This article contains references to abuse.
Brendan Green-Robinson’s most horrifying time in his life was when he was only 14 years old.
At the time, he was detained on remand at Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in Darwin and says he was denied the opportunity to attend three family funerals because correctional officers informed him it was “too difficult to organise”.
Now 28, he was one of the six applicants who publicly read his support statement to Darwin’s Supreme Court on Monday during a settlement hearing against the Northern Territory government for the treatment of young boys at the centre.
“Back then I did not understand how the system worked and the law completely, and my lack of knowledge was used against me by officers,” Green-Robinson told the court hearing via video link from Alice Springs Correctional Centre.
The detention centre was thrust in the spotlight after an ABC Four Corners report in 2016 detailed the physical and psychological abuse the young boys faced by correctional officers.
The media attention triggered an immediate royal commission into the protection and treatment of children in the Northern Territory, ordered by then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
The royal commission found in its final report that over 10 years from August 2006 to November 2017, some children in detention were “mistreated, verbally abused, humiliated, isolated or left alone for long periods of time. In some cases they may have been assaulted by staff.”
While the NT government does not agree correctional officers at the centre broke the law, Chief Minister Michael Gunner publicly apologised for the mistreatment of the detainees following the findings of the royal commission.
Now, it’s estimated around 1,200 former youth detainees are expected to receive $35 million for the suffering they experienced.
“I believe what happened in Don Dale was difficult because it was an everyday thing. I only realised it was illegal when the royal commission started,” Green-Robinson said.
“I am a 28-year-old man and it’s time for me to step up and be a big brother and friend for the next generation of kids to help them live their culture and move on to better parts.”
The court also heard from Aaron Hyde, one of the lead applicants who brought forward the lawsuit in 2016 with Dylan Jenkins, who said he will be dedicating his life to support “the next generation” to avoid his experiences being repeated.
“I honestly hope the Northern Territory youth system can work better in the future because I’ve spilled many tears seeing young Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal kids in prison clothing before they could experience true love and happiness in their young lives,” Hyde said, also via video link from Alice Springs Correctional Centre.
“I pray and hope that things can change but I’m not holding my breath.”
Barrister Paul Batley, who appeared on behalf of the former youth detainees, later read out several anonymous letters by other applicants in the landmark case, which detailed their personal stories while at the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre.
"I got slammed to the ground, I had two officers’ knees at the back of my head. I got dragged at the back of the cells, strip-searched, I got humiliated in front of the other inmates," one letter read.
"I got scared and didn’t know what was going to happen ... They left me in an empty cell with doors closed without any clothes on and handcuffed.
"I would walk in circles in the block until I was released. Many other boys didn’t see freedom. They just saw brick walls 24/7. It was very freaky looking at walls and walls, 24/7. It still scares me just looking back at it."
Another former detainee wrote: "I still get nightmares from Don Dale. I don’t want things happening to the younger generations. What I go through now because of my time there, I don’t want anyone else to go through."
Judge Debra Mortimer praised the applicants who made their public statements in open court, recognising the difficulties faced in participating in a five-year running class action.
“Can I say, it takes particular courage to stand up and be an applicant in a case like this and you’ve taken a lot of responsibility in doing that, and you should be recognised for that,” Justice Mortimer said.
Justice Mortimer has reserved her decision to approve the settlement until a later date.