At weekends and holidays Kieren would stand alone and watch as the parents arrived to take their kids home. Having to watch his friends run into the arms of their families while he remained behind was, Kieren said, one the cruelest things about life on the Aboriginal mission.
He was made a ward of the State of Western Australia in the mid-1960s when he was just one year old. This meant that his parents had no rights over him and his care was given over exclusively to the missionaries of the Church of Christ. They cut him off from his people, culture and language, something which saddens and angers Kieren to this day.
Still, he found that the mission provided him with ‘a good life’. Most of the time. There was one major exception. One moment of ‘terror’.
At 17, Kieren had been given the opportunity to study at a college that was located many kilometres from the mission. He was making plans to catch the bus when the Church’s Indigenous Liaison Officer, Matthew Thompson offered him a lift. Somehow, Thompson knew of Kieren’s plans.
‘He must have saw my records and worked out where I was going. He probably pre-meditated what he done.’
By this time, Kieren had heard the rumours about Thompson, who had a reputation among the boys for being a paedophile. But Kieren’s better judgment was shouted down by the prospect of a free ride in a ‘flash’ car and by the man’s non-threatening demeanour.
‘He was that sort of fella. Happy go-lucky, sort of jokey. He knew how to joke with a blackfella.’
It was a long journey so Thompson and Kieren stopped in a small town. After meeting with some friends they spent the night in a caravan.
‘We had a horrible night in the caravan. It was horrible. He more or less raped me. I was hopeless. I was a young fella. I was big enough to belt him but I just couldn’t do it. I was just jammed in that sort of position. He just had it on me. Crushed me. Crushed my spirit …
‘The sad fact too, the people we were with, they knew what he was like. They didn’t protect me. I went to theirs next morning for breakfast and they couldn’t look at me. They knew.’
After that night, there was no further abuse. Kieren didn’t report Thompson and tried to get on with his life. He was filled with a determination to succeed, and as a result excelled at school, becoming the year’s top sportsman.
Decades passed. Kieren married and had kids. He never mentioned the abuse to them or anyone else. Then one day, in his 40s, he was talking with a friend when the story just ‘popped out’.
After that, Kieren mentioned the abuse to another friend who encouraged him to go to police. Kieren thought about it but decided against the idea. ‘It happened that long ago’, he said.
More recently Kieren engaged a lawyer to put his case to the Church of Christ. So far negotiations have gone well and he’s expecting the Church to make an offer of compensation sometime soon.
In the meantime, Kieren is hoping to get some counselling as the latest step in a life-long struggle to heal himself.
‘Some people can’t get over it, you know. And at least I attempted to. And I think I like that: attempting, still trying to get one over it rather than that getting over me.’