An Indigenous elder ripped from his family home as a young boy and plunged into a world of cruelty had to turn to violence as a way of creating peace.
Taungurung Elder Uncle Larry Walsh has been sharing his story with Yoorrook, Australia’s first truth-telling commission.
His is one of many stories the inquiry is hearing about the devastating effects suffered by the stolen generation.
Uncle Larry was taken by authorities while his mother was in hospital.
His first criminal conviction was recorded in the mid-1950s when he was two years old – for being a child “in need of care and protection”.
“I believe in my heart, in my head, that the system failed me – not just by giving me a childhood conviction, but time and time again,” he told the commission on Friday.
He was eventually placed with a foster family and he and his foster mother were beaten by his foster father, a veteran with PTSD.
At school he was beaten and teased because of his Aboriginality, but his foster mother lied and denied his Indigenous background.
Uncle Larry said his early life was filled with anger. He recalled coming home covered in blood after trying to fight his bullies.
“I never wanted to fight but if I was going to fight … then I’d be left alone for a couple of weeks,” Uncle Larry said.
Violence was not a choice, it was part of his everyday existence, his daughter Isobel Paipadjerook Morphy-Walsh said.
“One of the most heartbreaking parts of my whole father’s written testimony [is that] he writes about violence bringing him peace,” she said.
He believed committing an egregious act of violence was the only way to keep him safe from physical harm, she said.
“Dad doesn’t put it in that way, but that’s because Dad’s had to be strong. He’s had to live a different life from the life I’ve had to live,” she said.
Uncle Larry made an impassioned plea for stolen generation survivors to unite, and be wary of relying purely on Aboriginal organisations to speak for them.
Each survivor’s pain is different and needs to be treated as such, he said.
“You are always going to lose until you stolen kids unite. Form a team that you think could handle your issues and your concerns,” Uncle Larry said.
“We are always going to the organisations who only see it from their perspective.”
The inquiry continues.