Lang grew up in Newcastle in the care of his grandfather. He didn’t live with his siblings and only saw his parents ‘off and on’. In the early 2000s, when he was entering his teens, Lang said he started getting into trouble, ‘being disruptive’ and ‘running amok’ with his friends.
‘I’ve been in and out of boys’ homes pretty much … till I was 17.’
On one occasion, after being arrested, Lang was introduced to a man named Walter Frane.
‘I just got bailed from the police station to his care. I’d never met him before, just turned up to the police station and they said he looks after Aboriginal kids who get in trouble. And I went with him and he had other boys staying there so I thought I was alright to stay there.’
Lang was sexually abused by Frane a number of times. ‘I remember you’d eat dinner, and then I’d fall asleep and then I’d wake up in the room but I didn’t remember how I ever got to the room.’
Other times Frane would come in when he was asleep. Lang tried to block the door, or rig it so he’d be woken up when it opened, but the man wouldn’t be stopped.
He ran away from the home several times but the police found him and sent him back to Frane to be abused again. ‘Somehow he was turning up at my court cases, coming to the police station all the time. They were ringing him before they were ringing my next of kin.’
Lang said he knew what was happening was wrong, but he didn’t tell anyone because he was scared of being laughed at and humiliated. And he wasn’t the only one. From the way they behaved, he believes the other boys in Frane’s home were being abused, too.
‘Everyone thought he was like a volunteer, like a good person trying to help everyone but really he was just doing it to try and groom kids.’
And Frane was experienced at grooming. There were no threats, but rather gifts of money and clothes, even cannabis. Lang has since learnt that there were already complaints about Frane before he worked in Newcastle, but he was still allowed to foster children.
Lang’s stepmother, who came with him to the Royal Commission, believes there may have been a network of powerful paedophiles in the area preying on Aboriginal children.
Since he got out of care Lang has often had trouble controlling his temper. ‘I’ve been in trouble a fair few times, mainly for fighting. I started off wanting to protect myself so I just fought more.’
And becoming a father made him even more wary of strangers. His stepmother said, if his family is threatened, Lang turns into ‘the protective monster that’s still angry’.
He also went through a period of self-medicating with drugs, to deal with his memories of the abuse and the shame he felt.
In the late 90s the police turned up on Lang’s doorstep and asked him about Frane. ‘When they came, they didn’t ask me in private. I had a group of friends in my house and they just asked me in front of everyone. I said no and sort of laughed it off. I didn’t want people, especially all my mates … my partner was there, some of her friends … I didn’t want to say anything.’
Eventually he realised that he needed help to deal with the abuse. ‘It just keeps playing in my head a lot so last year I decided … I told my mum last year and I told my partner. I was just sick of bottling it up, being angry all the time and that.’
His stepmother said, when he told her, she had to leave the room and ‘quietly scream’. ‘It was like, “How the hell did you miss that? How the hell?” There were times that his father and I and his grandfather had gone to court, and we weren’t allowed to have him bailed to our house, because he’d already gone to [Frane’s].’
Learning that he was the abuser, the man chosen to care for Lang instead of his own family, made their pain and anger even worse.
Lang also made a report to the police, despite holding them responsible for what Frane did. So far nothing has come of it, but he hasn’t given up.
His stepmother encouraged Lang to tell his story. ‘I said to him, “You need to do this, because then you have no unfinished business”. This kid’s been through hell and back. And still goes through hell and back … and I’m hoping that this brings some closure to it.’
She told the Commissioner that there should be mandatory drug and alcohol testing for adults caring for children, and that prescription drugs in those households should be kept under lock and key. She also said that there should be a lot more supervision of food preparation, and more open communication between police and welfare services.
For Lang, he just hopes that the Commission and the stories of the survivors will make children safer.
‘I feel a bit better, telling people, especially if you can help other people in the future.’