Gordo was born in Melbourne in the late 1950s. He was removed from his parents’ care when he was just two and placed in a regional Victorian orphanage with his older brother, Len.
‘I got taken out of the pram … They just grabbed us … I remember a black car with balloons hanging out and they said we was going to a party. That was welfare in the car.’
When he was about five or six, he and his brother were fostered out to a couple who belonged to a local Brethren church. Their Aboriginality meant Gordo and Len were targeted for attention and made to feel awkward within the church. His foster parents had many other children, all younger than Gordo.
The sexual abuse began soon after they arrived. Gordo’s foster father would wake him in the morning by rubbing his penis. The foster father would also abuse his own children in this way, too.
‘I used to see him with his own daughters, you know, and I knew I was next … I’d put me pillow over my head and I’d just wait for him to call me out.’
Whenever the mother was away from the house, Gordo’s abuse would worsen.
‘A lot of the times [when abuse occurred] is when she was in hospital having her kids, and that’s when he was staying with us and we had to get into his bed … you know, Len on one side and me the other side.’
The abuse continued for years. There was no one he could speak to and there was little oversight by welfare authorities.
‘I hardly seen the welfare … no one come and visited me. Once in a blue moon and then sometimes I was told to go and hide in the bush when welfare come. “Get over there, you little black bastard, go in the bush”, they said. “Go and hide in the bush till these white people go”.’
He was made to work as a labourer for his foster father as young as 13, and his foster mother would often belt him with a leather strap. He had to wear long-sleeved clothing throughout summer to hide the bruises, and his schooling suffered. He was also sexually propositioned by two teachers at his high school and didn’t feel safe there either.
Gordo often thought about suicide. He tried running away but found that he would be overwhelmed with hopelessness about his situation.
‘I never had the chance to see my mother or father or grandmother or grandfather – they’d all gone. I didn’t know where to start looking for my parents 'cause no one told me nothing.’ He grew despondent when he realised that the closest thing to family he had was his abusive foster family.
On a Brethren church camp in South Australia he was further sexually abused by one of the camp leaders and his foster father.
After many years, Gordo was released to the custody of his aunt but this was another physically brutal environment and he rebelled. He was sent away to a home for uncontrollable boys. After six months he realised he had to get out of the system. He planned an escape by returning to his foster parents and then running away. His plan worked, as he easily found jobs to sustain him.
Years later he asked Len about their abuse but his brother never wanted to talk about it. ‘He wanted to forget it all … he said, “No Gordo, let’s get on with our life and forget about it.” But I said, “I can’t. It hurts me every day”.’
In the 1990s Gordo wrote down his statement of abuse and took it to a regional Victorian police station to make a formal report. The investigation of his claims was rudimentary. The police rang the perpetrator and asked if he had abused Gordo. The man denied it. Gordo heard nothing more from them.
But because the church camp where he had been abused was interstate, a different police unit contacted the man who had abused him there.
‘They went and seen him, and he admitted to … molesting me at the boys’ camp.’ But Gordo never heard the outcome of this man’s admission.
Because of his removal from his parents, his extensive sexual and physical abuse and the responses of authority to his reports of this abuse, Gordo has significant issues with trusting people. ‘Why would I waste all my time doing these statements … why would I come down and bullshit anyone?’
He has his records from his years as a state ward but they are incomplete and the descriptions of his father are particularly hurtful. He doesn’t believe what is written in the files.
Gordo is plagued with thoughts of suicide. He drinks alcohol excessively and smokes cannabis to escape his memories. He was restless in relationships and work and could never settle down. He is proud of his resilience ‘but I’ll never heal’.
He has been able to help others by telling his story.
‘When we go on healing camps with Link Up, I’m the first one up to tell my story because I can see them [other participants] hurting so much … I’ll get up straight away because I know – I did not know years ago, but I know that it was never, ever my fault.’