Djon grew up with his mother and four sisters on an Aboriginal mission in south-east Queensland. For most of his childhood Djon never knew his father, but in the mid-1980s when he was 15 years old he moved to a coastal city in the state to live with him.
Not long after moving in with his father, Djon was caught stealing cars. He told the Commissioner that it was his father who ‘dobbed him in’ to the police, resulting in him being sent to a youth detention centre. On his first day at the centre, Djon was strip searched and instructed to bend over and squat. He found this process to be sexually abusive and violating, believing no young person should have to endure it.
Djon hated the detention centre, describing it as ‘very racist’. The staff were physically abusive and residents were often forced to do chores until two or three in the morning. On one occasion a female officer threw a cup at him, striking his head.
After a number of weeks, Djon was moved to a state-run boys’ home south of Queensland. At first he found the home to be an improvement on the detention centre, but it wasn’t long before he discovered the staff there were also physically abusive. ‘They kick you up the arse and punch you in the face, the screws.’ In particular, Mr Whitlaw senior, who was in his sixties, and his son Mr Whitlaw junior, who was in his forties, were often abusive towards Djon. Both would put him in ‘lock-down’ for days on end and subject him to floggings. While Djon himself was not sexually abused by the Whitlaws he believes other young inmates were.
Another staff member at the home, Mr Bottega, would frequently be lurking in the showers, watching boys while they washed, and asking to shampoo Djon’s hair. ‘He was always there.’
Djon stayed at the boys’ home for two years until he was 17 years old. Since leaving, he has been unable to settle down anywhere, preferring to ‘wander’. His longest relationship lasted two years and he has two children whom he has no contact with.
Djon describes himself as a long term homeless person, preferring to avoid people, which he believes is a consequence of the abuse he suffered. ‘I just can’t stand anyone around me.’ Unable to work, he receives the disability support pension and some years ago received $7,000 compensation. He has never reported the abuse to the police because he does not think they will believe him.
Djon has tried to take his life on two separate occasions, has recently recovered from pneumonia and manages his diabetes. He has a good relationship with his sister and nephew, whom he currently lives with, but believes he will move on from there in time.
Djon feels at peace when he is able to spend time by the river. He believes there should be better parenting education for parents of young children, as well as stronger support services to help Indigenous people get off the streets.