When Dal was six, his mum got drunk and went missing for five days. He was the oldest of the five kids and by the third day there was nothing left to eat in the house so he walked up and down the street begging for food. Someone called welfare and ‘the state people’ turned up on their doorstep and took the kids away.
‘Instead of getting help for the mother, they just took the kids. And the thing is, they never told anyone where the kids were. So I recall not being visited by family members for months and months and months, until my nanna kicked up a stink and found out where we were.’
This was the late 1960s in Queensland. The welfare department made the children wards of the state and placed them in a home run by nuns.
‘They were the worst people I’ve ever come across – and I’ve been in jail a lot, most of my life. It all stems from this. Because I was a Christian in my early days, Nanna took us to church every Sunday, Sunday school and all that. But that just turned me off church forever.’
He told the Commissioner that within a month of being in the home he was raped by one of the older boys, which left him ‘shitting blood for a week’. He didn’t tell anyone about it.
‘I think that he was one of the people that would suss people out. And if you never talked to anyone or told the problem, then it went onto the next series of abuse, which was the nuns, and having sex with the girls and things like that.’
He said he and other boys would be woken up at night, taken to a different room and be made to have sex with older girls while the nuns watched them. Sometimes a priest would be there watching. The nuns would also fondle him while they were bathing him.
Twice he was fostered out to parishioners and both times he was sexually abused by the men or the boys in those families. After a period in each place he’d be sent back to the home. Then he would notice another child would disappear for a while, then come back.
Physical punishments from the nuns were harsh, including bashings with a ‘razor strap’, and if the kids didn’t say their prayers properly they were made to kneel in front of a cross in a locked room for hours on end. He and his siblings were treated particularly badly because they were Aboriginal. They were made to walk behind the white kids on the way to school – and if he stepped out to talk to anyone else, he’d be told to ‘get back there with your kind’.
‘The black kids were the slaves. We’d do the cleaning up, changing of the beds, washing up, cut up the food. We played in the dirt under the house and the white kids played on the grass with the swings.’
Dal ran away from the home a number of times, one time stealing a shopping trolley so he could take five or six younger children with him. After about 18 months, his grandmother gained custody of the children and they left the home, but Dal said the damage was done.
‘That’s why I was in and out of jail all my life since I was 10. Soon as I got out of the institution. It broke me ...
‘I could never commit, so all my relationships were maybe a year, tops. As soon as that commitment started, I’d run away … commitment, love, affection, they took that all off you. Trust, everything.
'That’s why I hid in drugs. Anything that got you high, I’d put it in my body. Alcohol, big alcoholic, gambler, heroin addict, lived on the streets of Sydney and Brisbane, lived in a cardboard box, halfway houses, broken houses.’
Over the years, Dal has made multiple suicide attempts, including after he was knocked back for compensation from the Forde Inquiry.
‘I really went downhill after that … I went straight out and OD’d. Shot up so much shit that it put me in hospital for a week. But it didn’t kill me. And I’ve done that heaps of times … I come from tough stock.’
He hasn’t talked about the abuse much over the years, but has recently started seeing a psychiatrist. He said the big thing is the guilt he feels, believing that it was his fault.
Dal now thinks of himself as a fighter. Through it all he managed to have successful businesses, and has good relationships with his ex-partners and his children. He’s been out of jail for six years, he’s off the drugs and hasn’t had a drink in 10 years.
He also takes pride in work he does in the community, helping young Aboriginal men connect with their roots and culture, and wishes similar programs could be implemented in jails and institutions.
‘It took me 30-odd years to find out where I come from … That’s the thing that’s kept me going, even though I’ve been in and out of jail all my life, the main thing was respect and heritage.
'Cultural knowledge … Going out to country, I found a calmness that I could never explain. I still do it today. Every few months I go and take my shoes off, get my lap-lap and spear and run around the bush, eat bush tucker, do the hunting and spearing that my grandfather taught me.’