Edward Stuart's story

‘As a five, six-year-old in the dormitory I used to just – it might sound strange, but I used to just stare at the sky for hours and hours … and just daydream about things: what could be. And what should be.’

Edward’s dormitory was located within a government-run Aboriginal mission in Queensland. He arrived there in the late 1960s at age five and was put into the girls’ section. Scared and lonely, he spent many ‘restless nights’ peeping out from his bed, watching as the girls were violently punished and sometimes sexually abused.

Edward’s turn came several months later when, at age six, he was moved into the boys’ dormitory. Fifty or so boys occupied the dorm, most of them older than Edward. Over the next few years he was sexually abused multiple times by some of these boys. He still finds it hard to talk about.

‘You know, yeah. Being held down and, you know, you try to scream out and all that sort of stuff and you can’t scream out.’

To cope, Edward stuck close to his friends and those family members who were also in the dorm with him. No one in this little group ever spoke about the abuse, but they did their best to support each other, forming bonds that have lasted a lifetime.

But even this strong support system was not enough to keep all Edward’s demons at bay. By age 13 he was drinking regularly. He dropped out of school in Year 11 when his girlfriend became pregnant. Edward did his best to support the family over the next few years but he was young and had no parenting skills, so after a few years he decided he had to break off the relationship with his girlfriend and get out of the camp.

He matured quickly as the years passed, gave up drinking, built a successful career, started a new family and reconnected with the kids from his first relationship. He says that family is the number one thing that has helped him to push past the traumas of his childhood and make a good life.

‘I think the thing that probably drove it for me is that issue about making sure you do the best you can for your family … At the end of the day that’s what keeps me motivated.’

For Edward, this determination to do right by his family included keeping quiet about the details of the abuse. His family know about it only in the most general terms.

‘I think: why should I burden people with a lot of those issues as well? They’re going to get really upset, particularly people I love. So why should I?’

Edward’s wife worries about this sometimes, especially when he spends so much time trying to help other victims of institutional abuse. She asks him, ‘Who’s going to help you?’ Still, Edward keeps his focus on others – his fellow survivors and the next generation of kids who need protection.

‘We need to provide some hope for the folk up here, young ones included. They need to see that there’s something down the track as well, because they’re just wandering round in circles at the moment.’

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