Another seeking to heal
Therase Lawless’s story (“How the church forced me to relive my abuse”, March 18-24) saddened me – that such systems can still operate – but it heartened me to read an account of the psychological and physical processes that the inability to flee or fight sets in place. They are not often described in the media, as the focus is on the abuse. There are as many stories like Therase’s as there are abused. I am a 64-year-old man. My experience with Towards Healing was more positive, maybe because my contact with it was brief but sensitive, or maybe it was because I was well acquainted with the religious order to which the priest belonged. Through TH and with the co-operation of the order I obtained a written admission and apology from the perpetrator. I was never interrogated. They advised a therapist whom I trust, who never questioned my story but is now helping me understand it. After 50 years, during most of which I couldn’t even recognise what had happened to me, let alone name it, my “professional friend”, paid for by the order, is helping me unravel my story and repair the damage done by previous professional and unprofessional attempts to “feel better”. There is some recompense in the fact “he” knows what he did and what ensued from those events. But he doesn’t really know. He doesn’t know my depths of past depression and dissociation, the depths to which others who endured my disintegration were hurt – really hurt. They also will never know why, as I have moved too far away from them and them from me. I will never be able to try to explain and maybe even be forgiven, or at least understood. That and other torments will probably never cease. I feel for you, Therase, and for every other one who lives with both their particular memory of the past and the ever-repeating mental torments they live through now. But, as yet, not as much as I feel for myself. Still, let us try to feel for each other.
– Name withheld
Causes need to be addressed
Congratulations on giving front-page exposure to the extraordinary culture in the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in the Northern Territory (Martin McKenzie-Murray, “The men who made Don Dale”, March 25-31). This evidence to the NT royal commission can be seen live on webcasts from the Darwin Supreme Court and in daily transcripts. It provides a rare insight into NT attitudes and juvenile justice. An estimated 80 per cent of the detainees are Aboriginal. Down south we know so little about the territory and remote Australia. Each winter I volunteer in remote communities. My submission to the commission advised them that 58 per cent of primary school children in the territory come from families who do not speak English. I asked them to investigate if Don Dale checked detainees’ English comprehension. The commission is hearing a lot about dealing with bad behaviour but not much about the causes. Do the detainees understand Standard Australian English? Are they suffering from trauma?
– Julie James Bailey, Abbotsford, NSW
On Don Dale, the man
I would like to say a good word for Don Dale. No, not the institution that bears his name, but the man whom the NT government presumably intended to honour, by
naming a juvenile “justice” institution after him. They have done him no favours. I worked in the department of community services in the NT in the area of child and family welfare when Don Dale was minister in the 1980s, and was frequently required to brief him on policy and funding of child and family support services. It was common gossip that his own youthful experience had given him particular sympathy for young kids in strife. Our politics were not compatible: he had me categorised as a recalcitrant leftie, and I was frequently frustrated by his wanting to fund organisations that seemed to me to focus on their own development rather than the child client. We had a few good stoushes. “What would you prefer?” he asked me once. “That your kids were out on the street [Darwin was a small town and he named my kids], or in the hands of [and he named the group after funding for some after-school hymn singing]?” I suggested there might be other options, but he gave them the money. He greatly annoyed corrective services by insisting on special privileges (a can of Coke a day) for a child inappropriately, but allegedly unavoidably, detained in an adult facility. So he didn’t revolutionise juvenile justice in the NT, but he cared about those kids and doesn’t deserve to have his name conflated with the sort of practices that have gone on in this institution. The NT government owes these kids some more constructive prospects. It also owes Don Dale a better legacy.
– Julie Ellis, Mount Barker, SA
Taxing the mind
Oh Malcolm, Mr Cayman Islands, of all the examples of obedience to the law, you had to choose taxation – the very area where the law is selling us short, by allowing people to avoid their fiscal responsibilities (Karen Middleton, “Lines drawn in new IR fight”, March 25-31). The stagnation of wages, in the face of massive price increases in basic living costs, is a clear indicator the pendulum has swung so far to the right that living standards for the bulk of Australians are in decline. The gap exacerbated by the offshoring of jobs and undermining of unions in the ’80s and ’90s is now a chasm that threatens to create a permanent underclass. The courage and honesty of Sally McManus is sorely needed. More strength to her in her efforts to close the gap, and make the lives of Australian workers better.
– Joy Ringrose, Pomona, Qld
Salute to law breakers
How lucky we are to have Bob Brown as well as you guys to give him a voice (“Dam wars and Oz police”, March 25-31) .
– Anneke Van Tholen, Bega Valley, NSW
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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 1, 2017. Subscribe here.