PT 3: Murrenda’s Story—Ngaga-dji (Hear Me) | Young Voices Creating Change For Justice

PT 3: Murrenda’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. Murrenda'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.

This is our spot.

Dad used to bring me here and we’d fish all day. I bring my foster brother and sister here to feel life in the dirt under their feet and the breath through the trees above them. I bring them here to feel the calm I missed growing up. To be that person who is always there, an anchor in culture and identity. When Dad died I lost my anchor. I felt like he’d left me alone with pain in his place, grief sitting on my chest.

At school, I learnt that people hate blackfullas. I learnt that I should be ashamed of who I was, reject culture, not be like ‘those’ blackfullas. I wrote essays about Captain Cook, a happy white history where my people didn’t exist. The hate was so strong I felt like I was drowning in it. My loneliness turned to anger and pulled me under.

My head, trapped in that hate I heard, played it over and over and over. It swam through my mind until I believed it, accepted the stigma and stereotypes the world told me about my people.

When I had drugs I could shut my head up. I could talk with people, connect, even charm them. For a while, I had a mentor, but the program got shut down. I started hanging with some guys outside of school. I was 14, they were older. They’d get me weed, later we’d get harder stuff, whatever we could get our hands on. We did stupid shit to pay for it ‘cos no one ever had money. I felt accepted, confident, part of something.

Illustration by Jacob Komesaroff @jkcomments

One guy really took me under his wing. He’d always have an arm around my shoulders, look out for me ’round the cops and share what he scored. Other people were shit-scared of him because he was built like a truck and he flogged anyone who got in his way. He was cool with me though, I even cut my hair same as his. After a while he got me into harder stuff.

Some nights we’d get really high and his hand would slip from my shoulders and down my back and push under my school top. Hands heavy and cold, moving over me leaving invisible scars. I’d hear white noise in my head get louder and louder, like I went somewhere else while his hands were there. After he finished the noise would slowly fade and I’d tune back in again like nothing happened.

I was so ashamed I moved away from mum and the young ones. I’d rather sleep rough than let them see how I was living. I didn’t wanna make them worry, to be that fuck-up brother bringing them down. The hate swimming in my head got so loud I did more drugs to shut it up. For years I had lifelines from police and courts, but they just bailed me to the same situation with a warning or order they knew I would breach.

They didn’t know my story and they didn’t ask. What did they think would change? My life was the same, I was the same, my stupid crimes were the same.

The guys in town knew how to get to me. They’d follow me down the street yelling racist bullshit, pushing me, standing over me, waiting for the angry blackfulla to blow up. Eventually, I’d had enough, I punched one, then punched a wall. They got a laugh out of it. I got a broken hand, spear tackled by cops and a prison sentence. I waited for hours in the cop shop cell, the pain in my hand pulsing through me. Felt like my head was gonna explode. I pressed the distress button for hours waiting for help. Cops told me to hold my arm up so it didn’t swell so much, wouldn’t give me a sling ‘cos they said I’d hang myself.


Illustration by Jacob Komesaroff @jkcomments

At court I saw my family for the first time in months. Mum, sis, bub. Three people could still see me down in the deep, under all the hate, all the bullshit. To them, I still mattered. I watched Mum as they read out the list of charges. The shame was so heavy I could hardly breathe. The person Mum raised wouldn’t do all those things. I searched for the words to explain, but my lawyer said it’d be better if I didn’t speak. The magistrate looked at Mum and said, “If he were my son, I would disown him.”

In the lock-up I didn’t feel alive, just like I was surviving. I didn’t sleep. At night I made my own scars next to the ones from police dogs. I couldn’t relax in a concrete box scared of punches, rape, isolation. I got out a few times on parole, avoiding Mum’s so I wasn’t a bad influence on the young ones. They put me in a house full of other people who offended and used, so I stayed on the street to avoid all that. Didn’t take long till I was back inside again.

Each time I went home I’d hear about another brotherboy passing away. I felt like it was my fault. I wasn’t there for him, to talk him out of it.

Life started making more sense inside than on the outside. I didn’t have to worry about letting people down, getting food, paying bills, getting Centrelink. I got to a fucked-up point where I loved it inside. I didn’t have to worry about all that stuff like on the outside. Other people were in control of my life.

Illustration by Jacob Komesaroff @jkcomments

Mum caught the train down to meet me at the gate on my last release date. At first she didn’t recognise me, skinny from fear and sleep deprivation. “Time for a different way,” she said, “whatever you do, don’t leave us.” Mum started to pull me up from the deep where I’d been for so long. She saw the grief sitting on my chest, felt the emptiness that stopped me healing, heard the silence where I needed to talk up. She made me feel worthy of the life she gave me.

A cultural healing centre and detox brought culture and Country back into my life. I felt the pride in my identity that the world had taught me to reject. I hung out with an Uncle who told me it is not weak for a man to talk up, care, be vulnerable. I shared pain I had buried inside myself because I was trapped in the idea that strong men were silent. I got a youth justice worker who listened to me, we’d yarn, paint and fish together under the scar trees down the river. Without them, I wouldn’t be here today.

The hate in my head is getting quiet as culture and connection get loud and strong. Culture keeps me afloat, keeps me alive.

I want other young ones to feel that too, know the strength of who they are by feeling life in the dirt under their feet and the breath through the trees above them.

Murrenda (pronounced muu-rren-da) means ‘alive’ in Woiwurrung. This name represents the way Murrenda feels alive with culture and community.

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.

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