A ‘stolen child’, Tai was taken from his family, along with brothers and sisters, and institutionalised for years. This was all because his father, a noted boxer, was involved in a fight, charged with assault and lost his job.
At the age of eight, Tai was placed in a Western Australian mission home. It was there, in the 1980s, that his life went off the rails.
Tai remembers he ‘started out as a normal kid’ and was turned – through abuse both physical and sexual – into an angry man. He has trouble with authority, faced hundreds and hundreds of charges, mainly stealing, break-and-enter and assault police charges, and spent significant stretches of time in jail.
In between he became a father and a grandfather. But Tai has retained blazing anger from his stolen childhood and has been violent, which has made his children scared of him. The ‘things that I went through’ during his childhood, Tai said, cannot be undone. He hates people, he said.
Years afterwards Tai learned that his father had threatened the staff at the home, when he found out about the physical abuse of his son. Tai’s father was then barred from further visits. His father also tried to have his children removed from the home through the courts. But because he drank two bottles of beer a day he was deemed ‘an alcoholic’ who was not fit to look after them.
At one point, when Tai threatened one of the home’s supervisors, saying that his father would ‘knock you up’, he was told, ‘your father don’t even know where you are’.
In fact, even though he and his siblings were threatened at times with being sent far away from their parents, they were in fact about ‘10 minutes’ drive virtually’ away.
Around the age of eight, while in care, Tai was sexually abused by a 16-year-old male cousin on a visit home. ‘He would take us over there [in the bushes] and make us do things ... I kept it in my head all them years, you know?’
While at the home, Tai wet the bed and was punished.
‘I used to get, like, six big hard hits by two by two, you know, bare bum, you know. Then get sat down, tied to this chair, I had to sit on the caretaker’s – um, in between his legs, you know, and he’s behind me holding me down.
‘I’d be there from five o’clock in the afternoon right through to nine or ten o’clock that night and then they say, "Come on, you’ve got to get up and go to bed now". And, bang, did the same thing that night again and the same thing happened every day, every time. I just got sick of it.
‘I took off … made it to my mother and father’s house, and then when the priest came, I explained, "If you send me back there, I’m just going to take off, no matter what". I said, “You don’t know what the place is like”. And they said, “We have to take you back because you’re under welfare”.’
Tai ran away frequently and remained defiant each time he was returned. He remembers his father, whom he barely recognised after ‘a couple of years’ crying during a visit. He remembers asking his father, ‘What am I doing here?’
Tai told the Royal Commission that ‘ever since I’ve been taken away’ he’d been placed in all manner of juvenile institutions, including hostels, where he once smashed in the head of a much older boy who had teased him.
Tai didn’t try to talk about his treatment at the home to the two welfare officers he blames and hates for what was done to him because ‘they were just rednecks’.
‘I said to myself, even to this day, if I ever come across Jack Gillett and Mr Bouvier, I wouldn’t hesitate in putting them down.’
Tai has never been counselled as ‘everything is going to hurt, no matter what’. He never attends reunions and has not revisited any of the institutions in which he was placed. The major home in which he was placed should be demolished, he said. ‘I’ll burn it down.’
However, he has remained in contact with other boys from the home. And while they do not discuss any of the abuse, they take comfort from the contact and consider themselves ‘brothers’.
While he does not drink, Tai does take drugs. ‘I shoot up every day … I don’t care. The only people that I hurt is my kids.’
Apart from his wife, who has been very supportive, Tai has never told anyone about the sexual abuse – and never will. ‘I feel ashamed of this’, he said.
In the early 1990s he wrote to the Equal Opportunity Commission seeking compensation. ‘They wrote back and said, “Can we make a story out of what’s happened?”’ He did not bother to respond.
Through the WA Redress scheme, Tai received $13,000, which he immediately gave to his children. ‘I said to my kids, "There you go … I’m giving you things that I never had".’
Unimpressed with an apology from the Western Australian Premier, he recommends that more support be given to Aboriginal families to care for their own children when problems arise, rather than sending them into care.
Due for release from jail soon, he will consider seeking his welfare records and compensation then.
The only thing that would ‘Get my life back on track is if they gave me more money – more money to piss off out of this state’, Tai said.