Henry’s dad assaulted police and welfare officers when they came to take the kids away in the late 1950s. He ended up in jail, and Henry and his siblings were taken to a Protestant mission in southern Western Australia.
Henry was five years old, and separated from all but one brother. Mission life was hard, and the missionaries never showed the kids any love or affection. If the boys cried, they would be beaten. Bedwetting would result in an ice-cold shower, at any time of year.
All the children were assigned jobs. Henry had to work in the vegetable patch and dairy. With inadequate clothing and no shoes, he learned to stick his feet in fresh cow pats to keep from freezing in the winter. At times the poor nutrition he received led to him developing sores.
When Henry first arrived at the mission one of the older boys took him to the vegetable patch, to show him what he needed to do. This boy then took Henry’s pants off, told him to bend over, and tried to rape him.
Being so young, Henry had no idea what the boy was doing. Fortunately some other kids approached them, and the incident stopped there.
Henry and the other kids who were too young for school were looked after by some of the older girls. One of these girls had been good to Henry, intervening when another boy was slapping him around.
However, this girl also got him alone, and tried to have sex with him. Again, he was confused, and did not understand what was happening.
The final incident happened when he was a bit older. A boy in his dormitory had a habit of sleepwalking, and one night returned to Henry’s bed instead of his own. Henry was used to sharing a bed with his brothers back home, so let the boy stay.
One of the missionaries, George Earle, observed this, and questioned Henry the next day. Then he pulled down Henry’s shorts, sat him on a table, and proceeded to play with his penis. Once again, Henry did not comprehend what was going on.
Earle asked him ‘whether this felt funny or not. I was so young I could not understand what he was actually talking about’. It was only later that he realised Earle had been attempting to masturbate him, and ‘was actually asking if I was able to ejaculate or not’.
Henry became aware that Earle had abused other boys at the mission too. ‘I just grew up very confused about sexual things ... We never had any sex education from anyone.’ The kids only had their older brothers to tell them about sex, ‘but we didn’t know whether they’re telling the truth’.
For the five years Henry was in the mission, his parents worked to get their children back. After getting married and securing a house, and proving his father had permanent employment, authorities let Henry and his siblings return to them.
Henry did not disclose any of the abuse to his family. His parents separated a while later, and his mum died at an early age. ‘The life that we had before, we could never get that back. It changed everything.’
After leaving school, Henry starting working with young Aboriginal kids. Although he enjoyed the work, many of his clients had similar problems to the ones he grew up with, and this eventually got him down.
Henry found another job where he also worked with people who were going through difficult times. He stayed there for a decade, but again it kept taking him back to his past.
Over the years, Henry had tried to talk about the abuse. ‘I remember going to my brothers and sisters. I remember going to uncles and aunties. Trying to talk to them about it. Trying to tell them. And it sort of, it would come up to here, and then it’s sort of like something’s choking it off. I couldn’t bring it out.’
The older he got, the less Henry felt able to cope with the memories of abuse. He experienced depression, anxiety, and insomnia, and used alcohol to cope. Finally he had a breakdown, and attempted suicide.
His work supervisor ordered him to see a psychologist. At first, ‘I said “I’m not going to see a psychologist, they’re for mad people”. I said, “I’m not mad”’, but now he is happy he met with her.
‘I’m glad it was a female. If it was a male I don’t think I would have been able to talk.’ He found it a great relief to finally discuss his childhood, and the incidents of sexual abuse, and has since engaged with a male counsellor too.
‘It was the first time I really talked to a bloke. But I’ve been on camps, men’s camps, where we sit down and talk, and we share with each other, counsel each other. That’s always been a big relief for me.’
He has since shared parts of his story with many people, and tries to inspire others to talk up about their experiences. ‘I encourage young kids to talk about it, if there’s any abuse, talk about it, don’t bottle it up.’
His ‘amazing wife’ is a strong source of support. ‘She knows me, she knows all about me. And she talks, she’ll sit down and talk with me. She asks me questions ... She hasn’t had an easy life herself, but we help each other. That’s probably why we’re still together.’
Henry applied to the Western Australian redress scheme, with the assistance of some friends. He told them about all of the sexual abuse, but was only awarded a small payment anyway. This felt like ‘a slap in the face and a kick in the guts’.
A few years ago Henry heard that Earle was under investigation by police. No charges were laid however, due to Earle’s ill health.
Henry’s parents taught him to be strong, and he tries to find the positives in life. He refuses to take on hate.
‘Don’t hate another person. Because if you hate another person, you’re hating someone whose made of the same flesh and blood like you. Hate the deed that they done, but don’t hate them ... Hate is like cancer. It will destroy you in the end.’