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Gene's story

Gene’s parents were ‘good people – they were just battling like everyone else in the 60s’, and his father was an alcoholic. When Gene was five he and his siblings spent a brief period in care. He was taken into care again, this time as a ‘neglected child’ when he was 16, after he was found hitchhiking. Kept in a local lockup for five days, Gene was extremely upset and frightened. A welfare officer took him to court, and he was returned to his family ‘but remained in a care order until I was 18’.

Still 16, he and some relatives got into trouble for stealing a car and going joyriding. He was placed on remand in a Perth receiving home for a week, during which time he slept in dormitory accommodation. Gene already knew one of the workers there, Mr Lukas, as he had been his scout leader when he was a young boy.

Lukas used to come in at night. ‘It was very frightening to sleep in that dormitory. He abused one white boy in particular, who we would hear cry in the night, but would also place his hands on other boys during the night – including myself in an inappropriate way. As a result of the abuse I ran away ... I went to my family, who took me back to police. I told my mother about the abuse, but I do not know whether or not my mother told the police’.

Gene was then placed in an assessment facility. The superintendent there ran group discussion session with four or five of the kids, ‘and I was always one of them’. He thinks that he disclosed the abuse at the receiving home during one of these discussions, and also told his probation officer about it. As far as he knows, no action was ever taken against Lukas.

After this Gene was locked up in a boys’ reformatory. He became house captain there, and his was always ‘top house’, which gave them privileges such as getting served dinner first. One time when Gene asserted these privileges, a staff member bashed him, knocking him down and leaving his jaw sore for months.

Gene ran away from the reformatory once with a cousin, and they were returned by police. The superintendent made them take down their pants, and flogged them in front of the other boys. They could not sit down for a week, but ‘received no medical treatment apart from a cold shower. We were humiliated and hurt. That hurt remains with me’.

As a young man, Gene worked on the railways, before being drafted into the army. Later on he worked in some of the institutions he had been placed in as a child, including the receiving home where he was sexually abused by Lukas.

‘I just got through it. I was young then, and I was quite dedicated to being a good group worker for kids, that’s probably what drove me.’ He was very diligent about ensuring that no sexual abuse was happening to, or between, the children while he was there. Staff did not get any training about such things, and as a young Aboriginal officer he did not have much power to report any suspicions he had about workers’ behaviour. ‘You’d have been ostracised, because it’s a closed shop ... What they do is turn a blind eye to everything.’

For a long time Gene was busy raising his family and working, and did not talk about the abuse at the receiving home. He did not think that he would be eligible for a state redress scheme, as he misunderstood the scope of who was eligible, so did not make an application.

It was not until a year or so ago that he disclosed it to anyone as an adult. This came about when he was required to have a medical assessment, which he found extremely difficult. ‘To this day I do not like people, including doctors, placing their hands on me. I have recently not been able to have a prostate examination and will now need to have this procedure done under a general anaesthetic.’

When his wife of over 30 years questioned his reactions to this examination, he told her about the abuse, and took her advice not to inform their children. He has started reflecting about these experiences more as he’s aged, and all of his kids have left home.

For the first time in years he has found himself crying, and at times has had thoughts of suicide. ‘But then I have the other side of me saying, I’ve got a family, I’ve got kids, and I’ve got grandkids.’

Gene has spoken to his GP a little about how he has been feeling, but hasn’t received any other support. ‘I just like to think I’m maybe mentally strong myself. I’m probably not, but that’s what you think, you know. Being an older Aboriginal man, who’s been involved in a lot of things ... You think you’re gung-ho, but you’re not. You’re not. You think you can handle things, but you know you can’t.’

Having to be strong for others in his family and community has often meant not having space to deal with his own problems. ‘I’ve often thought, you’re an older person who’s a mentor, an elder for everyone else, but you’ve got issues yourself. But you can’t show it.’

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