Derek was born in the late 1960s into a ‘working class family’ that ‘didn’t have much to spare, but we never went hungry’. He was ‘always a rambunctious sort of kid, not a bad kid, I was what some people said “a lovable rogue”. You know, sometimes even when I got caned the headmaster would be smiling while he’s doing it’.
Although he was ‘smart, but I never showed it, I hid it’, he was frequently in trouble at school. ‘I got caned every day. And the more they caned me, the more I rebelled.’ Often he would ‘wander’, taking off from home to go on some adventure or another. An incredibly energetic child, ‘I found an avenue in sport. I excelled’.
At 12 he would sneak out of home at night to go stealing. He saw this as a kind of game, trying to outsmart people. ‘It wasn’t about what I took, it was about how I did it.’
As a result of this behaviour he was placed under a care and protection order, and put into a Brisbane residential youth centre run by the government for a few weeks. As well as the time in the centre, ‘I had to keep going and talking to people for the next six years’.
One of the police officers who came and took Derek from his house bashed him when they got to the police station. When they drove him to the centre, the officers ‘taunted me, telling me what was going to happen to me you know, “you’re probably going to get raped” and all this sort of shit’.
A number of the guards at the centre sexually abused him. This included unnecessary inspections of his penis and anus, and being forced to expose himself to staff who were frequently ‘asking to look at what I’ve got’. As well, there was ‘no doors on the showers, no doors on the toilets, no privacy’.
In addition, one of the guards threatened to rape and kill him, which left him completely terrified. Derek was subjected to physical violence as well, including often being bashed while he slept. Other boys would play games where they masturbated in front of each other, and invited Derek to participate.
After his time at this centre he dropped all of his sporting activities. Although he returned to school, he was stigmatised because of where he had been, and he could not settle back in. He left school in his early teens and began drinking, and also found work. When the state redress scheme was in place he applied but did not report any sexual abuse, and so received the minimum payment.
Derek lives with a number of complex and severe mental health conditions, including PTSD, anxiety, and depression. He has troubles with anger and aggression, often wakes up screaming from nightmares, and misuses alcohol and other drugs. ‘I’m an alcoholic, a functioning alcoholic. I’m doing something about it, but I’ve been a drunk pretty much all my life ... I think I’d be a really good candidate for medical marijuana, ‘cause when I smoke marijuana I don’t have bad dreams.’
Many of his friends had taken their own lives, including boys he knew from the centre, and he has distressing dreams about seeing them dead. He often contemplates suicide himself. As for counselling, ‘I tried mate – there’s nothing you can really do for me ... To be honest, I’m deeply depressed right now’.
Derek is not sure how he has survived this far. He told the Commissioner that going into the bush, engaging with a support organisation for people who had been in care as children, and accessing a community centre in his area have all been helpful.