Australia Claims man running program for troubled kids in remote NT fabricated Aboriginal origin story

23:42  28 september  2020
23:42  28 september  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

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a group of people posing for the camera: Allan Brahminy runs a program for troubled youth on a remote NT property. (ABC News: Paul Yeomans/Supplied) © Provided by ABC NEWS Allan Brahminy runs a program for troubled youth on a remote NT property. (ABC News: Paul Yeomans/Supplied)

He claims he was abandoned on a riverbank as a baby by his biological mother and adopted by an Indigenous family which named him Brahminy — meaning wild and free.

It's the story Allan Brahminy's program for troubled kids was based around, and for more than a decade he has been looking after children — many of whom are Indigenous — receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars from state governments.

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But Mr Brahminy's biological family, former military colleagues, ex-wife and former partner claim he is not who he says he is.

His program, which provides therapeutic care to at-risk children, is based on a remote property just outside Batchelor in the Northern Territory, about 122 kilometres from Darwin.

The ABC understands the only children currently at the site are from Tasmania.

Their families and the Tasmanian Aboriginal community have for years been raising concerns about the program.

But it has the complete backing of the Tasmanian Government.

'They told us about this amazing program'

Mason Cooper, 14, recently returned from the program after 15 months.

His stay was funded by the Tasmanian Government after his Devonport family reached out for help with his behaviour.

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"They told us about this amazing program that they had up in the Northern Territory, they currently had children up there and it sounded [like] just what Mason needed," Mason's sister Ella Howells said.

"It sounded brilliant."

Ms Howells took Mason to Darwin and he was then driven south to the outback property.

She describes leaving her then 12-year-old brother in the NT as one of the hardest moments of her life.

"We went up there open to give this the best shot that we could, Mason was going to give this the best shot that he could, but once we got there it just didn't feel right," she said.

She said Allan Brahminy's "tough love" approach had completely broken her little brother.

Mason said that if he misbehaved he was mistreated, made to sit in isolation on a milk crate for hours on end, had power cut to his room and was made to eat vegemite sandwiches for main meals.

Despite being able to make weekly phone calls to his family, they were all monitored.

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"So if we talked about anything that was really going on, they'd hang up the calls," he said.

Tasmania's Child Advocate visited Mason at the program and found that while he was facing some struggles, overall he was safe and had experienced positive growth.

Ella Howells disagreed with that assessment and raised "lots of issues" with Tasmania's Child Safety Service.

"They were not recognised as issues, we were repeatedly told Mason is fine he was doing well, he was happy, but that was not true," she said.

Another Tasmanian who spent time at the facility has backed Mason's claims about inappropriate punishment.

The teenager Tom*, who cannot be named, said being made to sit alone for hours on end on a milk crate, in high temperatures, was a common punishment.

"It creates more trauma for people who are going there to be relieved from trauma," he said.

Tasmania's Department of Communities, which refers children to the program, said the service used "time-out" as an approach to responding to unacceptable behaviour.

"Time-out is an evidence-based behaviour management strategy," the department said in a statement.

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"It acts as a circuit breaker and provides the opportunity for a young person to sit and reflect whilst still being in proximity to others."

The ABC made numerous attempts to put the claims about the program and his identity to Allan Brahminy, who declined to comment.

Outback Kids

Allan Brahminy first made headlines in 2011 with a TV documentary called "Outback Kids", which introduced audiences to some of Australia's so called "most damaged youth".

The three-part documentary, studied in many high schools, is centred around Allan's quest to rehabilitate seven teenagers, drawing on his past experiences.

He details how he was raised by an Indigenous family, but unwillingly taken into foster care several times before running away to live on the streets of the NT and New South Wales.

The documentary also says Mr Brahminy .

Terry McMullan said he was stationed with a man he believes was Mr Brahminy at Amberley Airbase, in Queensland, but that he had a different name.

"I believe Allan Brahminy is Allan Leslie Stauffer," he told the ABC.

"I knew Allan in the Air Force, we were both dog handlers."

The ABC has spoken to several other former RAAF dog handlers, including one who went through as a recruit with Allan in 1982.

They have all identified photos of Allan Brahminy as Allan Leslie Stauffer and said that was his name in the RAAF.

