Donald Steven's story

‘We were told we were going on a holiday.’

Donald grew up in the 1960s on Aboriginal missions. At 10 years old he was living a carefree life on the New South Wales south coast with his mother and siblings. One afternoon the children arrived home on the bus from school. ‘They were waiting for us’, Donald told the Commissioner. ‘We were shunted into this black Austin A50, I think it was … I remember my little brother was crying, “Where’s Mummy, where’s Mummy? Where are we going?” And my older brother saying, “It’s alright, we’re just going on a holiday”.’

They’d been lied to. Donald and his brothers Vincent and Lawrie and sister Cath had been removed from their mother’s care, just as their mother had been stolen a generation earlier. The boys were placed in a Catholic children’s home in a distant country town. They were separated from little Cath.

‘The nuns, they were really strict. My little brother and I, Lawrie, kept running away trying to look for Cath, our sister. We knew where she was … The police’d find us and shut us in the paddy wagon and shunt us back up to [the home].’

Eventually the nuns tired of the boys’ escape attempts. They were sent to live in a cottage-style home run by the Anglican Church in southern New South Wales.

‘We had the little black boy belted out of us. We weren’t black anymore, we were white.’

Donald and Lawrie continued their escape attempts, wanting to get back to their mother. One day the manager called them into his office. ‘He said to us, “I’ve got some bad news boys. Your mum has died and nobody else wants you”. That was to stop us from running away.’ It was another lie. Donald’s mother was alive and had not stopped looking for her children.

When Donald was about 11 years old a married couple, Albert and Harriet Loundes, became house parents to the 16 boys living in the cottage. ‘They did some damage to me and a few other kids, a lot of other kids - physically, sexually, verbally, psychologically.’

Harriet Loundes was very manipulative. ‘The mother used to give biscuits and tubes of condensed milk to boys who she wanted to manipulate. “Anything out of the pantry, take your pick, whatever you want – as long as you do what I want you to do”.’

Harriet Loundes sexually abused Donald for two years. She would come in to his bedroom and ‘do sexual acts to me’, and when her husband was away she would get Donald to come to her room and abuse him there. Donald believes Loundes also abused his brother Lawrie.

The Loundes were eventually replaced by another couple, Roger and Jean Tedds, who were very kind and ‘treated all the boys like their own’. When Donald left school at 15 Roger Tedds helped him apply for a job in the Australian Defence Forces (ADF). Donald was signed up, and finally escaped the children’s home to try his luck in the world.

Unfortunately Donald had ‘a lot going on in my head’. During his training he was let loose in the city with money in his pocket, determined to have as much fun as a 16-year-old could. ‘But underneath it all there was a lot of shit going on and I drank and drank every time I went out on leave. I think I broke the record for the amount of hours adrift – AWOL they called it. I was just having so much fun drinking.’

Donald was kicked out of the ADF and quickly began to struggle. ‘I found it hard to cope no matter where I was.’ He first landed in prison when he was 17. After that he tried farm work and lived near his little brother, who was still in the children’s home. But drink and drugs overcame him and that led to more trouble with the police. ‘I had no respect for the law as a young fella. I had no thoughts of any consequences … I became an alcoholic and a criminal ... I think I’ve been in just about every prison in New South Wales.’

Donald took 25 years to disclose his sexual abuse. ‘I didn’t trust nobody. Took me a long time to talk to a white person, male or female, young or old, and look ‘em in the eye. Because all white people were out to get me.’ Eventually Donald told his stepfather.

‘It was him that said, “You should do something about it”. I said, “What do I do? Who do I tell? Where do I go? I don’t know nothing”. So I just remained silent for another 10, 15 years. In the meantime I had to cope the best way I could – I didn’t really have any answers in life. Get pissed, get drunk.’

In the last decade Donald has been able to finally turn his life around. ‘I was sick of failing, being spat on and shat on … I looked in the mirror and I didn’t like who I saw. So that’s when I let the Creator and my ancestors help work on the inside of Donald.’

‘I found love and peace and joy and strength and wisdom in my culture … Because it told me to respect mother earth and everything in it and on it … and I thought, “Well I’m a living thing. I should respect myself first”. And I learned to respect other people. Didn’t matter what colour they were or where they’re from. I had to bite the bullet and swallow my pride and look every man and woman in the eye with respect. I’ve had to do that to survive.’

‘And the Creator has blessed me.’

‘I’m enjoying life now. I’ve been sober for quite a few years. If it wasn’t for my sobriety I wouldn’t be here. I’ve seen a lot of ugly things in my life. Ugly, ugly things happened to myself and others in my life.’

‘I’ve had to learn to forgive my tormentors. Not easy. Not easy at all.’

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