Sam is one of the Stolen Generation, taken from his family by authorities and placed in a Protestant-run facility for Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory. He has not had access to his records but believes he was about two at the time he was forcibly removed. He remained at the facility till he was 11, after which he was sent to a foster home in Sydney, where his younger brother and sister were already living.
‘I couldn’t wait to get out of the place’, he told the Commissioner. ‘No problems after that.’
The life he left behind was characterised by casual, daily brutality. The facility in the Northern Territory was organised as group cottages. The one Sam lived in was managed by Tom and Janet Brentwood. Tom Brentwood cruelly punished his charges. ‘We used to sit at the tables, eating away, lookin’ down – a cup’d come flying at my head, or a fork or knife; one time it drew blood’, Sam recalled. It was never clear to Sam why he was being punished – he thinks it was probably for things like using the wrong cutlery.
If the boys ever played with the girls, Brentwood would whip them on their bare buttocks with a bamboo cane. The beatings were so severe Sam couldn’t sit down for days afterwards. Brentwood would clout Sam on the back and across the head and ears, hitting him with such force Sam was stunned. He was left with lasting damage to his hearing as a result.
Brentwood also sexually assaulted Sam. ‘It’s been so long ago, I’ve always wanted to shut the incident out of my mind.’
Sam was about eight at the time. He was unwell and Brentwood had taken him to see a doctor. On the way home, Brentwood asked Sam if he’d like to drive. Sam said that he would. ‘He stopped and put me on his lap so to steer the van. Whilst steering on his lap I can feel a hard bulge under me bottom and I tried to move off the bulge as it was uncomfortable’, Sam said in a written statement.
A similar incident occurred one day when Brentwood took Sam with him to feed the chickens at the facility. ‘Same thing – made me sit on his lap.’
There were other episodes as well. Sam didn’t speak of them to anyone at the time, or for many years afterwards. In Sydney, he was placed with a good family. ‘I put that behind me. Just concentrated on school.’
Sam left school at 15, and got work in a factory. He left foster care soon afterwards. ‘I was on my own at 16’, he said. Throughout his time in care, no one from any government agency visited to check on how he was doing. In the late 70s he returned to NT and met his parents for the first time since he’d been taken from them. Recently, he finally talked about his childhood experiences, to a legal aid service. The disclosure was prompted by a Royal Commission public hearing into the NT facility. Since then he’s talked to others.
‘All this year everybody got together and started talking’, he said. One of those was Sam’s younger brother Mickey, who revealed he was also sexually abused by Brentwood. As the older brother, Sam feels he should have been able to protect Mickey. ‘I do feel very bad.’ Brentwood, he said, did ‘awful things’ to Mickey.
Sam lives a private, quiet life. ‘Keep to myself. Get on with my life’, he told the Commissioner. ‘I just go with the flow, whatever happens.’
He is currently seeking advice about compensation, and hopes to access his departmental records. He’s also considering reporting Brentwood to police. As far as he knows, Brentwood is still alive. ‘Hopefully he gets punished.’
Sam can’t think of anything that would have made it easier for him to talk about the abuse when it was happening. Even if asked directly, he wouldn’t have disclosed it, he said. ‘No, I still wouldn’t of.’ But he believes his children might. ‘They will tell me if they’re worried about something’, he said.
‘Yes, they would speak up.’