‘We were just taken away from our parents. We didn’t know our father … Me and Malcolm stayed together all the way through till we got fostered out … We’re so glad we stayed together.’
Malcolm and Bradley attended a joint private session at the Royal Commission. As small children in the mid-1960s, they were sent to live on an Aboriginal mission in Western Australia, run by the Methodist Church.
Life on the mission wasn’t too bad. Malcolm recalled that ‘they took us a bit of swimming, just along the river there … Just get away from the bloody … sort of farm, it was’. They think the older children may have worked on the farm, but as younger children they didn’t.
Malcolm recalled, ‘A few things happened there … like older people, girls and boys, would play with you and do things that you shouldn’t …’
The two boys were transferred to another mission run by the Christian Brothers, where they ‘used to get a hiding if we did something wrong’. Malcolm added, ‘If you just do anything, just stupid little things wrong, you’d get a hiding you know … flogged for every little thing’.
Sometimes, as punishment, they were sent to their room without any tea and ‘if you got caught in the girls’ dormitories they used to dress you up as girls, make you feel ashamed’.
Bradley told the Commissioner that at the Christian Brothers mission they ‘didn’t want to stay there because you knew at night time they’d come round and take advantage of you and that kind of shit … The Brothers and that … and the older boys … It wasn’t a very good place … You weren’t allowed to say anything. Just kind of accepted it’.
Malcolm added, ‘You just had to shut up and keep it to yourself, you know, and I suppose if you did say something, you got disciplined for it … You might be in the shower … and a priest might come and just … “I’ve been hearing you’re talking about …” and you get a hiding in the shower and it stings more … You try and get away and you fall over, and they still belt you on the floor’.
Malcolm also believes that if they had told anyone about the sexual abuse, ‘being a kid, they’d think you’re telling lies, you know. And you’d get a hiding for that … For nothing’.
Both boys enjoyed going to school. It was a break from life on the mission. Malcolm recalled that they ‘just used to play with other kids … just run around. Didn’t even worry us, you know, till we went back to the mission. Just enjoy yourself, have a good time, then go back there, to chores, hidings …
‘Even sometimes when you used to wet the bed, they used to bloody come and have a midnight check on you … If you wet the bed they’d go and give you a cold shower, then sent back to bed. I suppose you couldn’t tell anyone because nobody would listen. They wouldn’t believe you.’
Malcolm ran away once but got caught by the Brothers and got ‘a hiding and yeah … after that, the older boys are probably thinking, “Oh, yeah, we can probably take advantage of him now” you know.’ Bradley added, ‘They didn’t worry about leaving bruises on you. They didn’t really give a …’
The brothers were fostered by a European family when they were eight and 10. Malcolm recalled that ‘they were alright … We did all the chores and stuff around the house … Their kids had the luxury of not really doing a lot of stuff … If we got a hiding, it was Bradley or myself … Every little thing … Same as before, you know’.
Bradley remembered ‘milking the cows in the middle of winter … Only me and Malcolm used to get up … go in the dark and milk the cows … [But] we still see [our foster parents now], for the simple fact that they raised us. They didn’t sexually abuse us or anything like that. They just, like, treated us different from their kids’.
Malcolm told the Commissioner, ‘When we got to school, we made a lot of friends and didn’t really worry about what happened on the farm, you know, until school knocked off and you’re thinking, “Here we go again” … Even in the holidays me and Bradley used to have to do chores … and they could go to the beach and enjoy themselves …
‘None of their kids used to do nothing like that … And Bradley had enough of it one day and belted ‘em up’.
Bradley left his foster family when he was 15. ‘So many years and I just got sick of it. Just a barney with the old boy and the next day I was [gone].’ He got a job in Perth and ‘just worked every day’. Malcolm left when he was 17. ‘I just jumped in my car and took off. Just said, “I’m not staying here no more”.’
The brothers continued to visit their foster parents on occasion, but never spoke to them about the way they were treated. Malcolm believes ‘they probably just thought, “Oh yeah, two little black boys come to bloody be our little helpers”.’
After he left the foster family, Bradley used work, sport and interacting with people as a coping mechanism. ‘I just shut everything down in my mind. I just got on with life and enjoyed the people around me. Played sport, talking, drinking, working … Travelling here and there. After a while you forget about it …
‘Until one day … you might be sitting down somewhere and … it just hits you all of a sudden … “Better have another beer … Talk about footy or ... [have] a good chat with people”. Sort of just keep it right out of my head.’ Now Bradley is more interested in watching his grandchildren grow up, ‘instead of worrying about my past. Just get on with the future and the young ones’.
Malcolm feels much the same as his brother. ‘You just have to get on with life. If you [don’t] get on with life, you’re going to be miserable all the time … Sport was our hobby. Introduced us to other people, friends … Kind of took our memories … Sport was the best way of getting around it … Work … Well, you have to work to survive. So we were lucky.’
Neither brother has had counselling. They prefer to talk to their friends and workmates if they need to. Malcolm commented, ‘[We just] rattled on with our own lives. Worked things out’.
Apart from when the brothers applied to their state redress scheme for compensation, their private session at the Royal Commission was the first time they had spoken about the sexual abuse they experienced at the missions. Having to talk about it during the redress process brought back all the memories.
Malcolm was upset when he gained access to his welfare files. ‘I was classified as a retard. They said, “There’s no hope for this boy in any way”. I proved them wrong.’ Bradley doesn’t think he’s even read his. ‘You sort of just don’t want to know what they said.’
At the end of their private session Bradley told the Commissioner that they were glad to have been able to get their story, ‘off our chest … talk to someone. People who’ll listen, because I suppose other people … “Oh, you’re only bloody bullshitting”. But obviously they haven’t been through it, so … Good to talk to someone about it. Probably feel a lot better now, yeah …
‘Them other fellas are probably sitting back now thinking, “Ah, should’ve gone”, you know. After a couple of beers … “Oh yeah, we’ll go”, and after they sober up … can’t do it. They should get in here and really do it, shouldn’t they?’