Wallace and his siblings were removed from their parents’ care in the early 1960s, when he was around four years old. They were made wards of the state, and sent to live on a Catholic-run Aboriginal mission in Western Australia’s wheatbelt region.
Although they were under government care, nobody ever came to check on them. ‘Once you go into the places, you’re just left there.’ Wallace’s connection to his parents was irreversibly altered, and he felt like he no longer really knew them.
While at the mission, Wallace was raped by an older boy (who was in his early teens). Wallace remembers telling his big brother about the abuse, ‘and he sorted it out for me’.
After a couple of years at the mission, Wallace got into trouble with the law. He was sent to a receiving centre, then to a Presbyterian children’s home, where he was unhappy. Finally he was moved to a farm, which was part of the children’s home.
When he was 12, one of the workers touched his penis, saying ‘he had to make sure I was clean or some such thing’. He told him that they did it to all the boys who went there. He mentioned this to a cousin who also lived at the farm, and who then disclosed that the same thing had happened to him.
The two boys ran away together, and stayed with relatives for a while. Child protection authorities allowed this, as long as Wallace still attended school. By the time he was 15, both of his parents were deceased.
As a young man, Wallace moved around a lot. His learning was affected by the abuse, and this held him back in life. He has been unable to establish his own business, as he does not have the skills to do the necessary paperwork and administration.
Wallace’s attitude towards people was also altered by his childhood experiences, and he had trouble forming relationships until his late 20s. He has now been with his wife for over 30 years, and has children with her. He did not tell his wife the details of his abuse, but she has read about some of it in a written account he prepared. His children and ‘grandies’ are very important to him.
Another significant impact of the abuse was long-term alcoholism. This caused trouble with his marriage and the law, and sometimes caused him to have seizures and be hospitalised. ‘You think it’s helping you to forget everything, but it’s not.’ He has gone through treatment, and now has his drinking under control.
Wallace made an application to a state redress scheme in the late 2000s. The process was not explained clearly to him, and he was not offered counselling or support. He felt like everything was very rushed, and because of this he was not able to tell all of his story. Having omitted the abuse at the farm from his account, he received $28,000, which he feels was insufficient. He was not aware of the apology given by the Western Australian Premier as part of the scheme, but hearing about it now ‘I reckon that’s not good enough’.
As a result of his redress application, Wallace spoke to police about the abuse at the mission, but as the boy who raped him is now deceased the matter could not progress. He would now like to receive his state care file, and to investigate how to apply for compensation from the organisations who ran the mission and the farm.
Wallace has engaged in some counselling, as part of his treatment to stop drinking, but has not spoken to a counsellor about the sexual abuse. He suggested that for some Aboriginal people, yarning in a group setting might be more beneficial than having individual counselling sessions. He would also like see specific Aboriginal aged care facilities, where the cultural requirements of community elders would be respected and accommodated.