George Alfred's story

As a child, George had learning difficulties. ‘I was very far behind compared to other people, especially with my speech, and understanding and that, I was very immature … Mum and Dad babied me, cotton-balled me.’

As a child growing up in regional Queensland in the mid-1960s, George was ‘very protected, very naive, couldn’t go out, had to be home, had to account for where I was’. He didn’t make many friends as a child and so, as a 15-year-old, when his sister’s older boyfriend began to befriend him, he felt special.

‘He started treating me as a really good friend … he was taking me out. He had guns … and we were shooting. He had alcohol, give me alcohol, never experienced anything like that.’

Eventually this man persuaded George to participate in a crime. They were caught and convicted. George entered juvenile detention at 16.

‘Being so naive I was a pretty easy mark … till then I had never been in trouble.’

The government-run youth remand centre was built like a fort with cells ringing a courtyard. ‘[It was] the worst place … Some of the staff were good and others weren’t.’

George recalled that the culture inside the centre was one of bullying and humiliation. One guard in particular would routinely harass and abuse the boys. ‘When he was on … a lot of the things that shouldn’t have happened, happened.’

The guard would regularly invent petty thefts and accuse the boys of being the culprits. When no one came forward to own up to the theft, the guard forced the boys to line up around the recreation area and stand with their pants down until someone admitted to it.

‘We’d have to have our pants on our ankles and just stand there … And then he’d say “Well, someone has to confess” … and then he and his friend, they’d walk around and keep looking at us … That was a regular thing … we were only kids.’

The guard also threatened to deny the boys their weekend family visits. When the guard worked on Saturday mornings, he would declare that some small item had gone missing. He would then make the boys stand in their cells while he searched for the thief. The boys with visitors waiting to see them would hear their names called out over the loudspeaker system but would be unable to move until the guard allowed them. No one moved.

‘Then, he’d make an exception … because they kept calling visits. And [he would take you] into the officer’s room … sometimes with the other [guards] … and in that room he’d be talking, “You can’t go for a visit. This is all procedure”, and you would have to pull your pants down and bend over and stay in that position and whatever else happened. Otherwise you had no visit, you couldn’t see your family.’

Throughout his 12-month sentence, George was sexually abused by this guard and often the other two.

Other routine humiliations included ‘meetings’ with another staff member. All the boys would have to sit around in a circle and staff would ask questions.

‘And they’d be asking “Are you a wanker? How often do you masturbate? Or are you denying it and a liar?” And you’d get belittled and this’d go round with everybody.’

A senior guard also used to call George into his office to grill him about ‘what action was happening’ in the centre.

‘He’d want to know who was doing what to who, and he kept saying “It’s all right, it only happens in these sort of places”. He really pressured me on those issues … Wanted to know details.’

George has never talked about his abuse to anyone but wanted to speak to the Royal Commission so that his story is recorded. ‘I’ve never ever talked about it. Ever. Never … I thought, I’m not getting younger and if I die no one will ever know.’

George didn’t report the abuse or any of the humiliations at the time because he was terrified.

‘Who’d listen? Who’d believe? … Every bit of your life, you’ve got no control. You get in, yelled [at], screamed [at], told what to do … “Sit. Stand. Sit Stand. Sit. Stand.” All the time. “Sit. Stand. In. Out.” And if you didn’t do what he said, you’d get written up’ and lose all privileges.

George told the Commissioner, ‘You couldn’t make phone calls. Only way you could make a phone call there, is go into the office where the staff are. There’s a phone on the table. They sit there [listening], and then you can ring and talk to whoever you want to talk to. Every letter you send they’re reading it. Visits, they’re sitting in the room … at the end of the table while you’re talking to your visits. There’s nothing, absolutely nothing you could do.’

George wanted the Commissioner to know that the Aboriginal boys in the centre were targeted for specific sexual abuse which the guards would then joke about.

Because George has never spoken about his abuse he has never accessed counselling or made a police report or received compensation from the government. The impacts of the abuse on his life have been significant and he is currently in jail.

‘I’ve been told [I’m] so cynical. Definitely no trust of authority … I try not to think about it … I try not to think about it. It upsets me.’

As he grows older, George’s concern for himself increases.

‘My biggest fear, and this really does worry me, my grandpa had Alzheimer’s, and I love my grandpa, and when he got to the really bad stage, it was if he was living in a bad time in his life where his father treated him real bad. He used to whip him … It was like he was [back] being whipped.

‘And my fear is that I’ll have Alzheimer’s and I’ll be stuck back in that [centre] and that visit room. It may be silly but I saw it with my own grandpa … I thought that would be purgatory to be back there, stuck there permanently.’

George now wants to access his records from the centre to gain perspective on what happened to him.

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