‘This child grew up thinking he was a loser, a freak, not worthy of [love].’
Kalia came to the Royal Commission on behalf of her deceased brother, Nelson. She and Nelson were raised in a dysfunctional family in suburban Sydney during the 1960s. Their mother was an alcoholic and their father was always working: the marriage broke down in the early 1970s.
A few years later, when Kalia was 13 and Nelson was nine, they moved in with their father and his new wife. Life with them was tough: their stepmother was awful, manipulative and abusive. Kalia wanted to say something to their father, but he was often away.
Their stepmother disliked Nelson more than the other siblings and she picked on him relentlessly. Nelson was given chores to do and, by the time he was 13, forced to raise his half-siblings.
‘Nelson’s job was to get up in the morning and unpack the dishwasher and to get the other children up. She lolled around in bed … He had to feed a two-year-old and change the nappy of a three-month-old.’
Nelson was accused of sexually abusing the baby. Kalia explained that their stepmother woke up when she heard a cry, stormed into the room and saw that Nelson was changing the nappy. ‘From that moment on, she just had it in for Nelson’, Kalia said.
Nelson was beaten with a cricket bat numerous times, which was their stepmother’s weapon of choice. She manipulated their father to believe that Nelson was bad. Kalia remembers him being locked in his room and not being allowed to socialise with the family.
The impact was immediate: Nelson went to school an angry boy and would often get into fights in the playground. He was sent to the deputy principal’s office several times a week, where he would be caned. After a while, the deputy principal offered Nelson an alternative.
‘He said to [Nelson], “You have an option here, I can either send a note home to your parents describing your behaviour or we can strike a deal.” Nelson didn’t know what he was getting himself into.’
From then on, Nelson was sexually abused by the man every week. He was constantly called out of class, which disrupted his learning. The abuse continued for over a year, before Nelson dropped out of school. He was 15 when he ran away from home.
Nelson then lived on the streets and spent time in juvenile jail. He became addicted to drugs and Kalia often saw him hanging out with ‘undesirables’. On one occasion when she visited he was living in a small flat with several others. He answered the door holding a cricket bat.
‘I tried to give him sound advice, but he was on his own path of destruction.’
In the 90s Nelson was sent to jail. Kalia said that this was a turning point because he started to change his life. Several years later, he disclosed the abuse to his family.
‘I remember Nelson saying to me, as a man, “I know this sounds sick but at least I felt love”. That’s really sad.’
Nelson sought counselling and went to rehabilitation. He was involved in business for several years, married and had children. Kalia recalls he was feeling on top of the world, but he wasn’t sure if he could handle the responsibility.
In the 2000s, Nelson reported the abuse to police and told them that he believed there were other victims. When they told him that the deputy principal had passed away, he lost it.
‘He believed that there would be no closure.’
Nelson took his own life several months later. He had told Kalia that he was going to lodge a complaint against the Department of Education, but he didn’t get to do it. Kalia lodged the complaint on his behalf, which she found very hard.
It was painful to watch her brother go through the abuse and its aftermath. Kalia has received counselling in the past, but caring for her child and her brother’s children have been her saving grace.
She came to the Royal Commission to have her brother’s story heard and believed. Kalia hopes that this will help those who have not yet, or can’t, come forward to tell of the abuse they suffered.