Odie is Aboriginal, but he didn’t know that until he was a teenager.
Odie was eight years old when he and his siblings were made wards of state and placed in a Sisters of Mercy orphanage in regional New South Wales. He and his two younger brothers were sexually abused by the nuns and, later, by Father Richard Johns.
Johns first sexually abused them when they became altar boys. When he was transferred to another parish, the nuns at the orphanage allowed the three boys to go and stay alone with him at his house. He would shower with them and take them into his bed one at a time and sexually assault them – oral sex, masturbation and anal penetration were all part of the abuse they were subjected to.
At the time Odie didn’t identify what was happening as abuse. As well as the molestation by the nuns and Father Johns, sex between girls and boys in the orphanage was commonplace. ‘I’m blown away now but at the time when I was young it was just normal’, he said.
When Odie was 15, he learned from Lester Willis, an Aboriginal welfare officer visiting the orphanage, that he and his brothers were also Aboriginal. It came as a shock. Soon afterwards he got into a confrontation with a teacher.
‘He called me a thieving black cunt, told me I had no role in society – I ended up belting him, got expelled and before I even got into the door of the house my bags were packed and a note was on the bags saying you don’t live here no more. They just basically put me on the street.’
The nuns’ decision to not tell Odie and his siblings about their Aboriginality left them struggling to find their identities, Odie said. ‘Whether kids are placed in an orphanage or foster care, or even respite, they need to know who they are. They need to know where they come from. Who they belong to. We never had that.’
In the mid-1980s, several years after Odie had left the orphanage, he tried to protect his youngest brother from Johns’ abuse by revealing it to Lester Willis. He reported it to police, and Odie and both his younger brothers gave statements. But when the case came to trial, they were told that only his youngest brother’s evidence was admissible.
‘I remember standing out the front of the court and [Willis] just came out and said, “I’m sorry, but [you’re] too old to give evidence, they’re not going to use it” ... Fifteen minutes later they came out and said the case was over – because [Johns] was seen as a pillar of society, he got off’, Odie told the Commissioner. ‘It just left us baffled.’
Troubled years followed. Odie lived on the streets, was a heavy user of drugs and alcohol and found himself in court on multiple occasions. Over time, he was able to see a pattern in what was going on.
‘It’s like a cycle’, he said. ‘Every three or four years I just break down. And I’ve always treated it with drugs and alcohol.’
In 2000, Odie’s problems with employment were picked up by a government agency and he was referred for counselling. The counsellor told him he was bipolar. Moving cities a few years later he went to see a different counsellor, and this time was diagnosed as having post-traumatic stress disorder.
In the mid-2000s he got drunk and went to a party where he ended up stabbing someone. It proved a watershed moment.
‘Alcohol’s played a major role in my life’, he said. ‘I’ve always woken up the next day with someone else’s blood on my hands. It’s never mine. I was getting to the point where I was actually fearing that I’m going to kill somebody one day. I decided then that drugs and alcohol’s not for me. I’m sick of that way of life. I needed to change. It was either that or I’m going to end up in an early grave.’
Odie has continued to have counselling, through an Aboriginal mental health service. The counsellor has been helping him learn to control the anger he still feels. ‘Because I bottle things up and I don’t express ‘em, that’s what happens in my three year period – I explode’, he explained. And for the past five or so years he has also had the support of a partner, Minnie. ‘She’s been my guardian angel.’
He continues to ‘work though issues’, he said. ‘If I don’t, I’ll lose my soulmate. She has faith in me and she trusts me … I need to do this.’
Odie wants to see the Catholic Church take effective action to deal with perpetrators of child sexual abuse. ‘It’s got to stop. These blokes need to be expelled, and they need to be charged and they need to be jailed.’
He has never sought compensation after being advised years ago that he’d have no chance of success against the Church. He told the Commissioner that what he really wants is an apology.
‘Being honest – I know everyone says that compensation’s great, but I want an apology. I want an apology for what they’ve done to me and my brother’, he said.
‘If I got a written apology I’d be relieved, because the way I see it the Church is taking notice, you know, that they’ve done wrong. I would have it framed, and it would make me so happy. To be honest, it’d be like finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It’d put closure to me, knowing that they have acknowledged that there was something going on.’