PT 1: Binak’s Story—Ngaga-dji (Hear Me) | Young Voices Creating Change For Justice

PT 1: Binak’s Story—Ngaga-dji (Hear Me) | Young Voices Creating Change For Justice

Ngaga-dji (Hear Me) is a collaborative project by the Koorie Youth Council which voices the experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in Victoria’s youth justice system. Binak's story represents many First Nations young people who need to be listened to and supported to connect to their culture and community.

This story contains distressing content, including family violence, sexual abuse, physical violence, mental illness, self-harm, suicide and coarse language. If these subjects raise any concerns for you, please contact the relevant support services listed here.

In the old house Nan and me were a team. I did all the cooking and looked after the little ones and Nan did the cleaning and everything else.

Our house was full of kids, cousins and noise. Nan welcomed everyone in that little house ‘cos everyone needs a home and a family. Nan never had that so she tried to make it there, for anyone who needed it. Lots of our family needed a place to stay, and there are not many safe places to go ’round here. When my uncle moved away for work we ended up with four more little cousins here. They nagged and screamed and got up in the night but I loved looking after them, I was good at it.

Sometimes they looked at me like I was their unbreakable superhero. Other times I felt heavy with all the jobs, like I was dragging my body around to do cooking, shopping, bath-time, then more cooking, shopping, bath-time. Weed and booze made me feel light, like someone lifting a lead backpack off my shoulders.

Illustration by Jacob Komesaroff @jkcomments

I started getting to school late, never had time for homework, I’d nap during maths and get sent home for fighting at lunch. I got behind at school and no one cared, they just thought I wasn’t trying, a lazy, bludger blackfulla. No one expected me to finish school anyway, so I stopped caring and stayed home helping Nan where I was wanted.

When the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) came I didn’t really understand their words. They said stuff about Nan drinking, me stopping school, too many people in our house. It didn’t matter what I screamed at them, they wanted to tell my story for me, decide for me, know what was best for me. That’s easier than listening, isn’t it? They said I’d be better off away from family.

They got it backwards, family was the one thing holding me together. Being taken from Nan and seeing the little ones separated was like watching bits of me being broken off and scattered across town.

Resi[dential housing] is not a home. It’s a house where they take all the kids doing bad shit and the kids who’ve had bad shit done to them and stick ‘em together like fire with fire. I was put with kids I was trying to get away from, we’d smoked and stolen some stuff from Woolies together and I knew nothing good would come from hanging with them. They were always trying to get at me or get with me.

Now I was stuck with them in this house and at school, bringing me down. Cops were always at that resi unit, called around ‘cos someone smashed a cup, stole another kid’s phone or punched a wall. They became a joke, the ‘big guns’ called around when workers couldn’t deal with something. Workers were scared of us bad kids.

Cops caught us taking some chips from Woolies and I got a good behaviour bond that said I couldn’t see the kids I offended with—the kids I lived with! My child protection order said that I couldn’t see Nan, so wherever I was, sneaking away to Nan’s or sitting in resi, I was doing something wrong. I was a bad kid. I tried just sticking to myself, hanging out alone, shutting out the other kids. Some days I hardly spoke to anyone.

I was so lonely I thought “they may as well lock me up.” That’s the only future for kids like me.

In resi I was no one’s superhero, I became another lost kid in care. I had to squash and twist and stretch myself to be what everyone wanted: the good girl, the tough one, the bad girl, the dumb girl, the lost cause. There was no one to trust and no one who hung around long enough to get me. I watched as more bits of me were broken off and tossed away.


Illustration by Jacob Komesaroff @jkcomments

I felt a constant pull to be with Nan and the others. I’d sit in front of the TV at the resi unit thinking about them so much that I wouldn’t even know what show was on. I closed my eyes and remembered Nan’s hugs, singing with the young ones, rocking the bubs as they slowly drift ed to sleep.

The more I thought about them the harder it was to just sit there, kids fighting and TV blaring around me. I’d take off as soon as the worker was distracted, running past the creeps who hang out the front of the resi unit. When I got to Nan’s I’d make toasted sandwiches and she’d braid my hair and we’d fall asleep watching TV. I got warrants out on me for seeing Nan. Cops would storm through the house and take me back to the resi unit. I watched Nan through the back window every time we drove off, panicking that this might be the last time I saw her.

They pushed me like they knew I wouldn’t push back and stand up for myself, stupid Aboriginal girl.

I pretended cops couldn’t scare me as they got rougher each time, trying to get me to react, saying it was all Nan’s fault. Police checked Nan’s most days, waiting for me to come by. I got paranoid that they were watching me all the time.

I started drinking and smoking more with the kids at the resi unit, took off to Nan’s more and stopped caring what the cops did. I watched Nan get worn out with worry, I found new greys every time I did her hair. I tried to remind her to eat.

One night the cops woke us up by pulling me off the couch to take me back to the unit. They pushed me like they knew I wouldn’t push back and stand up for myself, stupid Aboriginal girl. They were so rough with Nan I thought she was gonna break. When they dropped me back at resi I was shivering, the image of Nan and the cops stuck in my head.

The other kids told me to come out with them, not going anywhere, just somewhere else. I wanted to be somewhere else too. I went with them and took off on some bikes they’d lifted. As we rode we watched the cops’ headlights get closer and closer till we could almost touch them. I started crying for the first time in ages, so many tears the road looked blurry. They chased us from the main street to the highway where we crashed.

Illustration by Jacob Komesaroff @jkcomments

I remember one cop pulling me up from the grass before I passed out from the fear. I woke up with a cop standing over me, the same one I pissed off at Nan’s. I was in a cell, my hands in cuffs and everything aching. There was a toilet in the corner but I was too embarrassed to go in the open like that, especially after cops took the toilet paper out.

I was in so much pain I couldn’t sleep that night. Cops said I couldn’t have a blanket or see a doctor about my pain. They told me I’d never see my family again, that I was going to juvi [juvenile detention]. I couldn’t hear much after that.

When they interviewed me the next day my head was all over the place. I just said what they told me to, agreed with their words I didn’t understand. I walked into Koori Court ready to be locked up. I looked at the lawyer I’d met five minutes before, waiting to hear the same old stuff, but the Elders asked me to talk up. They listened to everything about home, school, Nan, resi, the cops, the crash.

It was the first time I told my story where people heard me. They asked me what I needed and what my family needed. I felt a spark of trust light up again.

An Uncle at Koori Court told me that my family and culture are healing, that Nan and me have lots going on and need support so I can get to school, out of trouble and Nan can have a break.

Family supports help me, Nan and the little ones. They lift the burdens and give me time to find out who I am, stand up for myself, get into TAFE and learn culture. There are no cultural programs for girls in this town, so an Aunty from Koori Court is teaching me to weave, sharing stories with me.

They might seem like little things but they’re bringing all my pieces together. Weaving me back into something unbreakable.

Binak (pronounced Binuk) means basket in Woiwurrung. This name represents Binak’s hard journey in life that is now woven together by culture.

This story has been de-identified to ensure children’s privacy and safety. The process of de-identification involved creating composite accounts that reflect the real lives of many Aboriginal children. All experiences and events included in the story are real with details and names changed for confidentiality. Stories have been reviewed by a focus group of young people with lived experience of the youth justice system.

Join us. Take action!

The stories in Ngaga-dji are from the heart. They are about love, trauma, strength, discrimination and healing. They are about justice and equality. These children are telling their stories because they trust us to listen and take action on the Ngaga-dji solutions. Read the full report. Share our stories. Share our solutions. Share our vision.

Read. Share. Act.