Kurtis cries every night in his prison cell, thinking about the very serious crime he committed. He believes his life could have turned out differently if he had not been abused as a child.
When speaking to the Commissioner about how to make kids safer, Kurtis said ‘If they do know they’ve been sexually abused at that time, you know, report it straight away. Don’t be like me and just bottle it up all the time because this [prison] is where you’ll end up if you do bottle it up’.
Kurtis grew up in a respected Aboriginal family in a small Western Australian town in the 1970s. He had a good childhood. When he was nine years old he was playing with his siblings and other kids when he suffered a minor injury to his hand and was taken to hospital.
At hospital Kurtis was treated by a doctor who sent his brother out of the treatment room. Kurtis was then alone with the doctor, who gave him gas so that he wouldn’t feel any pain.
‘When I come round my pants was on my ankles’, Kurtis told the Commissioner. ‘He was pulling his prick out of me, you know.’ The doctor patted him on the back and said ‘You all done’. His hand was fixed but after he got home he was ‘bleeding, you know, bleeding in my backside.’
Kurtis told no one about the abuse.
From the age of 11 or 12 Kurtis started working on pastoral stations, which he continued to work on for many years. He noticed his younger siblings forming relationships and having children but he wasn’t thinking about that. ‘All I wanted to do was work, work and work.’
As he got older, Kurtis couldn’t keep a steady relationship – and couldn’t figure out why. He had five kids with five different women. ‘I’m not really proud of that.’
Kurtis started drinking a lot. He is the only one in his family who did. He would drink from Friday night through to Saturday afternoon and sleep it off all day Sunday, and committed numerous criminal offences.
His father tried talking to him but Kurtis never, at that time, connected his problems with the sexual abuse he suffered as a child. He saw the abuse as a ‘one-off’ thing that would go away. Again, he didn’t tell his father about it.
Years later the abuse played heavily on Kurtis’ mind. ‘I started having dreams and my dreams were going back ... My brains were just like a tape recorder. It rewind it back.’
When it was announced the Royal Commission was coming to the prison, Kurtis knew he wanted to speak – after 37 years of silence. ‘I felt a big relief, you know. I said, I said maybe this is my chance to try and tell my story.’
He also contacted his brother, who remembers going to the hospital as children, and told him about the abuse. His brother recalled Kurtis was alone with the doctor for a ‘long time’. Kurtis is now open to the idea of counselling.
Although his prison sentence is a long one, Kurtis is trying to make his life meaningful. He has caught up on an education, which he feels he couldn’t have done on the outside. His family support gives him strength as does Christianity, which he has discovered while in prison.