Cliff Michael's story

‘I was placed in foster care approximately when I was six months of age … Basically, our family were split up … I was the unfortunate one. I had the worst end of the stick I suppose you could say … From the age of seven I was put to work … [It was] enforced into me at an early age, that I was there for one reason, and one reason only, and that is just to serve.’

Cliff grew up in Queensland in the 1970s, and spent 15 years in foster care. He and his siblings were placed in care when their mother became seriously ill and couldn’t find a family member to look after them.

Cliff told the Commissioner that the treatment he received from Margot and Frank Reed was very cruel. They made it known that because he was an Aboriginal, he was there to be their ‘black slave’. ‘The floggings that I received … It was just brutality, sheer brutality. From the earliest age I was made to drop my pants in front of everyone … naked butt, bend over and I mean whipped, whipped until you could actually feel the blood dripping down your skin.’

The few times welfare officers came to visit, Margot and Frank would threaten Cliff with even worse floggings if he didn’t ‘tell ‘em that you love the family, that you’re part of the family, blah, blah, blah. Most of the times for those visits I was always put in long pants and a long shirt to cover up all the bruises and the welts and the open wounds’. If Cliff didn’t eat all his food, Frank would stab him in the hand with a fork.

‘I remember floggings where I would lay on the ground, I just had no more fight and I was just hurting all over the place … I still imagine the pain now, to this day … For some reason, I can still feel and remember every single flogging. I could sit here for weeks upon weeks, and let youse know of the floggings and so forth.’

Cliff told the Commissioner that, ‘there was one occasion of sexual abuse. There was a girl, a troubled teenager … Margot and Frank were emergency relief … and this one girl I remember. We was living on the farm … She forced me to engage in sexual intercourse with her. I would have been about 10, 12. I think she … would have been about 16, 17’.

There was no supervision of either foster child, and Cliff was too afraid to report the rape. ‘I would never have told Margot or Frank or anyone, just in sheer utter fear … Even sitting at the table … you would shake, you’d literally piss your pants, because you never knew when you were going to get hit or bashed or whatever. So that’s what it was like. You were always living in fear.’

By the time he was 15, Cliff’s body had become accustomed to the daily floggings. He was having an argument with one of the Reed’s sons and the son said, ‘You’re only a nigger. We only ever got you for slave labour’. Cliff grabbed the boy and pushed his head through a wall and Margot began chasing Cliff through the house.

Cliff stopped running, because he thought, ‘You know what, it’s time to end all this’. So he walked over to Margot and dropped his pants, ‘to receive [my] flogging, and I said, “Look, do your best. I’m done … You can’t hurt me no more. My body’s immune to the floggings”. So she did’. When Frank came home, he gave Cliff another beating. That night, Cliff packed his bag and left.

The welfare department made no contact with Cliff. He went to live in a caravan park, got two jobs, and put himself through high school. During Year 12 he left to take up an apprenticeship. While he was working as a tradesman, he had issues with his back, and doctors told him repeatedly that he should change jobs. He is now in the process of applying for a disability pension.

Although Cliff has recently begun seeing a psychologist, he had no support from the time he left foster care at 15, to when he was in his mid-40s. ‘[I thought] it was just me, waking up with a chip on my shoulder. I never really looked at the root cause. And everything I’ve done in my life, my criminal history, and all that, is because that’s what society made me. Society made me what I am.’

Cliff drifted from job to job, ‘thinking it was always me, but obviously, as I got older, and now, as well, because my body’s so tired, and my mind is tired, I’ve decided, “Enough’s enough. I need to address all this in my life”. It’s never going to leave me. I’m always going to be on medication’.

Cliff has tried to take his own life twice. ‘To be honest, I can’t wait for the end. I really look forward to the end of walking around here. I’m not scared of death. I’ve promised my brother I wouldn’t do it. But … I wish every day that I don’t want to wake up. I have no sense of peace …

‘Somebody [from the legal service, knowmore] said to me, “What do you want out of all this” … and I said, “I just want to be left in peace. Finally have my peace”. We can’t change the past … All I can do is change the future for myself and part of that future is just to be left in peace … jump in a motor home and go travelling, get in touch with my Indigenous heritage.’

When his daughter was born, he took her to see the Reeds, thinking that he might be able to forgive them. He discovered he couldn’t. ‘How can you forgive someone for what they’ve done to you? Sexually abused you, mentally abused you and physically abused you for pretty much the first part of your life … Do I hold the government responsible? Yeah, I hold them equally responsible as Margot and Frank Reed.’

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