After his mother died in the mid-1950s, Donny was sent to a Lutheran Aboriginal mission. He was one year old when he arrived and recalled that in the 16 years he spent there, he was subjected to hunger, beatings and sexual abuse. He saw his father only twice in the time he was there.
‘It was difficult because we didn’t have anyone to go to, we didn’t know where our parents were but were told never to cry out for them. There was no love or affection, from the age of five we’d be out doing chores from five in the morning like milking the cows. Everything was done by the kids, and we didn’t have the chance to learn about our community and our culture.’
Donny was eight when he first experienced sexual abuse. He told of Superintendent Fencer lining him and his two cousins up during their bath time, then ‘fondling and touching’ them each in turn. Boys throughout the mission went to great extremes to avoid the superintendent.
‘If you were caught on your own with Fencer, you were in a whole lot of trouble. He chased me through the dormitory once, but I jumped out through the open window and straight onto a coke bottle. It cut right up through my left foot and destroyed most of the nerves. I was in hospital for three months recovering.’
The lid on the ‘bottled up’ memories of Donny’s shattered childhood started to come off as Donny approached his 30s.
‘In the Aboriginal way we see it as shame, and we wouldn’t have dared raise it with anyone because we’d have had the living daylights flogged out of us. As it was we were attending school covered in bruises, but teachers turned a blind eye.’
When he left the mission, Donny set out to find his family. ‘I found my father, but he was very angry about losing the opportunity to raise us. I spent a lot of time with him before he died, but that cost me my relationship with my partner.’
He is yet to find his older siblings.
‘I still battle with alcohol, and just want somebody held accountable for what happened to me and a lot of others.’
Each day continues to bring its own challenges for Donny, who has since confronted one of the missionaries who was charged with the care of the boys in his dormitory.
‘I told him we were being abused by Fencer, and he broke down in tears wanting to know why I hadn’t told him what was happening. Put simply, I told him we couldn’t tell anyone there without copping a beating for lying.’
Donny’s children understand their father had a difficult childhood. Although he’s kept the details private in an effort to protect them, he fears future generations will continue to be negatively impacted by the wrongs of the past.
‘Our children and grandchildren are living the pain and that has to stop. People were paid to provide a level of care that was never delivered, and the state government needs to own up for its responsibility. I still cry, I still have my moments, and telling my story is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I’m really glad I did it. Hopefully it will make other Indigenous people come and let everyone know their story.’