Noel Peter's story

Noel and his siblings were removed from their family when Noel was very young. Although they were returned for a short time, when Noel had a bad accident, they were removed again and sent to different institutions. Noel came to the Royal Commission to speak on behalf of himself and his siblings.

The only thing Noel remembers about the first home he was in during the mid-1960s was, ‘getting a smack up the side of the head by someone because I’d fallen asleep at the dinner table’.

Noel was then sent to a group home in Sydney, where ‘we were put in this room under the house, and when I stood on my bed and looked out of this slit of a window, I was looking at ground level. It was like a dungeon. We weren’t allowed into the house. We were told to go up the back steps up into the kitchen, eat our meals and go back down’.

Noel’s next group home was in Queensland, run by the Methodist Church. His house father was very strict. ‘He used to really belt the hell out of you … used to use pieces of wood on us … pick us up off the ground by ears.’ The house parents were removed after someone reported the father for bashing two of the children in his care. ‘He was just a cruel man.’

Noel told the Commissioner that all of his siblings were physically and sexually abused in the homes. The first time Noel was sexually abused, he remembers ‘waking up one night, face down on the bed and basically, I was being raped … I didn’t know what it was. I remember saying something and I was just told to shut up’.

Noel doesn’t remember how long the abuse went on for that night, but it seemed to be a long time. ‘It torments me, and I just black it out. But from there, all sorts of things happened. We were shown holes in walls where they were peeking at people and I was taught from an early age … [It] almost became normal.’

There were some positives about being in the homes. Noel learned to cook and clean, and he earned money around the neighbourhood mowing lawns. ‘The way I reflect on things, there has to be some positives amongst all the negatives … My [siblings] clearly showed me what’s happened to them focussing on negatives.’

Several of Noel’s siblings have ongoing problems with drugs and alcohol, and mental health issues. ‘I needed to get myself strong. I went through a period after I left the home where I was experimenting with alcohol and it was bringing me undone … The baggage from my childhood was causing me troubles.’

Family is important to Noel and he has used his Aboriginal background ‘to talk about Stolen Generation stuff, not in detail like this, about my childhood, because that’s too difficult, but in some ways it took me on another journey about our Aboriginality, and reconnected with … other community members … and that’s actually re-united the broader family …

‘I’ve often been asked, “How do you describe connection to country?” I’ve told many people that it’s like if you’ve got a very dry mouth, and you stick a Fruit Tingle in your mouth, that’s what it’s like, going home. It just hits me like that’. Noel’s father came to one of the homes to visit, but he was turned away. ‘He died before I even met him.’

It wasn’t until Noel was 30 that he reconnected with his Aboriginal family. He has spent over 25 years getting to know all of them. ‘I think things may have been so much different … I mean, we never got a hug that told you were loved or … We were told that we were never going to amount to anything, that we were just little black bastards.’

Noel ran away from the group home six times. ‘I got taken back … and nothing was ever reported … I often wondered, “Why didn’t they do anything about me running away?” … Instead, they sent me to psychologists. They started pumping me full of pills … I stopped taking them.’

Because of the abuse he experienced in the homes, and because he was never encouraged to succeed at school, Noel ‘went through a few years … where I was very rebellious … I was violent. I was very violent from 13 to 15. I was extremely angry and … I hurt kids … People used to pick on me because I was a “home kid” … I certainly let them know that they shouldn’t have started the fight’.

Noel told the Commissioner, ‘[Part] of me tells me I have to tell this story and I have to be strong for my brothers and sisters and it’s all part of the process … If you want to get a good result, you have to do all the groundwork … We were an abused piece of furniture, I suppose, and I’m going through the process of fixing it up.’

When Noel tells people that ‘I’m a Stolen Generation … they just laugh and say, “No, you’re not. You’re supposed to be dysfunctional, a bum on the street” and all this tagging that you get … I can’t explain why I’ve managed and my [siblings] haven’t. We had exactly the same thing happen to us.’

Noel said, ‘At the end of my life, I want people to look at me and say, “Well, there’s a good bloke” and that’s all. I don’t want anything else. I just want to put things back the way they should have been. We have an identity. We had a family. And we shoulda had a good life’.

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