Nathan told the Commissioner that he was in and out of a boys’ home in Sydney in the late 1980s, when he was between seven and 10 years old. Nathan has no idea why he was placed in a home for troubled kids. ‘As far as I know, I wasn’t a troubled kid.’
Nathan recalled that ‘I was the only black kid there’, and he felt very isolated because he wasn’t allowed to get phone calls from his family.
The boys at the home were physically and sexually abused, and Nathan mentioned that one of his mates from the home later took his own life and another is an alcoholic. Many of the boys experienced similar abuse, but they didn’t talk about it. ‘We wasn’t allowed. We’d get in trouble. We’d get the cane. Get told to stand up and watch everyone eat. All sorts of punishments.’
Nathan and some of the other boys wet their beds. ‘They’d make us stand there in the shower line … in our pissy clothes until last, and then they’d physically show us how to clean our penis and our anus and our scrotum and that. Not tell us. Hold us down to scrub us. Make us share a bath when there was like, three, four showers.’ Nathan felt humiliated by this treatment.
The boys who wet their beds had to sleep in their urine-soaked sheets for days on end. ‘It was pretty bad. And just every day they’d just physically show us how to clean us. Then we’d cry [for them] not to [and] they let us go, then punished us when we’d finished by giving us the cane and making us stand there and go without breakfast.’
Nathan tried to run away from the home once. ‘I tried hiding down the beach. I ran away down the street and hid in the garden of someone’s house, and I shouldn’t have done that.’
Nathan told the Commissioner that he was sexually abused in the toy room at the home by one of the workers. ‘[He] would always come up and give me chocolates and lollies and brand new games, to do stuff … And I told my mother about it, but she said I was [lying] … No one believed any of us at that place.’
The physical and sexual abuse Nathan experienced at the boys’ home has had a big impact on his life. ‘I started smoking when I was 10. I started drugs when I was 11 … I lived on the street. I had no choice, because I was copping abuse from my mother’s boyfriends all the time …
‘I don’t know. Me mother’s boyfriends were white. My brothers and sisters are white and I was the only black one in the family, so I guess that’s why I copped the abuse. Who’s going to believe a little black kid?’
While he was on the streets, Nathan ‘slept in clothing bins. Got clothes from there and bludged money, bludged food from the bakery when they’d shut … [I] just didn’t want to go back to them places.’
As a teenager, Nathan spent time in a number of juvenile justice centres. ‘I felt safe. I spent all my teenage years in there … for stealing, for survival, really … and sometimes just for a roof over my head … [because] I didn’t like the abuse I was getting from me mother’s boyfriends.’
When he was in the juvenile detention centres, ‘they’d lock you in the bedroom by yourself. That’s when I felt safe’. Nathan had some mates in juvenile detention who would look after him when he was living on the streets.
As a teenager, Nathan went back to the boys’ home because he ‘was going to burn the place down. I was arrested in the street … a black kid in a rich area … Wouldn’t you [pick someone up] carrying a jerry can full of petrol? I was going to burn the place to the ground … I just didn’t want no more boys to get hurt, you know’.
Nathan only spoke about the sexual abuse he experienced to his doctor about three years ago. He found talking to his doctor helpful, but he hasn’t seen him for over a year since he began his latest jail term. Nathan has spent much of his adult life in jail.
He told the Commissioner that he isn’t really interested in an apology from the home, but ‘seeing them fellas punished would [help]’. Some compensation would ‘just be a bonus. I just want ‘em punished’.
Nathan went looking for his father and eventually found him. Like Nathan, his father had been in a home when he was a child, and when Nathan tried to tell him what happened to him in the home, ‘I just got the impression he didn’t want to hear my shit, to be honest’.