensation, we’ve done all that and sent it across [to Canberra] and run with it … Again the problem is that they start talking about Stolen Generation and everybody thinks they’re talking about everybody across the country. That’s our dilemma.’