Neddy thinks that his parents’ violent relationship was the reason he and his siblings were all placed into care. He was a toddler when he and another sibling were put into a Brisbane children’s home run by the Sisters of Mercy.
‘It was a bad place,’ he said. ‘A lot of abuse, sexually, and physical abuse, mental abuse, happened to me there.’ He had put most of it in the back of his mind, but after reading his file, he discovered ‘some stuff in there that’s … been a bit hard to take’. With support from a psychologist and some friends, he is ‘getting memories back’.
As a preschooler at the orphanage, Neddy saw ‘a lot of doctors’, and was put on Ritalin. ‘I’d get flogged with everything - wooden spoons, anything they could get their hands on’, he said. He was ‘isolated’ at times ‘from everybody else for hours on end’.
‘I understand that I wasn’t a good child. I had a lot of problems … I had ADD so I was very hyperactive, but that doesn’t give them the right to do what they did to me.’
Neddy thinks that he was first sexually abused around the age of five or six. He remembers a worker taking him into a room when he went to the office to hand in a lost wallet. ‘He fondled me and wanted me to do a sexual act on him.’ He also remembers a carer who took him aside several times. ‘He asked me to go into a room, and I went into the room, and he put on some porn and said, “What do you think of this?” and proceeded to fondle me and do sexual acts on me … The second time he just asked me to go into the room, so I went into the room, and I just thought it was normal behavior.’
Neddy went back and forth between this home and another one where the majority of staff ‘weren’t nice’, and where he was again sexually abused. ‘I remember I had to perform oral sex on a man there, and I remember doing it and I felt sick. I threw up.’ This man also gave Neddy ‘regular hidings’ and put him a cell, leaving him ‘in the dark for hours on end’.
When he reached Grade 4, Neddy was sent to a hostel run by the Aboriginal and Islander Catholic Council. It was a ‘bad place’ where the house parents physically abused the children in their care. He was flogged with leather straps that had been dipped in water. He wet the bed and was made to sleep under the house, or if they went on a trip, on a camp bed in the driveway. He was also forced to eat food he had thrown onto the roof. ‘I came home from school and was made to eat every single sandwich … whether they’d been there for two months or not.’
About five years later, Neddy went to live with a foster family south of Brisbane. The foster mother was only interested in the money, and kicked him out on his 18th birthday. However, he got on well with the foster father, and the two still keep in touch.
Once free of institutions, Neddy smoked a lot of marijuana, drank a lot of alcohol, and played lots of sports. He began a traineeship, but a stint in prison for non-payment of fines, put an end to that. He was violent towards his partner at the time and when she left, he tried to take his own life.
‘It took me a long time to know what love was,’ Neddy said. ‘A very, very long time, ‘cause it was just like I was just passed around really.’ However, in his mid-20s, Neddy met his current partner, and together they have weathered many hardships.
‘She’s sort of my backbone,’ Neddy said. She is ‘really supportive and strong’.
Neddy told a friend and some relatives about the abuse when he was in his teens. He tried to make a police report, ‘but they wanted me to name names, and I couldn’t name names, so I didn’t go on with it,’ he said. He gave a statement to the Queensland redress scheme, and received a payment, but the process was unsupportive and made him feel like ‘a number’. Currently, he and a sibling are taking civil action against the orphanages.
In the last few years, Neddy had got his ‘shit together’. He is unemployed and stressed about this, but is gaining a qualification in the community services sector. He still battles with drinking too much alcohol and sometimes thinks of suicide, but he has some good friendships he can call on, and an understanding that suicide, for an Aboriginal person, is not ‘our way’.
Today, Neddy is a leader within an Aboriginal men’s group. ‘We don’t like to talk about these things … particularly as Aboriginal men. It’s hard to say, “Hey, these things happened to me”, because we get judged a lot.’ However, the group has given him a way to speak out about his past and support others who are facing similar struggles. ‘We can sit down and discuss our issues that impact us in mainstream society … There is a couple of us that are there that have some issues with care, and we try to reach out to the young ones who … are lost with their culture.’
Neddy’s experiences have convinced him that Aboriginal kids need Aboriginal social workers, and that carers need to be culturally aware and appropriate. ‘I disagree with people that do four years in university and they come up and say, “Hey, I can relate to you”, when honestly, they can’t.’