Children 'chained like dogs', sexually assaulted

By Xavier La Canna

September 22, 2014

Children were "chained like dogs" and sexually assaulted at a government-run home for Aboriginal children in Darwin, a child sex abuse inquiry has heard.

A former resident of the Retta Dixon home in Darwin told the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse of vicious beatings at the facility.

Lorna Cubillo was taken from her family and moved to the Retta Dixon home around 1946 at the age of seven or eight.

Retta Dixon was a home run by the NT government, which commissioned the Aborigines Inland Mission - an interdenominational Christian group now known as the Australian Indigenous Ministries - to operate the home from 1946 until 1980.

Ms Cubillo told the hearing she was physically and sexually abused by house parent Desmond Walter while at Retta Dixon.

"One day I was cleaning the Walters' house and Mr Walter came in but I didn't see him," she said.

"I was just starting to go through puberty. Mr Walter came up behind me and fondled my breasts," she said.

Ms Cubillo explained how afterwards she refused to return to the home and was flogged by Mr Walter as a result.

Abuser used belt buckle to make victim bleed: alleged victim

She said at times Mr Walter would beat her with a belt, turning the strap around when he hit her face and head and using the buckle to make her bleed.

"He flogged me that much that after a while it didn't hurt any more. I never cried, though, because he was not winning," the hearing heard.

On another occasion Ms Cubillo was in a car with Mr Walter when he touched her under her skirt.

"I wanted to just jump out of the car, but I knew if I jumped out I would have been seriously injured or killed," she said.

Another child at Retta Dixon, named Ruth, suffered from fits and was chained up like a dog to her bed, Ms Cubillo said.

"She was fed with an enamel plate and cup, just like a dog, and often had bad chaffing around her ankle where the chain would rub," she told the hearing at Darwin's Supreme Court.

The commission also heard from Sandra Kitching, 64, who identified herself as a member of the Stolen Generations, and was housed at Retta Dixon when she was 12.

She described abuse from someone she referred to as Mr Pounder, who she said was "very cruel".

If children spoke back to Mr Pounder, they would be chained up and he would take off some of their clothes, she said.

Ms Kitching said Mr Pounder twice barged in when she was in the shower, pulling her towards him and sniffing her, saying that she didn't use soap.

The commission heard Mr Pounder behaved inappropriately whenever she was in a car with him going to school.

"Mr Pounder would try to put his hand on my leg in a sexual way," Ms Kitching said.

"He would say, 'look, its alright', and I would say, 'Stop! Don't touch me'."

She said alleged that Mr Pounder once took a young Aboriginal girl named Sandy, held her nose and shoved food into her mouth until she coughed and the food came out of her nose.

"I stood up and said, 'You're so cruel'," she told the commission.

For her actions Ms Kitching said she had her clothes taken off and she was chained up in a spare room.

Later Ms Kitching ran away from Retta Dixon, and when in high school saw Mr Pounder with his wife and kids, one of whom was in a wheelchair.

"I said, 'What happened to him? I hope God punished you for what you did'," she said.

'Harrowing' claims from members of Stolen Generations

Senior counsel assisting the royal commission Sophie David started the hearings outlining the allegations former residents would make about the Retta Dixon Home.

"The experience of former residents at the Retta Dixon home is characterised by harrowing allegations of physical and sexual abuse by those entrusted to care for them," Ms David said.

"It is important to acknowledge and understand that most of the children, now men and women, who lived at the home were also members of the Stolen Generation.

"It's important to understand that to appreciate the full impact of the alleged sexual and physical offending upon them."

The commission is expected to hear testimony in Darwin for two weeks.

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