Sandy's story

Sandy expresses no anger about the sexual abuse he suffered while in care at a Queensland government-run Aboriginal mission during the 1960s.

It was his grandmother’s idea to place him in care at the mission. She thought the itinerant life he was leading with his mother was bad for him. In her view the mission offered a better, more stable environment.

He arrived there as a small child, less than five years old. When he turned five, he moved to the boys’ dormitory. It was the older boys in the dormitory who abused him.

Sandy can’t recall many details of his experiences at the mission. ‘I’ve forgotten a lot’, he told the Commissioner. He suspects he has blocked the memories out.

However, in the memories he does have, the older boys weren’t always abusive. They could also be kind. ‘Some of the time the bigger boys looked after the little fellas, especially at night when they’d be scared in the dormitory and they’d say, “Well, come and jump into my bed, I’ll look after you, make sure nothing happens to you”.’

He remembered older kids helping to keep the little ones warm when on freezing cold nights there weren’t enough blankets to go round.

Sandy never tried to report what was happening. ‘No way’, he said. He believes the older boys would have been abused when they were young, and grown up to be abusers themselves. ‘I think it was like accepted’, he said.

Worse than the sexual abuse was the physical and emotional abuse dished out by the adults who were in charge. Sandy remembered boys getting public beatings, so they’d be embarrassed. They’d have their pants pulled down and tears rolling down their faces.

The emotional abuse was also a ‘really big thing’. ‘They talk about your mother, cruel things about family. They’d talk down to you all the time … I think that’s why a lot of the boys had that sort of bad streak in them, if you like, just behave badly because they’re probably thinking, “I’m not going to get any better than this, just might as well get into trouble all the time”.’

He remained at the mission until he was 13 when he went to live with his grandmother.

Looking back on his life, Sandy can’t identity any particular impacts arising from the abuse. ‘To be honest, I’ve never really thought about that. I just probably – you know, it happened, it happened. And just not kind of dwell on it at all, just get on with my life as best as possible I suppose.’

In important ways, Sandy’s the person he always was. ‘I took most people at face value and I still do … If they do the wrong thing, then there’s no more trust there then.’

He hasn’t sought redress, or formal counselling, but he attributes his ability to survive the abuse to the bonds he formed with the other boys on the mission. ‘We supported each other a lot in the dormitory, and when we got out, it was the same case as well.’ He also had the opportunity to travel away from the mission during school holidays, and stay with other families. ‘I think it was helpful’, he said.

Sandy lived away from the community for many years but is back there again now. He believes sexual abuse is still prevalent, though more often in family situations than institutions. There are cases where girls are pregnant at a young age, or have sexually transmitted diseases before they’re in their teens. ‘You just don’t hear about it but you suspect this is what’s happened.’

He’s still in touch with the other boys from the dormitory who have started a group. The girls from the dormitory have started a group as well. ‘Once the girls get up and running then the boys and girls are going to get together because everybody classes each other as brother or sister from those days’, he said.

The group is a chance to ‘get together and talk about the old days. The good times and the bad times and stuff like that – so that’s been a really good healing process.’

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