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Mr McMullan said he met Allan's mother Beryl on numerous occasions when she visited him at Amberley.

They went on to be business partners, training dogs for security businesses.

He said he was shocked when Allan Brahminy popped up on the Outback Kids documentary.

"Saying that he was adopted by an Aboriginal woman because he was abandoned as a child on the riverbank somewhere … I'm left scratching my head … I just know that that's not true," he said.

Sharon Bird, who had a son named Liam, with Allan Leslie Stauffer in December 1990, said she was similarly shocked.

"I was just totally gobsmacked for want of a better word, I was just dumbfounded," she said.

"I just couldn't believe the words coming out of his mouth."

Ms Bird said she too met Allan Stauffer's biological mother, who she said was very much a part of his life, and that he grew up in Kurri Kurri, New South Wales.

"It's hard to believe that someone would come up with such a story, I just don't understand how anyone could do that to their own family," she said.

'She adored him'

Sharon Horner was Allan Leslie Stauffer's first wife.

"I knew Allan Brahminy as Allan Stauffer, we were engaged in January 1984," she said.

As stated on their marriage certificate, seen by the ABC, the couple were married on July 28, 1984.

"The man I married worked for the RAAF, he was based at Amberley at the time and he was ranked as LAC, which is Leading Aircraftsman," she said.

"He was what's known as a 'doggie' in the Air Force, so he was a police dog handler."

Ms Horner said she met Allan Stauffer's family before the couple married.

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"I went down to Newcastle and the various suburbs around there and I was introduced to everyone and stayed with his mum Beryl and stepdad."

She said Allan's mother idolised him.

"She adored him, she thought he was wonderful that he could do no wrong," she said.

The couple went on to have a baby, Matthew Allan Stauffer, in December 1985.

Allan Leslie Stauffer is listed as his father on the birth certificate, seen by the ABC.

Ms Horner said Allan's mother Beryl was beside herself with joy.

"After Matthew was born she came to our house in Ipswich [in Queensland] and stayed with us a week," she said.

'I recognised him immediately'

Ms Horner said that when she saw Allan Brahminy on the Outback Kids documentary, she couldn't believe her eyes.

"I recognised him immediately and I was horrified," she said.

She said her son Matthew took it hard.

"It was hurtful, he [Allan] disappeared out of his life … now he resurfaces working with children, it just it hurt," she said.

"There was a particular comment he made and he looked right down the camera and he said 'every child needs a father' and I just cried."

Ms Horner described the story about Allan being abandoned as a baby and adopted by an Aboriginal family as laughable.

"I thought what a load of rubbish and I thought poor Beryl, because she idolised him," she said.

Beryl Stauffer died seven years ago.

Her nephew and Allan Stauffer's biological cousin Robert John Stauffer said she was devastated.

"I grew up across the road from [Allan Stauffer]. He had loving parents and he's the spit out of his dad's mouth," he said.

Robert, who is known as John Stauffer, said he hadn't seen Allan Stauffer for 20 years, apart from on TV.

"It was very, very disappointing," he said.

"My uncle Leslie Stauffer died some time ago but my aunty Beryl was devastated. I want to see the truth come out and so would all the Stauffer family."

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'I want my son back'

There are currently six Tasmanians in the program, which costs about $5,000 per child per week, or $274,000 per child annually, paid by the Tasmanian Government.

The Department of Communities said the costs were comparable to other high-cost placement types and, given the complex backgrounds of the young people, it was necessary and appropriate.

It said the young person who had been there the longest had established a new life in the NT and had been living at the facility for over two years, attending school, undertaking work experience and learning cultural traditions from Aboriginal elders, including through on-country experiences.

That stay has so far cost Tasmanian taxpayers more than half a million dollars.

It is unclear why the NT Government stopped using the program.

In a statement, a Territory Families spokesperson said it had transformed the state's out-of-home-care system, which included developing intensive therapeutic residential care services.

Hobart mother Sarah*, whose real name cannot be used, said her son was 12 years old when Tasmania's Child Safety Service sent him to Allan Brahminy's program in January 2019.

She has hired a lawyer to try to get her son — who is on a care-and-protection order — returned home by the State Government.

