Clifford was born into a large family in the late 1940s. When he was a young child he and a number of his siblings were sent to an Aboriginal children’s home in the Northern Territory. The home was run by Christian missionaries, and the children lived in a number of cottages which each had houseparents.
For the most part Clifford enjoyed his time at the home, despite the physical discipline doled out. At times he would wake with one of the missionaries hovering at the end of his bed, and in retrospect wonders what this man had done or intended to do.
One of his sisters fell pregnant to a missionary while living there. The baby was taken but there was never a visit from welfare to find out who the father was, or in what circumstances she had fallen pregnant. ‘They took the baby away. She never seen the baby again ... She couldn’t talk about it.’
The missionaries took the children on camps and to outback stations to do work and experience station life. Clifford was sexually abused by a station owner when he was around six years old.
‘We started the day off by driving out to the bush ... chasing pigs ... our job was to jump off the truck when he slowed down, jump off the truck and grab these little pigs by the back legs and hold them up so they can’t bite you and take them in the truck.’ The boys were taken out to catch crocodiles too.
One night the man approached Clifford in his bed, grabbing hold of his penis.
‘I was really tired from chasing all them pigs ... Early hours of the morning, this big body was sitting on my bed ... he was playing with me ... I couldn’t understand what was going on, so I started trying to turn on my back, turn on my stomach, try to turn, he wouldn’t let go of my penis you know.’
Clifford made a loud noise ‘and he took off’, and presumes the man then ‘tried somebody else [another boy]’. He wonders why the people supposed to care for him failed to do so. ‘I don’t know where that missionary [accompanying them] was, he should have been with us ... He should have been there for us.’
The following day the station owner asked all the boys who wanted to sleep with him that night. They all put up their hands, but Clifford was not further abused during this trip and did not go back to this station.
As a young teenager Clifford was taken out of school and put to work, which was disappointing as he enjoyed school and looked up to the older boys there. Doing farm work made him fit and strong, and his sporting pursuits helped him cope with the unpleasant memories of the abuse.
‘Sport was like a saviour I reckon ... I was pretty good at it, if you don’t mind me saying so.’
Later on Clifford turned to alcohol, then became a successful artist, and reconnected with his family. He met up with his mum again ‘eventually ... but it was really hard because I never seen her enough’.
Clifford thinks that telling his story earlier would have helped him. Around 20 years ago some researchers were looking into the children’s home and asked him about his experiences there. At first he wanted to talk to them but eventually he decided not to, as he was too ashamed to talk about the sexual abuse and also worried that he would not be believed. It is only within the last year that he has talked about what the station owner did to him.
As yet Clifford has not applied for any compensation but he is aware that a legal firm is attempting to get compensation for former residents of the home. He is engaged with a counsellor who helps him with accessing health and other services in his area.