From birth to the age of 12, Hew lived in an Aborigines Inland Mission (AIM) children’s home where his parents were resident workers. He grew up feeling that he was adopted because his parents didn’t treat him any differently than they did other children. The perception that children of workers were given preference over other boys and girls wasn’t true, Hew said, and he was routinely subjected to the same physical punishment as others. He also encountered severe canings and beatings in the state government high school he attended after leaving the home.
‘We need to put it in context - there was a generation of behaviours within the education system and the adult structure of society where caning children [was normal].’
As a seven-year-old, Hew was sexually abused by another resident, David Brown, who was six years his senior. On several occasions, Brown isolated Hew in the grounds of the home or at picnic areas, made him perform oral sex and anally raped him. ‘He was firm but directive’, Hew said. ‘He had absolute control.’
Hew told the Commissioner that he couldn’t tell his parents or anyone else about the assaults because he felt ashamed and was scared he’d be rejected or judged. Looking back he thought some girls might have been aware of the abuse because they were very caring and motherly towards him.
The first person Hew told about the abuse was his wife. The disclosure was triggered by the impending birth of their first child. ‘I have the most incredible wife. That is the most vulnerable I’ve felt in my life. I say vulnerable because in my mind’s eye I had actually built myself up to believe that this will probably end the relationship. It’s hard to describe. It’s very difficult to convey the courage that was required to break the silence and raise that issue, because you get something in life that you think, something good’s come in your life and I don’t want to lose it …You’ve got no idea how reassuring and comforting it was that she was so understanding.’
In 2014, Hew bumped into a person who’d also been in the home and through a network of contacts came to hear the stories of other children who’d lived there. He said it was a revelation to hear the numerous stories of abuse – perpetrated by many different offenders – that were similar to his own. He learned that for many years Brown was himself being abused by one of the workers in the home.
‘I realised that his was a learned behaviour because of what had happened to him, so whether or not he had a propensity to be that way inclined without the abuse that he had received I can’t answer, but I’m prepared to concede that … We discussed at length the network of children we knew who had been abused, and the magnitude of the abuse.’
When he was in his 30s, Hew tried to tell his parents about the abuse but they didn’t believe him. He tried again a decade later and was met with the same response. Aged 51, he responded one day to his mother’s comment that David Brown was ‘a silly young man’ for leaving his wife and children.
‘I said, “Mum you just don’t get it. You’re talking about him like he’s your son. You’re not hearing your own son and I’m saying he fucked me up the arse”. That’s what I said to her. I’ve never spoken to my mum like that.’ The next time Hew saw his mother she hugged him in a way he’d never experienced before. ‘I was stunned. I had to almost physically stop her hugging me.’
Hew had never given thought to seeking compensation but were it made available he said he’d find access to university more useful than money. He’d been ‘a ratbag’ in school and hated studying, and his senior positions in government departments had come about through practical application to work rather than tertiary qualifications, and this remained a source of regret.
He still kept in contact with people who worked for AIM and felt sympathy that they were judged because of the behaviour of a few people.
‘The AIM is a very different set-up to an Anglican or Catholic institutionalised body of people. Generally speaking, I think they failed grossly in some areas of their training for people for the work that was at hand, but I think the long and short of it all is that their intent was impeccable for what they were trying to achieve.’