‘I was kidnapped off the road … taken to the car, and while they was looking for more kids they chained me up to a telephone pole. But they didn’t find anyone. They all run and hid as soon as they saw the big black car come up. I just happened to be the person who ran out there and got caught. That’s how I ended up in the boys’ home.’
Conner has been angry for most of his life, for what the government did to him. A few weeks before his private session, Conner received $135,000 in compensation, less $20,000 in legal fees, for abuse he suffered while in a state-run home for Aboriginal boys.
‘To me, what I received, it was only a drop in the ocean for what we went through … If you seen your kid get done like that, what would you think?’
His father had passed away when he was a baby and his mother was a victim of domestic violence so he was put in the care of his older sister on a mission in regional New South Wales. He said he remembered being happy there, running around barefoot and playing with other kids.
In the early 1960s, when Conner was nine and had been on the mission for about a year, welfare officers came and took him away. He spent a short time with his mother before the welfare officers removed him from her care and took him to the boys’ home.
At the home the boys wore a uniform with a number on it, and staff referred to them by that number instead of by their names, which Conner said made him feel rubbish. They were made to do chores which were physically demanding.
‘The home was like a miniature army base, stand to attention, keep everything nice and tidy. If you didn’t you got a smack on the butt or the arm.’
At one time, the river near the home flooded and they had to move to temporary accommodation where they stayed in a big house.
‘One night a fella snuck into bed with me and that was it. Nothing I could do about it. I was more frightened than anything.’
He was raped by another boy who was a few years older than him. He never let it happen again and he never spoke about it. After that, Conner kept a lot of anger bottled up inside.
‘I’m a very cautious person. I was angry but I couldn’t do much about that. I don’t know, I can’t put it into words. Just pure anger. I just kept to myself type of thing.’
He was released from the boys’ home after a few years and spent his teenage years ‘bobbing back and forth’ between his sisters. He had very little education and started getting into trouble and stealing things.
‘I was a pretty angry young bloke. I was angry that I was put in a situation where this happened. I just kind of kept it with me all the way through.’
At 18 he was in Sydney and was charged with stealing a car. He spent a week in prison – ‘that was longer than I wanted to be there’.
Fortunately that was his only prison experience. He married and had children and had a good relationship with his wife for 20 years, until she passed away. He landed a job he liked, working for the council on distant roads, which meant he could be away from others and on his own. He also began the process of reconnecting with his Aboriginal heritage, as he’d been given no knowledge of his own culture when he was in the home.
He said he got through life with ‘wild determination’, and put his emotions on hold. ‘I blocked a lot of it away, a long way away.’
But the pent-up anger came out in his relationship with his children.
‘I was very strict with them … I brought them up too tight, too hard. As they grew up they shifted away from me quite a distance. I think I might have pushed them a little bit too hard. I know I done wrong.’
He only disclosed the abuse he suffered very recently, when going through his compensation claim. He found the process difficult and upsetting, but he said getting it off his chest was a big help. He has since disclosed to his current partner of 10 years, and she has been very supportive and understanding.
He is proud that none of his children or grandchildren followed him into care, and is focussed now on keeping his relationships strong and healthy.
‘You can’t do much about what I’ve been through and the other boys have been through. It’s getting the kids coming up behind us, start teaching them and learning early. A little push in the right direction might make a big, big difference.’