Vernon was four in the late 1950s, when he had and his siblings were removed from the rest of the family. His older brother remembers their mother ‘screaming and crying’ when the authorities took the children, ripping them out of her arms. ‘So it was a very bad time for us.’
Documents from the era state that their parents were ‘unfit’, but ‘there was no evidence to prove it’. There was mention of them having issues with alcohol, which he finds difficult to believe, as alcohol was not allowed on the Aboriginal reserves where they lived. Vernon never saw his parents during his time in state care.
When he was removed, he first lived in a girls’ home, as the little kids were often sent there for older girls to look after. Vernon remembers this place as ‘an assimilation camp’, where the Aboriginal children were told they were white.
Two years later, he was moved to an Aboriginal boys’ home on the New South Wales coast. His brother was already living there.
‘I remember walking through those gates, a very lonely sort of boy. Didn’t know what was happening, taken away from my parents. Didn’t know where you were, didn’t know what was going on, what you were doing in this place.’
The boys slept in dormitories, weren’t given shoes, and were allocated identification numbers to use instead of their names. They would get to know each other’s real names, ‘but as far as staff were concerned, you were just a number, and you were called by number’.
There were many rules and regulations: ‘It wasn’t a home as such, it was an institution.’ The staff beat Vernon a lot.
The manager, Mr Jarvis, was particularly vicious, and sexually abused him too. Vernon was also ‘abused, sexually abused, by one of the other boys in the home as well ... I didn’t understand.’
The children did not have caseworkers or other trusted adults they could talk to at the home. Vernon’s grandmother and aunt would visit him, and they frequently wrote to the authorities, asking for him to be released into their care.
Vernon ran away from the home several times. One time when he was returned, Jarvis stripped him naked and beat him all over his body with a six-foot cane. The injuries were so severe that Vernon had to stay in bed for two weeks.
When his aunt saw his injuries, she brought assault charges against Jarvis. The matter went to court, and Vernon believes Jarvis was convicted. Vernon was allowed to leave the home because of the court action.
‘The thing that I can’t understand to this day, is that they call it the Aboriginal Protection Board. Protect us from what? There is a man who’s supposed to be in charge of us, he had a duty of care, working for the government, and to do that to me?’
Being removed from his family at such an early age left Vernon feeling robbed of his culture, language and identity. He developed a hatred of white people, ended his schooling early, and drank heavily.
For a while, Vernon was confused about his sexuality, thinking he might be homosexual, and he became sexually promiscuous.
He did not tell anyone about the sexual abuse for many years, and does not want to do counselling because he prefers not to talk about it much. Recently, he received compensation from Victims of Crime. He is currently pursuing an out-of-court settlement with other former residents of the boys’ home.
Vernon’s own children give him the strength to keep going. After his own experiences of being removed, he was certain to make sure none of them ended up in care. ‘No white bastard’s going to take my kids away from me.’