"We're going on 18 months, I want my son back," Sarah said.

Sarah said her son was on five different types of medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) when he arrived, all of which were taken off him against the advice of his GP.

"He was so troubled, and to be in the middle of nowhere with strangers and no medication, or anything like that, and just having to cope, going cold turkey, it just broke my heart," Sarah said.

"I just couldn't think how he would be feeling."

Sarah's son ran away from the facility along with another Tasmanian boy last October, making headlines in the NT.

Her son called her at the time to say they were finding their way back to Tasmania.

"I said please don't, you're in the middle of nowhere."

The two 12 year olds managed to hitchhike to Darwin Airport before being picked up by Federal Police.

Tom, who is from Devonport, said he had also ran away because he couldn't handle the poor living conditions and means of punishment.

"I just couldn't take it and I was going to do something stupid to myself, or I was going to really react bad up there, so I thought 'I've got to run'," he said.

'We never agreed with it'

The Tasmanian Government has been sending children, many of whom are Aboriginal, to Allan Brahminy's program since 2015, despite the local Aboriginal community strongly opposing it and repeatedly raising concerns.

Heather Sculthorpe from the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre (TAC) said it was a disgrace, given a program aimed at Tasmanian Aboriginal youth had previously been defunded.

"Under this new Brahminy program, when kids started to get in trouble or they were placed in out-of-home care that didn't work," Ms Sculthorpe said.

"The department somehow managed to find a lot of dollars to send them off to the Northern Territory away from their family away from their community links.

"We never agreed with it, the department knew we didn't agree with it."

Ms Sculthorpe said the Aboriginal community should be in charge of the decisions about Tasmanian Aboriginal youth, but there was no involvement of her sector.

"They ship these kids off to the Northern Territory without telling us, no community involvement in where they should be placed and — surprise surprise — it doesn't work," she said.

"And when they come back, even if they're on the straight and narrow for a little while, generally it doesn't last long … because they've been alienated from their own family and community."

The Tasmanian Government said there had been an independent review of the NT program in 2017.

It said Maria Harries, an international authority on child protection, found the program provided a safe environment for young people and in December 2019 Tasmania's Child Advocate determined it was providing an excellent program of support.

Ms Sculthorpe said those reviews had not been shared with the TAC.

"If it's so positive why haven't they shared with us when we have been, time after time, to complain about the money they're sending to the Northern Territory, whilst defunding our programs?"

Hannah Phillips from Tasmania's Aboriginal Legal Service (TALS) said young people sent to the program had raised concerns with her about their time there.

"The safety and wellbeing of our young people is our primary concern. TALS does not support, and would actively oppose any children being sent to the program," she said.

"TALS does not support children being sent away from Tasmania in these circumstances.

"Children should be with their family and community."

Calls for inquiry

Ms Sculthorpe wants an inquiry into Allan Brahminy and claims that he was adopted by an Indigenous family as a baby.

"There are so many white charlatans in Aboriginal affairs who manage to come up with some ridiculous story that some people buy," she said.

"They reinvent themselves, they make up stuff."

She has questioned where the accountability is from the Tasmanian Government.

"Why is it when they get repeatedly complaints from organisations like ours and the parents, that still no-one says 'hey we better have a proper look'?"

"He's a fraud. How can you give our kids to a white fraudster, and most of them are on care-and-protection orders with the State Government, the Aboriginal community is locked out of decisions about that.

"The white bureaucrats, they give our kids to [a] fraudulent white [man], it's a disgrace, where is the accountability?"

In a statement, Tasmania's Department of Communities said it had no information to suggest Allan Brahminy had any other name.

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Amnesty International's national director Samantha Klintworth said she had serious concerns about the allegations raised by the Tasmanian children.

"Does the Tasmanian Government believe that sending children thousands of kilometres away from their parents, where they're unable to have direct access is in their best interests," Ms Klintworth said.

Child Safety Service workers have weekly phone calls with young people attending the program.

But Ms Klintworth has questioned how the young person's independence can be guaranteed.

"Are they able to talk freely, is there a complaints process in place and is there process to independently investigate any complaints or concerns that children raise?"

*Names have been changed

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