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Noel Henry's story

Noel was born with a physical disability that impaired his capacity to walk. Back in the early 1960s, this was grounds enough for the Western Australian government to remove him from his Aboriginal mother. As Noel put it, ‘I was taken off my mum because I was crippled’.

Noel was shunted from one foster home to another until, at age seven, he was put into an Aboriginal mission run by the Catholic Church. There he encountered a Catholic priest who sexually abused him several times a week over the course of a year.

The abuse began with fondling and continued to include oral and anal rape. It often happened when Noel was in the shower and sometimes when he was in bed at night.

‘He would pull my bedroom covers off and if I resisted, which I did, he would simply just pick me up. And if I went to shout he would put his hand over my mouth. It was always very dark and it seemed like a really long corridor to his room. There was only a very dull light in the corridor. He would take me to his room and would make me get into his bed and he would do all these acts again.’

The priest used threats and bribes to keep Noel quiet. He said that if Noel ever told anyone what was going on ‘something awful would happen’. Noel never found out what the ‘something awful’ might be. At other times the priest promised to reward Noel with lollies if he kept his mouth shut. Noel did as he was told but never got the lollies.

After about six months of abuse, Noel broke his silence and reported the abuser to the head priest. ‘But I was unable to tell this priest his name. This priest said leave it with me and he would sort it out. I did not hear anything more from him and nothing changed.’

Noel only escaped the abuse when he left the centre after a year and moved into foster care. Sadly, his foster placement was a ‘living hell’ where he again suffered sexual and physical abuse.

For most of his life, Noel kept quiet about his horrific childhood experiences. ‘I was ashamed of myself, you know. I was dirty. And I didn’t think that anyone would believe me because whatever come out of my mouth, I thought, “Oh, he’s just telling lies”.’

He was in his 40s when he decided it was time to open up. He disclosed to a counsellor and found the experience very helpful. Noel continues to receive counselling and is well-supported by a good group of friends.

Still, he continues to struggle with the impact of the abuse every day. He currently suffers severe stress-related health problems. A few years ago he received about $45,000 compensation from a state redress scheme. He was glad to get it, but feels that no amount of money can compensate for what he’s been through.

‘I never got married. I’ll never be a father to any of my children. As far as sex – I’m frightened to do it now … Throughout my whole adult life I never found love. Well, I’ll never, ever find love because I don’t even know what love is now. Because it doesn’t mean nothing. So that’s the sad thing about it, you know. We all want to be loved by someone.’

And yet, Noel added, ‘through all the sadness and everything that I’ve been through, it made me a stronger person in the end’.

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