Francis’s early life was turbulent – molested by a family friend while living with his dad, then staying with an aunt already caring for a large number of kids. Eventually in the 1970s, when he was seven years old, he and his siblings were sent to a Catholic Aboriginal mission in remote Western Australia.
At first Francis was happy to be at the mission, as it meant he would all be fed three meals a day ‘and go to school’. Still, ‘I wasn’t too keen on the way the Catholics crossed themselves, ‘cause that was part of it – you had to go to church ... Indoctrination I call it’.
One day an older boy in the dormitory who ‘was basically in charge’, told Francis with ‘a bit of a smirk on his face’ that ‘the Father wants to see you’. He took Francis into a room and left.
‘There’s two priests. And they say, “Oh you’ve been bad, so we have to punish you. So take off your shorts and lay on the bed, on your stomach”.
‘So I thought I was going to get a flogging or something. But I would have preferred the flogging to what followed.
‘The first one yeah, he raped me. Raped me and basically ejaculated in me.
‘Then the other jumped on me and did the same thing. And I was just screaming out for Mum, my dad, whatever.’
The priests told him to ‘say nothing, or we’ll hurt your brothers’. It turned out that one of his brothers had already been raped.
They tried to rape Francis’s younger brother too, ‘but he just kept running away and telling them to fuck off. “Fuck off, my dad’s coming and he’s going to shoot you”’.
Although the mission was ‘in the middle of nowhere’ the boys tried to run away by crossing a river. Francis was scared and froze and was caught by one of the priests, who threw him in the water so his brothers had to return and save him.
Not long after this incident ‘my dad turned up apparently, and he’s got a rifle, he always had rifles’. The boys didn’t tell him what the priests had done as ‘he would have shot them dead on the spot. In hindsight maybe we should have told my father’.
For years Francis repressed many of these memories. Around a decade ago they all came flooding back when he was talking to one of his brothers and was reminded of the abuse. There are still large periods of his life that he does not remember in detail.
Francis went through the WA redress scheme and disclosed the sexual abuse, and he received $13,000. He is now engaged with a lawyer regarding further compensation options, although he thinks civil options may be impacted upon by statute of limitations regulations. He also made a statement to police about the abuse and the matter was investigated. It was established that both of the priests are now deceased.
With ongoing difficulties managing his rage, as well as previous suicide attempts, Francis understands that he needs professional mental health support. ‘My mate said to me one day, he said, “You know what Francis, people don’t know how to take you mate ... They don’t know whether if they say something you’re going to laugh in their face or you’re going to pick something up and smash their head open”. They were on edge basically, because it’s like standing next to a bomb.’
His constant state of anger is wearing him down physically and emotionally. ‘I’ve got to actually physically, consciously relax my body when I go to bed. I’m that tense ... I drive, I just want to jump out and kill people. I’m that angry every fucking day of my life. And I’m tired of it. I’m over it.’
Because of his experiences at the mission, and his mother being one of the Stolen Generations, ‘I have very little trust in white people’. He will only seek support from Aboriginal services – but feels these ‘have let me down’ when he has accessed counselling through them.
He continues to try engaging with therapy, and has worked hard to overcome the impacts of his fractured childhood and the abuse.
‘I have difficulty forming close relationships. The only people that I’m ultra-close to are my own, very own children. Even my wife it’s sort of, there’s that distance. And I’ve tried to change that by changing myself, forcing that, making myself make those changes. I used to be that angry that my youngest son cringed, you know.’