It was a shock for Louis to move from the camp into the dormitories. Both places were located within a government-run Aboriginal Mission in Queensland but they were worlds apart when it came to quality of life, especially for an adventurous little boy.
In the camp, Louis said, ‘life was carefree, we didn’t have restrictions. Us young kids we’d go into the bush, fishing, crawfishing. The freedom of going out to country and community was great’.
The dorm, on the other hand, was grim and confining. Arriving there in the late 1960s when he was about nine years old, Louis discovered a daunting place, staffed mostly by white people who allowed adult men to sleep in the same room as the young boys. These men would visit the camp for short spaces of time to attend classes and gain skills in things like carpentry. One of them sexually abused Louis.
‘He would do it in a secluded place, he would grab me or something. It was near the linen closets. I guess there were lots of parts of the building in absolute seclusion … All I remember is that, clear in my mind, in my vision, is that him manipulating my breast.’
This happened several times over the course of a year or so before the man left. Louis remained at the camp for another five years until his mother and great-uncle successfully lodged an application to get him out. From there he moved to Brisbane with his mother and siblings.
Life at his new city school was tough for Louis. His ability to connect with other kids was blocked by some severe social problems. Looking back, he can see that these problems were a direct consequence of the abuse. But the abuse also had other consequences, some of which turned out to be positive.
‘When this thing happened to me I became a lot stronger. No one could sort of force me to do anything. Because if a friend of mine had been drinking and wanted to get me another beer, if I didn’t want to do anything I’d say no … And I think I’ve maintained that level of being independent and strong-willed throughout my life.’
Driven by his strong will, Louis overcame his social problems in his late teens. He left Brisbane, went back to the mission to finish his schooling and became one of only a handful of boys to graduate the final year. All these boys, Louis included, went on to build successful careers.
Louis ended up working in community services, ‘trying to do better for my people’. He worked hard to make changes in the community. Along the way he had to make some changes within himself.
‘I think I was too strong in relation to correcting my children, giving them the strap when they were young. And it’s just part of the stuff that happened to us I guess. And we’ve got to break that cycle. And the only way you break that is by showing your children you love them and trying to correct them without going to that strap.’
Louis is cautiously optimistic about the future. He believes that Australia is now a safer place for many kids but there’s still a long way to go, particularly in terms of the government response to child sexual abuse. He experienced the inadequacies of this response first hand when he participated in a Queensland Government Redress scheme.
In the ‘first round’ he was given a standard payment of $7,000.
‘Then the second round of funding, and that depended on your abuse. So in my case when I put my application in I put down that I was sexually abused, thinking that I would get the opportunity to talk further to a panel or weigh up my case in relation to that sexual abuse.
‘Never got the chance to do that … For that second part I got $6,000 for the sexual abuse and I felt really bad. It wasn’t the money but it seemed to me more like my sexual abuse wasn’t acknowledged at all.’
Still, Louis keeps working to make the changes that survivors and kids need. He knows a lot of people who were abused as children and tries to reach out and help them as often as he can. What he usually finds is that they help him as much as he helps them.
‘I’m in a good place. I think I’m in a good place because of the strength I’ve had from us coming together as a group, with the men. And I think particularly that’s given me strength throughout my life.’