‘It’s one of the sad things that I realise – who are we going to tell? How are they going to believe it? How can you believe [what] I’m telling you?’
Fred was taken from his mother when he was eight years old in the late 1950s. He and his siblings were sent to Sydney and then dispersed among a number of homes for children. Fred and his brother Bruce were sent to a government-run home for Aboriginal boys in regional New South Wales.
‘The home itself, it was traumatising. I had an older brother, Bruce, and he was … 10 [years old] he was my protector, and the only good thing I had to hold onto while I was in there.
‘I remember of a night time … I couldn’t sleep because we were separated … I’d sing out “Bruce”. And he’d say “Yes Fred, I’m awake”. I couldn’t sleep. I’d say “Bruce” and he’d say “Yeah, I’m awake”. I don’t know how long … it [went] on for. Eventually, I’d go to sleep.’
Because of Bruce, Fred avoided some of the cruel physical and sexual abuse that occurred in the home. But his fair hair and blue eyes meant he still stood out.
‘What I did do was I tied myself into sport … and that again was my way of breaking free of it. They would billet me out to … when I went to Sydney a couple of times they’d billet me out.’
Boys threatened him with beatings for excelling at sport, for being better than them, but when he played badly, the manager of the home would cane him for his poor performance.
‘That was the type of life that I was living in the home. I was always trying to manoeuvre myself to be with somebody I’d hope that would protect me.’
Bruce often had to be taken away because of a medical condition and at these times, Fred was without protection.
‘That time I became a loner and that was when I was a bit vulnerable … I wanted to fit in and it was difficult because … me eyes are blue … I’d get in that spot where I was fearful and frightened and vulnerable.’
During one of these periods, Fred was brutally raped by older boys. He never told anyone about the assault because he was deeply ashamed. Not long after, Fred was touched by another boy and reported it to the manager.
‘I went up and told the manager that one of the boys was being rude to me – I don’t know whether I used the word “wanting to have sex” or whatever because I don’t really know what sex would have been [at the time] … I got the cane. He bent me over and he caned me.’
The other boy involved was also caned. But to resolve their conflict the staff forced the two boys to fight one another in front of the other boys. This form of punishment was common at the home.
‘I beat him. I was fighting for my arse, that’s what I was fighting for … even while I was doing that, it was a sad time. I could see the blood coming out of him … I wanted him to stop then. He couldn’t stop because they [staff] kept on pushing him in. We just kept on punching.’
Fred was raped a second time but didn’t tell anyone about that assault.
‘What was I going to do? Tell somebody to get flogged so I could get flogged again, and then bashed up? Even my brother Bruce, when he come back, what was I going to do, tell him?’
He stayed at the home for five years and coming out was challenging. He and his brother left together and were fostered with his aunt and uncle. He was unable to see his mother for some months and he wouldn’t meet his father for some years. His girlfriend became pregnant but she was removed from the community to have her baby. The baby was taken away before either she or Fred saw him.
‘I became traumatised and I got suicidal. I was going to shoot myself and tried to drown myself [but] I realised I wanted to live more and I made it across the other side [of the river].
‘[At] that traumatised time, I started drinking. I pinched a flagon before I was 18 … I liked the way that alcohol made me forget the memories … it made me forget everything. I mean, I was drunk for 45 years and I think I remember about five years of that time. The rest is a total blackout.’
Fred has also been in and out of jail.
‘As soon as I turned 18, I said, “Well, this is it, nobody’s going to tell me what to do”. And in going down the journey I realised that after all those years I didn’t take control of my life. I let the police and the courts take control of it through my alcohol abuse … finished up getting into drugs to beat the alcohol.’
In the last two years he has given up drinking and been back in touch with other ex-home boys and the association that has grown to support them as men. He was very angry when he first reunited with the other boys.
‘I couldn’t understand why were these people allowed to do this. Why were we allowed to be bashed and sexually assaulted and locked up and starved and chucked in the swimming pool, water tipped over us, why? … in the process [it] connected me back to [the place].’
Fred is greatly concerned about the intergenerational trauma that his family has experienced.
‘All my children have been in jail. It’s not something to be proud of … my grandchildren … even had a crack at it and the grandchildren are on a methadone program. I’m powerless to stop it from happening. So this journey where I been down here [speaking to the Royal Commission, reconnecting with other home boys and supporting the boys’ home association] … is the place that can help us fight this. At least give them [the next generations] some direction.’
He has recently met his eldest son, the one who was taken away when Fred was 17 years old. Fred can see his own confusion in his son’s eyes, being taken away and growing up in a white environment.
His children have also recently told him of their own sexual abuse when they were meant to be in his care. This was one of his motivators to stop drinking.
‘My children, after these years, they sat down and they told me they’ve been molested … and here I am the big proud strong man that I thought I was and instead of protecting them I opened the doors for them paedophiles to come into my life and do it to my children while I was drunk and asleep.
‘I can never ever, ever, ever take that back, but I can help stop it going on for my grandchildren … I want to live for at least another 15 years and I reckon by that I’ll be able to at least put something into place.’
Fred was also distressed when he read his welfare records. He feels that they paint an inaccurate picture of him that will cause distress to his children. After he dies he has no way of correcting his children’s impressions of him.
‘What is written there, it hurts me but I know it’s not true.’
The impact of Fred’s years at the home are significant and include issues with intimacy and people in authority.
‘I’m not a person that [has] sexual desire … for myself … even the woman that I married we were going out sneaking down the river bank and sleeping, sleeping there all night but no sexual stuff happening. To this day I still wonder how she felt.
‘People with authority, I don’t like them … but now I realise that there are good police … there are good and there are bad. What pain did we go through to get to that point? This is why this [the Commission] is important … right now.’
He worries about his children and the possibility of them taking their own lives, especially as he has had a number of periods where he has had suicidal thoughts and almost followed through with them.
‘I didn’t want to live … I got up … and I said this is not going to take care of my children, this is not going to fix my children. They’re getting treated the same way as I getting treated … I know that they carry the fear that I carry. If I went that close to shooting and killing myself I am terrified that one of them is going to do that …
‘Money’s beautiful, money’s good but money’s not going to solve this.’
He knows, though, that even at his age, his life has improved. He remains optimistic.
‘I’ve always been lucky. My children love me all of them … they love me more now that I don’t drink and I don’t smoke … I am so blessed at this moment that none of them’s done it [taken their lives]. At this moment and in my life, I’m almost game enough to be happy.’