Freddy was made a state ward soon after he was born, and ‘was initially placed in the care of my natural mother’. However, being Western Australia in the late 1940s, ‘like most Aboriginal women at the time she had been assigned to work at various places throughout the state ... She lived with the uncertainty of further country placements – placing me in care ensured her child had stability should this eventuate’.
Freddy was fostered by a single white lady, Miss Jenson, when he was around a month old. She was ‘an elderly lady who happened to be a religious fanatic, and noted for her odd and at times bizarre ways, and who held a twisted view of other people and the world in general’. This placement left him without a connection to his Aboriginal culture, and he did not have any male role models. He told the Royal Commission he had an isolated and unhappy life in Perth, and often did not have enough to eat.
Miss Jenson had a very good relationship with the woman who lived next door to them, and would take Freddy when she visited her. This lady cared for her adult son, Tom, who had a disability. ‘Tom would always get me in the front room where he would always put his hand down my pants. That is as far as it went ... I can remember he seemed to focus more on the behind part’. Freddy remembers that Tom would touch, stroke and pinch his bottom.
This abuse continued even after the neighbours moved house, as Miss Jenson maintained the friendship and would visit them in their new place. Freddy can’t remember quite when the abuse stopped, just that this happened in his pre-teen years. It didn’t occur to him to tell Miss Jenson about it, as ‘they were all friends and it wasn't for me to come and make any complaint about it’.
Miss Jenson finally adopted Freddy when he was seven, after a protracted battle with his natural mother. In later years, reading official documentation and written statements from his birth family, ‘it became clear to me it was never my mother's intention to give me up for adoption. My mother did sign the adoption order, having been told that a magistrate could grant the adoption order without her consent and thereby rendering her powerless in the matter’. Throughout Freddy’s childhood, Miss Jenson ‘kept shifting from place to place so my natural mother could not have any contact with me, which also made it impossible for me to develop long-term friendships with other children’.
When Freddy was around nine years old, a slightly older peer sexually abused him at his Marist Brother school. This entailed the boy pushing and rubbing himself against Freddy in the toilets, on what seemed like a daily basis. This boy was much bigger than Freddy, and ‘seemed to have an obsession with those kind of activities’. Because of his home circumstances, Freddy felt he couldn’t tell anyone about the abuse. Miss Jenson ‘really dominated my whole life, she had full control. Apart from her there was that sense of loneliness, there really wasn't anyone else to bounce off or talk to, it was just her’.
As a child Freddy was extremely shy, and lived with an ‘overwhelming inferiority complex’. ‘The sense of inferiority has remained with me throughout my life and accounts, I think, for the inability for intimacy, also to either show love or accept love from others.’ By late primary school, ‘I was a rebel, I did everything – I didn't learn anything, I got caught up with a gang, we used to go out doing destructive things, even stealing from the shop’.
Attending a Christian Brothers high school, Freddy encountered a Brother who encouraged his talents. ‘There were others like me who didn’t excel in sport and he got us together, he formed a drama group so we would travel around and put on plays for old people and that, and also a choir. All those experiences were wonderful.’
In his 30s, Freddy spiralled into alcoholism. ‘I regard my chronic alcoholism as symptomatic of deeper unresolved issues, and such issues as experiencing a certain emptiness remains with me to this day. That is despite having reconnected with my natural people. There is still that emptiness, and of course you can never make up for those lost years.’ He has since engaged in therapy in regards to his drinking, and informed the Commission ‘I have overcome my alcoholism’.
Freddy is proud that despite the barriers in his life, including having spent time in prison, he has achieved a postgraduate qualification. The Aboriginal Medical Service has provided Freddy with good quality health care and support. In his late 30s, he reconnected with his biological family, who have had very different lives to him. Freddy has spoken with police about the boy who abused him at the Marist Brothers school, and they have been very helpful. ‘All that can be done there has been done, I'm quite satisfied with that.’
Freddy first started speaking about the sexual abuse he experienced when he applied to Western Australia’s redress scheme. Through this process, he was awarded $13,000, and linked in with his current counsellor. Before then, he had been unable to tell any of his therapists about this abuse. ‘In the last couple of sessions after 12 months of work get to the important point of me being able to free myself from all the past ... I'm still on a high, I tell you.’