‘At that particular time, we were taken away by the Native Welfare Department … At that stage the carers or the people looking after that particular institution were the Benedictine monks – a couple of priests, a couple of Brothers. It’s hard being taken away from your parents at any stage, but you know to be taken away and placed in an institution it really hurt.
‘And I must have played up for a few hours, crying and what have you. And the first stage of abuse came – I was crying and this guy came over and said, “You better stop that, otherwise we’ll use the strap on you”. And when you look at it today, those guys probably didn’t have experience working with kids, duty of care or whatever. And with that of course I was probably still sobbing. I was about five I suppose. So he slapped me in the face and knocked me down on the ground, and he said, “If you don’t get up from there, I’m belting you”, and he said, “Forget about those useless people that you live with, your mum and dad. Just forget about them”. And that stuck in my mind over the years of living in that hellhole, as I call it.’
At five years of age Stan was taken from his parents, and sent to a Benedictine orphanage in Western Australia. He arrived in the mid-1940s and stayed for 10 years. Throughout this time he experienced and witnessed physical, psychological and sexual abuse.
‘At night you were in one big dormitory system and this priest would be coming in every night and grabbing one of the boys from the room. It’s hard to say, because once you’re bedded down about half past eight, nine o’clock at night, you get one little kid, he might be three, four years of age, he’ll start crying. Before the night’s out you got everyone crying in that building, in that dormitory. Then the priest used to come in a bit later and he’d take somebody out and there’s a hell of lot more crying. That kid come back to bed. That just didn’t happen once or twice, that was the sad part of it.’
Stan left at 15 and had difficulty reconnecting with his parents and siblings. He ‘ran away and went north’, and didn’t return for over a decade. ‘I wanted to isolate myself and I did.’
He’d tried not to think or talk about his time in the orphanage.
‘It’s still troubling me’, Stan said. ‘People have asked me about counselling and a lot of things. I wouldn’t have spoken for 50, 60 odd years. I ran from it. I tried to suicide, I tried to shoot myself, I tried to kill myself in car accidents – intentionally. I was lucky along those trips. I drunk a lot: alcohol. I was alone for a lot of years until I met my wife, and she’s my strong support.’
He regretted that he’d been distant with his children and unable to show them affection, but he’d stood up for his grandchildren when staff from a government agency arrived one day to remove them from their mother.
‘Luckily I was there. I said, “What’s going on?” And they said, “We’ve come to take these kids”. And I told them about the years I spent in an institution and what happened to me. I said, “You won’t be taking these kids. You’ll have to fight me and fight me in court”. They backed off quite quickly.’
Stan had thought about reporting the abuse to police but wasn’t sure there was any point now that the perpetrators were dead. His first disclosure had been to his wife. In the 1990s he approached the Catholic Church and met with the abbot of the Benedictines, a ‘nice guy’ who ‘acted surprised’ when told about the abuse, even though Stan thought ‘deep down he knew’.
As an outcome of the meeting, Stan received $10,000 ‘hush up money’. He signed a deed of release and was told not to talk about his experience with anyone else.
He also participated in WA Redress, a process he found difficult as he had to relive events of the past.
‘My wife actually wrote out the application and did the paperwork ‘cause I would never be able to do that. Same as writing up stuff for this. I tried and had to pull out halfway through it because I just got traumatised I suppose, and my wife finished up writing it for me.’
Although he found it difficult, Stan wanted to speak to the Royal Commission because his grandchildren were the age he was when he was taken and he didn’t ‘want to see that sort of same thing happen to those kids’.
He’d eventually reconciled with his own parents after feeling ‘like a double stranger’ in their lives.
‘You’re not close any more. That closeness has gone. I mean it’s taken 10 years of your life away, that’s as far as I’m concerned, and within that time you’re abused – belted and you’re abused physically, mentally and all the way through that. The way when they come and say, “You’re worthless. You’re nothing. You’re a blackfella. Your life can’t go any further than what it is”.
‘Even my own kids, it’s something that was taken away I suppose with a lot of the stuff like cultural stuff, our language, everything that we knew in those young years that went. And even my sisters today, I see them and can’t get real close you know, talk to them. That’s a really sad part.’