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Tyrone's story

‘I thought it was the natural way of life’, Tyrone said of his upbringing on a Queensland Aboriginal mission. ‘It was only when I got older that I found out how sad it was, how cruel it was.’

Tyrone was born into the government mission in the late 1950s. His mother had spent much of her life there, and his siblings grew up there too.

When he was five, Tyrone moved to the boys’ dormitory. It was a very regimented place, and punishments were frequent and brutal. In the middle of winter he was drenched with a hose, then left outside in a cage for hours.

He was often flogged with his pants down in front of everyone. The supervisor’s son would get him into trouble on purpose and laugh when he was beaten. ‘And there’s no sympathy, or anything like that, you had nothing to hang onto, to give you that comfort.’

Tyrone always knew of a ‘sexual thing’ going on at the mission, that boys were being sexually abused. He thinks the staff must have known too.

The boys used to go on camping trips in the bush. Some of the older kids, in their early teens, had their tent at the back of the campsite. Tyrone was playing nearby, and the boys called him in.

The boys then held him down and raped him. He was six years old.

Tyrone didn’t tell anyone what had happened, though it was always at the back of his mind.

‘It just stays there all the time ... You want to get it out but you can’t, you know, too frightened, ashamed.’

Tyrone went to live with his mother again when he was nine. She was in an abusive relationship, and would take her troubles out on him. ‘She used to treat me the way they’d treated her in the dormitories.’

When he was 13 years old he left to live on the streets. This gave him a sense of power he hadn’t had before, ‘just to be me’. He then moved in with some relatives, and went back to school for a while.

Sport, especially boxing, helped him. ‘It just took all those memories out of my mind.’ He was a successful boxer into his 20s, and it taught him to keep going, and never stop fighting.

Work was a good distraction too, and he became an apprentice to learn a trade. Throughout this time he was living with depression, but didn’t realise it until much later.

‘It was hard to fight every day, to get up and just do your life, get up and go to college, go to work. I still find it hard to get up and go to work today.’ He turned to alcohol to cope, drinking every afternoon when he came home from work.

‘I’d just feel this darkness come over me, a real sadness. It was just too much. I used to drink, and I’d gamble a lot.’ He started antidepressants in recent years, and ‘it’s still there, yeah, but it’s easier’.

At his lowest point, Tyrone would hang around drinking and sleeping in parks. He’d listen to the people around him speaking, and all their talk was negative. He realised he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life like that.

So he moved away, up north, to make a new start. He found himself a job again, using his trade. He now trains the apprentices that come through his workplace, and enjoys this a lot.

His daughter has also got her apprenticeship, as ‘she wants to be like her dad’. He tries hard to give her the affection he didn’t have as a child. ‘I talk to her all the time, I tell her “I love you” all the time ... That’s probably the first love I ever had, is my daughter.’

There was a Queensland Government Redress Scheme for people who had been in institutions as a child, but to apply you had to write down your experiences. Tyrone didn’t feel good about this, as he wasn’t sure who might read it. So he didn’t write about the sexual abuse, and only received the minimum payment.

Tyrone doesn’t like going back to the mission, because of the bad memories. He went to a reunion a few years ago, with some other men who lived there when they were kids.

‘I know what I’ve been through in the dormitory, and they know what they’ve been through in the dormitory. And there was all smiles and everything, but I could detect a bit of sadness underneath it as well ... One day I couldn’t do it anymore, so I just stayed back at the pub.’

He’s met with these men a couple of times since, and enjoys it more now. ‘Seeing them survive what they’ve been through, and what I’ve been through, it’s good.’

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