Rolf is an Aboriginal man. His parents separated in the mid 1960s when Rolf was still a toddler. He lived in southern Queensland with his father, who was a heavy drinker and would often become violent. At age six Rolf was taken by the state welfare department and placed in a home for Aboriginal young people. Life was good for Rolf for a few years, but when he turned 10 he was moved to a boys’ home south of Brisbane run by the Catholic Church.
This was a brutal and violent institution. ‘I was just scared of the whole place’, Rolf told the Commissioner. ‘I was horrified, really.’ The priests and Brothers regularly beat the children with straps and canes, and established a hierarchy so that the boys were cruel to one another also.
‘If you got in trouble you had to fight someone. But that person was a bit bigger than you. And if you beat him they’d get another fella bigger than him. Until you’d lose.’
Rolf remembers the brothers organised a film night. The home was kilometres from the venue where the film was to be shown and the boys were made to run to the cinema. The film was started as soon as the first boy arrived, so all the other ‘stragglers’ missed out on much of the film. This was typical of the vindictive approach taken to the care of the boys.
Rolf was sexually abused at the home by three staff members.
When he was about 11 years old Rolf was assaulted on four or five occasions by Brother Seamus. ‘Seamus would call me to the main office and ask me to pull down my pants and he’d come up and he’d feel me up … whilst he was playing with himself under his dress. They used to wear big dresses.’ When it first happened Rolf was shocked and did not understand what the Brother was doing.
Rolf was also sexually abused by Father Leary, who taught music.
‘The first time was up in the horse stables. He asked me to pull down my pants. He actually had his whip and he’d feel around my backside with his whip. It sort of hurt a bit because he put it in a little bit.’
Leary then masturbated in full view of Rolf.
Some of the boys were taken on a weekend camp. At night Leary came into Rolf’s tent and ‘felt up’ Rolf. Shortly after this Rolf ran away from the boys’ home and made his way to a nearby town where an aunt lived. Rolf told his aunt about the abuse; she immediately complained to the Brothers. They told her Rolf was lying. ‘They took me and put me back in [the home]. She was very upset about it. They thought I was telling fibs.’
Rolf was also abused by an elderly priest called Father James. James would sit the boy on his lap, where Rolf could feel the priest’s erection. James would pull down the top of his pants and fondle his penis.
In the late 1970s Rolf left the boys home after he was charged with a minor theft. He was sent to a detention centre where he was again sexually abused by one of the officers. Rolf woke up one night to find his pants down and the officer performing oral sex on him. The repeated abuse made Rolf angry, but the officer blackmailed him by refusing to pass on personal mail unless Rolf kept quiet about the assaults.
Rolf was pushed out into the world at 18 and lived on the streets at first. He turned to crime and has spent nearly half his adult life in prison.
Rolf describes himself as ‘strongly racist’ through his 20s and 30s and blames the white priests and Brothers who attacked him.
‘They affected me very badly. They made me not trust white people at all. Made me very racist against people. I just had no friends that were white anymore.’
Rolf was full of hatred for many years. When he was charged with sexual assault he told the police he raped the victim because he had been raped by white people as a kid. He has now mellowed and believes his abuse was not about race but about ‘bad people’.
Despite the jail time Rolf has found a wife who has stuck by him. He has only recently disclosed his abuse to her. Rolf has struggled all his life with trust and has few friends outside his family. He believes his abuse has led to his anger problem, which has often helped land him back in jail.
Rolf supports the work of the Royal Commission and hopes times are changing for children in care. He believes every child needs to know there is an adult they can turn to.
‘They’ve got to be able to trust someone, to tell them honestly what happens. Instead of trying to make out that they’re telling stories or whatever.’