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Troy Michael's story

Born in a remote Aboriginal community in the early 1950s, Troy was taken from his mother when he was just a baby and put into a Catholic orphanage. When he was eight years old the nuns took him aside, showed him photos of the Royal Adelaide Fair and told him that he was about to be shipped off to a new life in South Australia.

‘The Ferris wheel and rides and fountains and parks, and I was just fascinated’, Troy recalled. ‘All the cars and people. I honestly thought I was going to Disneyland.’

Within minutes of meeting his new foster parents, Troy’s expectations were crushed. His foster mother, Mrs Anna Linden, put him straight into the bathtub and went at him with a scrubbing brush ‘trying to get the colour off me … It was like a monster. That was the start of it’.

For the next eight years Mrs Linden physically and psychologically tortured Troy. Her husband John also dished out his share of violence during the day, and then came into Troy’s bedroom at night.

‘He used to come into bed at night and masturbate and … fondling me. That went on for years. And Mum must have known what he was doing. Be at least once a month.’

Even worse than the sexual abuse, Troy said, was the humiliation. Mrs Linden liked to taunt and abuse him in public.

‘On two occasions I soiled my underwear and Mum got me to wear it on my head in the spare room, and it was cement, jagged cement. Four hours I was on my knees, facing the corner, four hours while she got all the kids around the neighbourhood and brought them in.

‘And that happened twice by the time I was 10. And I think that was the one that ruined me. Stuffed my whole mind up. A lot of other things. But they’re the only ones that I’ll mention. Oh yeah, and I’ve been called an ape, and chimpanzee and gorilla.’

In contrast to his home life, Troy never encountered racial prejudice at school or in the church community. People were good to him, he said. ‘They must have known what was going on because they couldn’t do enough for me.’

Eager to avoid going home at the end of the day, Troy signed up for every after-school event he could. As a result he excelled academically and on the sporting field. On weekends and holidays he’d do farm work. The farmers, too, were good to him. They advised him against a career in farming and encouraged him to seek a white-collar job. Troy took their advice and built a successful career.

When he was in his 30s, Troy reconnected with both his mothers. His foster mother, who had moved overseas by this stage, sent him a long letter apologising for the way she’d treated him. He corresponded with her a few times after that. Meanwhile, he returned to his ancestral home for the first time and reconnected with his biological mother. They enjoyed a brief time together before she died.

Troy then gradually reconnected with his country and culture. It was a bittersweet process that reminded him of how much he’d lost. ‘I came back completely assimilated, 28 years ago, speaking German, French … [but] I can’t speak one word of my people’s language.’

Still, Troy and his partner are devoted members of their community. Over the last three decades they’ve taken dozens of children into their home, providing them with care and guidance. Caring for these kids, Troy said, has given him a purpose and helped him to cope with his own trauma. The pub also helps.

‘Thursday, Friday, I’m good. The missus picks me up at nine o’clock. I don’t get drunk or anything. Only drink very light beer and I’m happy. I get my half a dozen, I go home and listen to my 40s, 50s, 60s music and I’m happy.’

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