‘I was out there till I was 10 years of age, running around. I didn’t know anything about ABC or one, two, three. The only thing I knew was hunting there or going for witchetty grubs or catching crayfish or hunting for bandicoots and things like that. I could do that sort of thing.’
Errol’s first years were spent living on a large Queensland cattle property where his father was a stockman. In the early 1950s, his father was off mustering when the police came and took the rest of the family to an Aboriginal mission 200 kilometres away. There they were separated from each other with brothers and sisters being sent to boys and girls quarters while Errol’s mother went to live with the women.
Errol remembered the man in charge of boys as being hard and tough. ‘Flogging, even up to the age of 15, I had to take off my trousers and bend over and get flogged very hard … My brother and I had to adapt very quickly cause we never had that sort of strict control and all that so we used to just get flogged at the beginning there until I started to wake up to myself. I said, you’re going to do wrong, you’re going to get a hiding. As long as you complied which I learned to do, you didn’t get in trouble, you know.’
As well as the superintendent, manager and manager’s wife, another person who lived on the property was the school teacher, Clive Jennings. He was a trusted person of authority and Errol said it was a shock when Jennings came to his bed one night and started fondling his penis.
‘He came and sat next to me and grabbed me by the thing, and I didn’t know what to do and then he got up and left’, Errol said. ‘I just went off to sleep. The second time I was going past his room and he said, “Come and I’ll show you how to play the guitar”.
'He grabbed me and he’s fondling me, you know trying to kiss and I just took off out the thing there, and I don’t know why, I never reported it.’
Errol told the Commissioner he didn’t know what would have happened if he hadn’t got away, but Jennings didn’t come near him again. Together with his friends, Errol made plans for what they’d do when they were finally able to leave the mission. ‘We used to say, when I get out of this place, I’ll work. We’ll be working people. That’s what I sort of concentrated on.’
When he left at 17, Errol returned to work on the cattle station with his father. ‘I think it would have been really good if I stayed with my father … Dad was a wonderful person. He used to talk lingo, every night sing, sing lingo every night. He used to talk all the time, but I used to say, “Dad” – this is 1960 now, this particular time – I said, “We want to listen to rock and roll”. “Oh. Oh, righto”. But that was only just one occasion. You had to get up round about 3.30, 4 o’clock in the morning to run in horses. You had 25, 30 head of horses. We had to, you know have them in the yard, and you’d have to go and have breakfast, cut our lunches and you used to ride around about five, six, seven miles just to get to where you were going when you had to muster. Then you’d go home late, but I loved it.’
Errol never spoke about the abuse in the mission. ‘Even when I got married, I never even told my missus or anything like that ‘cause you sort of, you know what I mean, I forgot about it and just went on with life. But then I suppose, sometime I guess you reflect on it. And then I say, “Well nothing happened to me, I think I’ll forget that I was there” – just like that, you know?’
In constant employment, Errol said he used to wonder why others didn’t work. ‘I used to say, “What’s wrong with these blackfellas? They’re lazy and don’t want to work”.’ It was only later working for a community organisation, he said, that he began to appreciate other people’s struggles. ‘They taught me to be considerate.’
He said he regretted being ‘a tyrant’ with his children. ‘I had to apologise to them later to say sorry that I was strict on them. They said, “That’s all right Dad”.
Then I started telling them about my life in the dormitories, you know. Even Dad when he used to speak to me on the station, I think, here come that word of authority. Dad was telling me for my own good and I was thinking it was the same sort of thing I got on the mission. I wanted to do everything my way.’
As part of Queensland’s Redress Scheme, Errol received $4,000. ‘It wasn’t helpful’, he said. ‘It didn’t go into real detail. I just said I was sexually abused, but didn’t say what or how.’
While he thought children were probably safer now, Errol recommended random and unannounced visits be made by a man and a woman working together wherever there were institutions or homes with children in care.
‘I just speak for myself, I got over most of all that stuff. I think I fortified that too along the way that it never got me down. Had there been actual penetration or other stuff I think I’d probably be a different person. I can’t speak for those people, but just for myself there I could sort of live without it. But this Commission, it’s our duty to bring it to your attention because people may be safer. The story has to be told you know.’