‘I want to acknowledge first of all that today I’m actually going to tell my story on the land of the Gadigal people … and I want to pay my respects to elders past and present and acknowledge the immense trauma that happened to the Gadigal people of the Eora nation. I also want to acknowledge the survival of the Gadigal people and acknowledge that this is a really beautiful country and that it’s an honour for me to be here, and I would ask that the spirit of the Gadigal people go with me, all of us, while we share this story.’
Justin and his brothers were forcibly removed from their mother in the 1970s, and ‘under a court order placed in the care of the state’, and sent to a New South Wales boys’ home run by the United Protestant Association (UPA).
‘The residing judge enacted the historical law which meant we could be placed as far away from Mum as was physically possible within the state’, Justin said. ‘So that was an old order he implemented, and he was personal friends, we found out later, with the then-manager of the United Protestants Association who ran children’s homes across the state.’
Most of the boys in the home returned to their families on weekends and during holidays but Justin and his brothers weren’t allowed to go back to their mother. Instead they were fostered out to different families in the local area.
In the first home Justin went to at about the age of 10, ‘there was a lot of sexual abuse’ perpetrated by the girls in the family, who were both older and younger than him.
The next family Justin met were the Halls. They were ‘very functional’ and Justin called them ‘Mum’ and ‘Dad’. They became close and over several years the Halls tried to secure Justin’s permanent placement with them, but their applications were always rejected by the UPA.
Different managers of the home came and went, and one day Justin and his brothers were called into the office to be told their mother had died.
‘We were told – apparently from my understanding, it was two weeks after she’d been buried – that she had died, and we were left standing in the office crying, holding onto each other and we were told to just go outside and play.’
When he was in his mid-teens, Justin was suddenly fostered out to stay at the home of Jaromir and Isabel Bakker and their only son.
Justin had thought he was there ‘about three months’ but later found out the placement was only a few weeks. During that time he was sexually abused and tortured by Jaromir Bakker.
The abuse started with Jaromir insisting on showering with Justin. During these times he masturbated Justin and then in an effort to make Justin’s erection ‘go away’ began ‘hitting it really hard’.
‘For me, I didn’t know what to think’, Justin said. ‘I didn’t know what to make of this.’
In a shed on the property, Bakker made Justin ‘have oral sex with him’, and after a few days, raped him. This continued for the duration of Justin’s stay, often after he’d been drugged and given home brew ethanol. Bakker would attach electrodes to Justin’s penis and insert a probe into his anus, running electrical currents that he said were because Justin ‘wasn’t getting an erection’.
Bakker threatened Justin that if he told anybody about the abuse he’d be taken to a boys’ home and lose all contact with his brothers.
‘He also told me that I would probably be charged. I don’t know with what, I can’t remember what he said it was, but he said if the police got involved that they’re not going to believe me and they would believe him. And he told me a whole lot of things that were a deterrent to tell anybody that there was any stuff going on.’
Justin later found out Isabel Bakker knew about the abuse, and that Jaromir had been sexually abusing their son. ‘I think Isabel saw the danger involved with what was happening and it was better for Jaromir to have another boy who he could assault as opposed to his son.’
One day a UPA worker visited to see how Justin was going. Jaromir was ‘hovering in the background’ and Justin ‘was terrified to say anything’ believing he might not see his brothers again.
The worker asked Justin if he was okay, and when Justin didn’t answer he ‘read that to be that everything wasn’t okay’. A short time later Justin was put back in the care of the Hall family who’d been ‘fighting to get me back’.
Justin said his behaviour after the abuse changed dramatically. He ‘couldn’t concentrate in school’ and was terrified of Bakker who would approach him at the school gates.
‘I would start getting anxious about 1 o’clock’, Justin said. ‘Sitting in class I would totally be beside myself thinking that, you know, he’s going to grab me and he’s going to take me. So all through the rest of Year 9 and 10, my schoolwork suffered. I started smoking cigarettes, I was using alcohol, I was using marijuana and other medications that Mum had in the house as well.’
As his behaviour worsened, Justin was ‘invited to leave school’ and ‘got kicked out of home’. He moved to Sydney, ‘started doing harder drugs’ and ‘used violence a lot’ in relationships.
‘I used to think I was functional because I played football and played sport and I was good at those things and I always worked, always had a job.’
At different times Justin had had suicidal thoughts and he’d harmed himself by cutting.
‘I’d have flashbacks, so I could be doing anything, I’d just all of a sudden, I was like reliving, I got triggered a lot by smell. Jaromir used to smoke a pipe and I would smell certain tobaccos and it would just send me.’
Justin wasn’t aware of these triggers at the time but sometimes after a flashback he’d ‘get on the drink’ which would lead to confrontation at home. He’d had a baby with his partner and ‘tried to be a good father’, but ‘there were drugs everywhere and I just plugged into it’.
After he and his partner separated, Justin left his job of more than a decade. ‘I tried to go back to my Aboriginal family, I got rejected there. I went back to my foster family but I was drinking and drugging too much and they couldn’t help me.’
Justin had never told anyone about the sexual abuse. One day he was making plans to take his own life when a church minister who happened to be visiting a neighbour started talking to him and ‘identified that something was happening’.
The two spoke at length and afterwards Justin got into a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program, where for the first time he disclosed the abuse.
‘I was invited to share and I was just sharing about some of my life, and it starting coming out, the abuse stuff started coming out, I couldn’t stop it.’
Justin was referred to a psychologist and psychiatrist and started to ‘confront a few things about my alcohol and drug abuse’.
At the time of speaking with the Royal Commission Justin was working in several entrepreneurial jobs and continued to provide mentoring and support to others. He’d recently reported the abuse to police, and steps were being taken to have Bakker charged.
On a visit back to see the Halls, Justin told them about the abuse.
‘I just said, “I have to tell you something about me that might shock you, but if I don’t tell you I’m not respecting you”. And I told them about the abuse and what happened and I remember Mum saying, “It all makes sense now. Everything makes sense” …
‘And Dad, I remember my dear old dad just sat there and cried, because he’d just got angry at me for not being how I used to be, and he didn’t understand what was going on. He always questioned what had happened, but had no idea. So we were all able to make amends about things that we did to each other in the past and they’re in my life today.’