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Don Albert's story

‘I was raped. That was even hard to think about now. By boys. Three boys … It was somewhat hidden away for so long but now I’m starting to feel it … It’s a hatred. The anger is uncontrollable sometimes.’

Don has only recently talked about his abuse in state-run juvenile detention centres in Queensland in the 1960s. He had a health scare which prompted him to open up about his time in juvenile justice system.

‘I buried everything until, I think I heard something about the Royal Commission … about 12 months ago or so and I collapsed … scared me so much that everything came back and I told my daughter the whole story … because I thought I was on my death bed.’

Don’s mother had raised him and his siblings on her own. Money was always tight.

‘I just started pinching money and things to help with food, and feed myself – trivial acts as I think today … About 13 I got into trouble … went to court and got charged with “uncontrollable” … that was when I started my journey to detention.’

From the age of 13 until he was about 16, Don spent time in two different centres. One was particularly cruel. In a written statement Don provided to the Commissioner he stated, ‘I was subjected to what could only be defined as, “Torture, Sexual Abuse and or fear of same, Bashings and beatings by Adult officers and fellow Inmates”.’

He told the Commissioner about the violence he would have to undergo each day in the centre just to have a shower.

‘Every morning we had to go through this … 15 showers in the room … you had to fight your way in and fight your way out to save yourself from being harmed. I think some of the boys were as bad as some of the officers … the “heavies” were the older boys who did what they liked.’

Don had had to defend himself from a young age.

‘I was … 13 and 14 having fights in cells with police officers who were three or four years older than me … Because they pushed me around, I would fight back. And … in and out of the centre, I just got harder and harder. I wouldn’t back off from any man. Never have and never will.’

There was no one Don could have told about his physical or sexual abuse as he didn’t think he would be believed. The officers and older boys also punished anyone who spoke up about the abuse. They were called ‘Dog’ and became targets for further punishment and abuse. Don’s mother was ‘A mother of her times’ and wouldn’t have believed him either. She believed that, ‘A policeman didn’t raise a hand to a child’.

‘No one would believe you because police officers just didn’t do that. That’s the thing that stuck in my head all my life – that no one would believe. And probably one of the reasons I never spoke to anyone else later on.’

When he left the centre at 16 years of age, Don tried to join the army but his juvenile record was held against him.

‘I passed my … basic training with the highest marks in the squad, and a commendation from the CO and next thing I know, I’m getting a letter from the CO telling me my service is no longer required because he’s been informed of my … juvenile [record].’

After this, Don ‘just moved from job to job, jail to jail … having alcohol problems and drug problems, of course’.

In the late 1990s, Don formed a relationship, sobered up and built a new life.

‘We got ourselves together and she straightened me out and I helped her through her wounded world … I seen the light then … grandchildren now … I turned my life around.’

Don is aware however, that many others weren’t able to do the same.

‘The majority of the boys that I was with were people that later on went on in life to become criminals. There wasn’t a boy I knew that got out of the centre and went anywhere … including myself.’

The memories of his abuse now cause him distress.

‘It’s only since we’ve got to this point … in the last few months that it’s started to bubble … I don’t know what to tell you. It’s a nightmare. It comes back as a nightmare when I think about it all.’

He is sharply critical of the officers at the centre and believes that all of them knew about the physical and sexual abuse, including the matron.

‘She used to tend to the wounds. And never reported it. A daily thing of boys going up with pieces out of their bottom. I had my share. Most of the boys had some share of it … There were a few [officers] that weren’t bad but in my opinion none of them were good because they allowed it to happen.’

The impact on Don’s life has been profound.

‘The centre itself was the start … As a result of that, I’ve gone through life with - anything with unnecessary rules, I can’t handle it. It bugs me … I never took a step back. I gave the police a fair run for their money as well over the years. But they gave me a good run too. I mean the police were as bad in those days as the officers at the centre were.’

Don is keen to pursue redress from the Queensland Government, ‘I’ve got nothing in the bank, no superannuation, can hardly bury myself’.

He came to speak to the Commissioner because he knew others who couldn’t.

‘It’s got to be told. It’s got to be brought out … I know a lot of kids wouldn’t be able to, or now they’re too old or dead or whatever. Some of my friends … who were killed … they were [centre] boys.’

He would like to see rigorous employment checks for anyone working with children.

‘More vigilance. More vigilance … there were no checks … half of them were ex-army probably carrying their own psycho problems … They had nothing but a love for belting the boys. They just loved it.’

While his health is of great concern, ‘[Life] is what it is. I won’t give up. I’ll battle. I’m never going to give in’. Don’s grandchildren are also a source of inspiration.

‘They keep me getting out of the hospital bed. There’s a love there I’ve never felt before … I’ve never been happier in myself with my family that I’ve got.’

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