Richie’s father mined opals and so was often absent from the family home, and his mother would frequently be away too. In the early 1980s, when Richie was six, he and his sister attended school in a small town in outback Queensland. With both parents away, they were placed in a nearby boarding house.
The elderly woman in charge maintained strict discipline, and Richie would be flogged if he wet the bed. The canes she kept for this purpose ‘used to be always right besides us, [to] intimidate us’.
The kids built a cubby house in the grounds of the hostel. When Richie was playing there one weekend, a man came in and forced him to perform oral sex. Over the years Richie wondered if he had just dreamed this incident, but still has ‘a real clear vision of it. I remember even the taste of it, what was in my mouth’.
Richie didn’t tell anyone about what this man had done. His parents weren’t available, and he didn’t feel like he could trust the police. He never thought to tell the lady who ran the house, as she was the one who doled out the punishments, and he feared he may get in trouble. Instead, he just tried to forget all about it.
When he was around 12, Richie boarded at a Catholic school in another small town. There was a nun, Sister Pauline, who used to wash him all over with a scrubbing brush, including his genitals. This was unnecessary as he was old enough to wash himself.
Richie also witnessed the headmistress and another teacher (both nuns) having sex in one of the school rooms, but they did not see him watching them. Physical abuse was common at the school. The nuns would hit the boys with whatever was available – belts, cords, ‘wooden spoons, the back of a shoe’ – and they would be made to miss meals.
After school, Richie got on with his life. Being very good at sport, he pursued this for a while, and achieved highly in his fields. He met his de facto partner and had kids. He currently has concerns that the children may have been sexually abused and are still at risk from members of his wife’s family.
As his wife is scared of these people, she will not contact the police with these concerns, and Richie is aware he can make a report. He has still not reported the abuse he experienced himself to police, or sought any compensation.
As a result of his childhood abuse, Richie lost trust in adults and authority figures. He has had problems controlling his anger, which has got him into trouble, and sometimes resulted in periods of incarceration.
He regularly experiences vivid dreams about violence. ‘I’ve always got death on my mind ... If I’m not on drugs, I’m having nightmares.’
Sometimes he’ll keep the lights on when he goes to bed, or set his house up so that there will be a lot of noise if someone enters it while he sleeps.
For a while, Richie was confused and concerned that what the man made him do in the cubbyhouse might mean he was gay, although he knows that he was a child at the time and did not have any choice. ‘It didn’t make me feel like I was a man ... Even though it wasn’t my fault.’ Richie experienced a loss of cultural identity too, as his Aboriginality was not recognised when he was growing up.
Living with low self-esteem, Richie finds he is easily offended, and he has troubles maintaining employment because of this. He is on medication for depression, but believes his mental health situation might be more complex. ‘It feels like there’s 12 people in me ... I know I’m not normal.’
When he was younger Richie ‘hated God’, and was angry at organised religion for what happened to him at the school. He has since become involved in a Christian Church. A few years ago he told his pastor about the abuse, and still speaks to him from time to time if he feels he needs help. ‘I had to get it out. Because he’s a God-fearing man, to let it out with him, I know he’s not going to go around, brag about it, or tell someone.’
Richie is now an artist, and has been involved in a number of exhibitions. The favourable response to his art gives him pride, and he also enjoys gardening and ‘helping others’. He can imagine himself using his own experiences to educate kids, by ‘going to schools and talking about goals, and abuse, and all this kind of stuff’.