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Oswald's story

Oswald thinks it’s ironic that he was sent away to school for behavioural problems and when he got there, the teachers were worse than him.

He’s an Aboriginal man, born in the late 1960s, who was adopted by a non-Indigenous couple when he was six months old. His adoptive parents worked unusual hours so he and his sister were left alone a lot. He wasn’t going very well at school and when he was about 12, his parents sent him off to a Catholic boarding school in regional Victoria.

‘I got off the bus and went up into what I know now is Brother Hayden’s room, and he said “I’m Brother Hayden” and he made me pull my pants down and gave me 12 canes. I was freaking out.

‘Then we got put in the main dorm … ‘Cause I was crying and that, some of the other kids started having a crack at me. That sort of stuff went on a fair bit. I used to get bashed at night. I think he put them up to it, you know.’

Oswald said physical abuse at the school was frequent and brutal and he was often covered in cuts and bruises to the extent that he couldn’t sit down properly. On one occasion he was so visibly bruised that Brother Hayden kept him at the boarding house, instead of letting him go home for a weekend visit.

‘I found this bird that had an injured wing so [Brother Hayden] let me in the dormitory area, let me keep it up in there so I could feed it. And that’s where he tried – asked me to pull me pants down and that, pulled his penis out and tried to, you know, to have sex with me and I just went off me head. I got a hiding for that too but it was worth it.’

Oswald knew if he opened his mouth, he’d get flogged again, so didn’t tell anyone in charge. Hayden made a few further attempts to abuse Oswald.

Oswald said the Brothers used to watch the boys in the showers but no one really talked about it. He had made one good friend at the school and after a while he mentioned Brother Hayden’s behaviour to him. Oswald suggested they run away and the friend agreed, saying he didn’t want to stay there either.

This made Oswald believe his friend was being abused too, because ‘you don’t just run away’.

They hitchhiked about 250 kilometres away but then Oswald rang his mother, who rang the school to go and get them. He was taken back to the school and Brother Hayden gave him ‘12 cuts’ for running away. He doesn’t know what happened to his friend.

A few weeks later he went for a home visit and told his parents what had happened but they didn’t believe him. However, he said, ‘I was in that much of a mess they said “No, we’re not going to send you back”.’

He was sent to a special school where he said he started getting into trouble. When he was 13 he was charged with indecent assault between himself, another boy and a girl, but he said he didn’t really understand what he was doing was wrong.

‘I got charged for that simple thing, what about these guys? They’re doing all that sort of stuff and getting away with everything, and I was a 12-year-old kid.’

Oswald said he has run into six or seven people over the years who went to his school. Three of them have since taken their own lives and ‘a lot of them are really messed up’.

As a result of his engagement with the Royal Commission, Oswald reported his abuse to the police and at the time of his private session, Brother Hayden was under prosecution.

Oswald has been seeing a psychiatrist for a number of years but said he has never fully explored the abuse he experienced and is now keen to see a trauma counsellor.

‘I’m still on Ritalin and still on anti-depressants. I was lucky like that, ’cause I did a lot of speed and that when I was younger, but it never, it doesn’t have the same effect on me, ’cause I’ve got ADD. The alcohol I did for a while, for a long time. I haven’t really kicked it. The last week hasn’t been good …’

He went off his medication before the private session so that he could remember details, but that has brought back bad dreams.

He said a lasting impact has been on his relationships with partners, and with his children. He doesn’t see his daughter and he said it put a distance between himself and his son. He couldn’t kiss him or tell him he loved him for a long time.

But Oswald said he has been lucky. He had a good relationship with his adoptive parents, and is now the carer for his elderly father. He said ‘If it wasn’t for my adoptive parents I definitely would have been in jail. There’s no two ways about it’.

He has also found solace in practising mindfulness and hopes one day to help Aboriginal kids who are going through hard times and help them move towards positive outcomes.

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