Dawson, like all of his siblings, was in and out of foster care from a young age. He never knew his father, and his mother used alcohol and drugs heavily.
‘I suppose I grew up just wanting the love of my mother, but it never really ever came … Would’ve been better if I’d been made a ward of the state, but it didn’t happen.’
In the late 80s, in his early teens, Dawson went into a children’s shelter in regional New South Wales. ‘I had a rough trot there. I was a frail little boy, very skinny and just wary.’
Dawson remembered being physically abused by staff quite a few times. On his 16th birthday he was bashed, stripped and thrown into a cell, and left there naked for three days.
Soon after, when Dawson was living in another boys’ home, he was sexually abused by a guard. ‘I woke up on three occasions where he had his hand down my pants, basically fondling around and that.’ The guard had his other hand over Dawson’s mouth to keep him quiet.
‘One of the hardest things about it was that, when I put a stop to it, that’s when I got in more trouble. I got bashed, completely badly, by blokes in the next unit because he told them that I was a poof. All because I wouldn’t let him continue with it.’
As further punishment, Dawson was forced into playing rugby league against older and stronger boys, and often got hurt.
He didn’t report the guard, out of fear and also, ‘I felt embarrassed I’d done something wrong’.
Today, Dawson is still dealing with the impact of the physical and sexual abuse. ‘If someone tried that shit these days I’d smash their face in. I’ve grown up. I’ve grown up tough and hard.’
Now in his early 40s, Dawson has spent more than half his life in jail. He calculated that the longest time he’s been out is about six years.
‘I’ve done all the jails in New South Wales, I’ve done all the jails in South Australia. I’m at that point now, I just want to get out of jail and try and make a go of it. But I’m that institutionalised, I don’t know, I’ll probably spend the rest of my life in jail.’
As a result, Dawson has almost no relationship with his children. ‘I suppose I thought to myself, “Well, I didn’t have a father and I turned out alright”. But really I didn’t.’
Dawson has also been diagnosed with serious mental health issues after using drugs for many years, to block the memories of his childhood. Before speaking with the Commissioner, Dawson had never talked about the abuse.
‘The time that I spent in boys’ homes was pretty horrific. I’d sort of blanked it all out and not thought about it till the Royal Commission brought it up.
‘I thought maybe it’s time something was said.’