Rowland’s family was loving and supportive, and his childhood in South Australia was happy until his father passed away in the early 1980s. At school, ‘a bunch of kids started teasing me about my father’s death. Saying stupid shit ... Kids can be crueller in some ways than what adults can be’.
He ended up fighting these bullies, and ‘I started hanging around older kids ... I started wagging school’. On the weekends he’d go out with his new mates, ‘and they’d be getting into the drink, so I’d have a drink as well. Then I wouldn’t go home for a weekend maybe, and my mother would ring the police, and they’d find me and bring me back. Things were going on like that, and I was starting to get temper tantrums.
‘I had an uncle that worked for the welfare at the time ... He used to work for one of these admission units ... Because I was going through these emotional things I said to my mother, look, instead of me putting you through hell – I’m always getting told that I’m the man of the house as my father’s died – maybe we should have a break from each other. And maybe I should go to a unit or an admission unit or something.’
Rowland’s uncle had a chat with them both, and ‘I ended up going to have a look at this admission unit ... And yeah, I thought it seems alright. I moved in there’. He mixed well with the other kids there, and kept attending his regular school. The intention was that he would be there for six months and then return home.
Not long after he arrived at the unit, the manager saw him masturbating in his room one night. ‘The manager, Martin, he must have been checking the rooms. And I got caught. And he didn’t say nothing straight away, he shut the door and just kept going. Then he came back ... He said, oh look don’t be worried about it.’
Martin then sat down and started asking Rowland detailed questions about how he masturbated. ‘He goes, “You haven’t got a father. You haven’t had a father for a while. It’s nothing unusual you getting caught doing this, other people are in the same position” ... He didn’t say much else.’
A few nights later Martin came into Rowland’s room and gave him a can of soft drink. He asked Rowland if he was circumcised, and then requested that he masturbate in front of him. ‘I remember it was hard to get myself excited with someone else in the room. But he said don’t worry. He was trying to reassure me that there’s other boys that are in the same circumstances, it’s normal.’ Martin told him ‘if you need someone to talk to, you can talk to me ... I’m a male’.
Rowland was worried that other kids would find out about these incidents. When he was in a different centre later on, Martin would come and visit some of the boys there, giving them chocolates and offering that they could stay at his house. Even knowing ‘what he was about’ Rowland was hesitant to say anything against Martin. Other residents would tease these boys and ‘I’d be kind of worried in case somehow they’re going to find out that something happened with me, and going to pay me out’.
He started running away with some other kids from the unit, and learned how to break into houses and steal cars. ‘I’d get caught maybe, and taken back to the admission unit’ or to another remand and assessment centre. ‘Yeah, my life just kind of evolved like that. The six month break turned into a lifetime of institutions and jail now. I haven’t been an innocent person. I’ve done a lot of wrong. I take responsibility for that. But sometimes I think back on how things were when I was that young. Would I have ended up where I am today, if I hadn’t been through those places?’
He spent most of his adult life in prison. ‘The worst jail I ever done was when I was in juvenile, in the institutions. And because that was so bad, and I was at so many institutions, I met so many people. And then when I come to jail the deterrent isn’t as much as what it was when I was a juvenile. And that pisses me off, and that’s where I’d like to try and get some counselling and shit you know.’
It was only after Rowland’s mother died recently that he decided to speak about the sexual abuse by Martin. Before this, ‘I didn’t want to say anything through the Royal Commission because then my mother would find out about it. Either through me – I’d probably end up telling her – or somebody else would. And then she might start blaming herself as well. And it wasn’t the right time. People saying, you could do this, you can do that, but I just denied anything happened to me’.
Rowland has never reported the sexual abuse to police, thinking his criminal history would make them less like to take his account seriously. ‘Another thing that I’m scared about is ... who’s going to believe someone that’s getting into stealing, that’s getting into this and getting into that.’ He is considering reporting now, and also seeking legal advice about compensation. With his release from prison imminent, Rowland hopes to use his passion for making art to make some money, and to keep away from further offending.