Russell doesn’t know why he was sent to live on the Protestant Aboriginal mission in the Northern Territory in the early 1960s, when he was two. He lived there until he was 11, and was then sent to live with his aunt and uncle.
‘[The mission] was quite strict. The favourite punishment was the cane. So you’d always get the cane.’
Russell told the Commissioner that in general, he enjoyed living in his cottage. ‘Other than the sexual [predators], the cottage I lived in, we had clean clothes. The clothes were always folded up, ready to go to school. Always had clean linen, nice beds, clean house. We helped wash up and all that sort of stuff. Food was great. Our cottage might have been different to the others.s’
The children attended school outside the mission. ‘I loved English and stuff like that, so I like, enjoyed learning. I wasn’t too good at maths … couldn’t really understand how it applied in life, and stuff like that, but with English, you do. It was good. We used to go to school in the cattle truck.’
Despite the good food, comfortable beds and clean clothes that Russell described, sexual abuse was rife on the mission, instigated by both staff and older children. ‘One of the cottage ladies would shower with the [children] and stuff like that and sleep with them … teach ‘em about relationships …
‘But it was a bit more than that, so when you’re having a shower with kids, it’s not quite right … They, in turn … what they learned, they would practise with the younger children, and then those younger children would practise with other younger children.’
When Russell was about 10 or 11, ‘One of the girls, she was 15, she come over and said, “You two boys come into the shower” … We went in there. She then taught us about having sex … and there was another boy who was always trying to be rooting other boys … He was continually chasing boys around all the time … probably about the same age … about 15’.
Russell commented that ‘all that sort of behaviour just led to other things like … you’d look at girls in a different way. Instead of just seeing them as innocent things, you start seeing, “Oh, they’re bending over. You can see their pants” and stuff like that. So then we played boyfriend/girlfriend games around the homes and … on camps …
‘There was one of the cottage parents who was well known amongst all the children as a molester. He’d always try and get the children in the chook shed … and that’s what he done to me when he got me in there. He’d start tickling me and trying to fondle my genitals … I’d just jump off and take off. I knew what he was trying to do.’
Russell didn’t report the sexual abuse to anyone. ‘I didn’t know that we were supposed to tell people. It was just like, one of those things you don’t talk about.’
Russell told the Commissioner that after being sexually abused, ‘I suppose I became rebellious. Acting a bit more naughty. Trying to run away. About that age, I started to run away a lot more … They just put it down to bad behaviour’.
When he was 11, Russell’s mother died. ‘They didn’t let us out of the home until our mother died … So to this day, I always wondered, “Why did they wait until our mother died before they let us out?”’ Russell went to live with his aunt and uncle, but it was very crowded, and when he was 14, they asked him to leave.
Before he was asked to leave his aunt and uncle’s house, he spent a little time in a Catholic boarding school, but was kicked out when he confronted one of the Brothers, who he’d seen coming into the dormitories at night.
He said to the Brother, ‘I feel like killing you because I know what you’re doing. You’re sneaking into the dormitory … and you’re mucking around with the boys. I know what’s going on because I grew up in [the mission]. I know that sort of behaviour’.
When Russell reported the Brother to the headmaster, ‘they protected him, not me’ and he was expelled.
Russell never sought counselling for the sexual abuse he experienced as a child. ‘I didn’t think it was as important as trying to find out who my grandfather’s father was and who my father was … We know our Aboriginal side, but none of the white side want to say, “I’m your father” … I still have like stress and things like that over I don’t know who I am …’
Russell hasn’t sought compensation or an apology for his childhood trauma. ‘It’d be better if they allocated where the children used to play, that the government recognise those areas and keep ‘em safe for the future … because there’s bush fruits and stuff in the areas where we used to play … Eventually they want to build a marina in that area, and that’ll just wipe out all that history.’