Stanley Bruce's story

‘When you’ve been abused you can’t tell anybody … Who do you tell? Where do you sing out for help? … you see them [all adults] in the same mould [as the abuser].’

Stanley was born in the 1940s in regional New South Wales, and was fostered out as a newborn into a large Aboriginal family. He remembers the first years of his life as active and engaged, and he attended school and was well looked after. He has never known why he and a number of his siblings were removed, and he was sent to a government-run boys’ home.

‘Why did they take us away? And all this why, why, why in the boys’ home?’

He found the culture of the home violent and dehumanising. As he got older he grew angry about the treatment of younger boys in particular. Staff would regularly punish the young boys with physical abuse.

On one occasion he witnessed two five-year-old boys being hit by a male staff member.

‘And straightaway in my own little stupid mind, I said “I’m going to get you for that. I’m going to get you. Somehow I’m going to get you for that”. Because that’s a full grown man hitting a little boy … I did not like that. A full grown man hitting a five-year-old kid.’

There were two especially violent and unpredictable staff members at the home.

‘That’s what kept me alive in there, brother. It kept me alive to say “Well, I’m going to get them when I get out”. That’s the only attitude I had.’

When Stanley was about 10 or 11 years old he was sexually assaulted by a much older boy. The boy followed Stanley into his hiding spot, a place out of view of anybody else, and anally raped him.

‘It just all happened, all just like that, so quick.

‘And after it happened, he must have thought it was regular now, he can do it any time I go up there. Luckily there was showers after so I can go straight across to the shower after everyone’s gone. I just lick me wounds and say “I can’t tell anyone”. How you going to tell anyone?’

This happened three times.

‘“Can’t ask questions”. This is what they train ya [for]. “Don’t ask questions and you won’t get into trouble.”’

Stanley stayed in the home until he was 19. His schooling was significantly affected throughout his years at the home. This meant that when he left the home he could only find physical labouring work. He has worked continually throughout his life.

‘I’m grateful for this thing. They taught me how to work. In the boys’ home … I ended up being the best toilet cleaner.’

Stanley and his wife Joan came to speak to the Commissioner together. Joan has been his support for over 40 years now. She knew that he had been taken to an Aboriginal boys’ home when he was nine years old, but she has only recently understood the extent of the physical and sexual abuse the boys experienced and how it has impacted his life.

When Stanley first met Joan he was very controlling and angry. He told the Commissioner that his attitude had been, ‘Nobody touches my girl, that’s my girl and everyone knew that, ‘cause I’d kill them.’

Joan had to leave Sydney, where they were living, for a short while to escape his attention.

‘His [behaviour] was very scary … I had to quit my job because I couldn’t go to work because he started threatening the workers.’

Joan’s family were very different to what Stanley expected and their ‘tender, loving care overwhelmed’ him. He gradually softened and learnt to trust more people. They have built a life together and have children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Stanley received compensation from the NSW Government but both he and Joan believe that the financial payment wasn’t enough.

He said that ‘To go through that trauma and abuse from the boys and the staff and to not get any education out of it, not to be told how to be an Aboriginal … [the money was not enough].’

He also feels that housing should have been offered to the boys so they have some security into the future.

Stanley’s main concern now is for the younger generations. He understands acutely the fragmentation that the next generation can suffer because of the impacts of abuse, and the dislocation from community. He is very concerned about further generations of Aboriginal children being taken away from their communities and being distanced from their Aboriginality.

His recommendations for the Royal Commission include that the state government take responsibility for children in its care beyond the age of 18 years old. He would also like to see more rigorous checks of staff who work with children in the care of the state.

‘Police the people who are going to be working with these kids properly so it doesn’t happen again.’

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