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Alek Joe's story

‘I could never ever look at a priest or a Brother and feel anything for them.’

Alek had a ‘pretty hard childhood’. He was the youngest child in a family living in western Sydney during the late 1940s, and when he was seven years old, his father, a professional entertainer, went out on a job and never returned.

Alek’s mother was financially struggling to raise her family alone, and the school the children attended had a rule that if fees weren’t paid the student would have to sweep the school grounds instead of going to class. Alek can’t remember ever not sweeping the grounds.

He described his behaviour at school and at home as ‘unruly’. When it became too much for his mother, Alek was made a ward of the state, and in the early 1960s, at the age of 13 he was sent to a Marist Brothers boys’ home.

It was a ‘cruel, cold place’, with discipline that was ‘absolutely horrendous’. The dormitory Alek was assigned had over 50 boys in it and Brothers wielded ‘free rein’ over them all.

Brother Ernest was ‘discipline master’ and the worst of all.

‘He was the cruellest person I’ve ever met in my entire life. He was a chain smoker, a drunk, all those things … he used his power to get you to do what he wants. He used that on me to rape me.’

Alek isn’t sure how many times Ernest raped him. Brother Withers was another who sexually abused him, but unlike Ernest, appeared ‘kind’. Boys had ‘nowhere to go to tell anyone’ about the abuse, and lived in fear of the Brothers’ power.

When he was about 15, Alex went to confession and told Father Sullivan, the spiritual leader of the institution, about the abuse. Sullivan disbelieving Alek and verbally abused him in the confessional. Alek still believes that Sullivan must have known what was happening, because there was so much abuse going on around him.

At 16, Alex left the institution and found his father. He worked with him for a year before volunteering for the defence force. Training was tough and Alek used the discipline as a way of blocking out memories of the abuse. He had thought he would never see any of the Brothers again.

‘I’m on my way to do my jungle training in Queensland. I’m getting off the plane, walking down the stairs. Over there 15 metres away is Brother Ernest with about 30 young boys from school or a college. Age group would have been about 12. If I had a gun I would have shot him. I nearly collapsed. It hit me so hard seeing him there. Of all things to run into in your life, everything came rushing back.’

When he was in his 30s, Alek told his wife about the sexual abuse. He didn’t go into detail, but she was, and remains, supportive. He’d always thrown himself into whatever employment he had, often working 14 hour days. Then when work slowed down, he found himself drinking more and putting on weight. At that point, his wife encouraged him to seek medical help.

By then he had developed signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety. He saw a psychiatrist, and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, attributable to a combination of being sexually abused as a child, and his defence force postings. He still had flashbacks to the abuse and was trying to make lifestyle changes to support his wellbeing.

‘I’m not 100 per cent. By around 12 pm each day, I’ve got to go and meditate and listen to music and relax to get my head together. That’s part of my routine every day. I walk for an hour and a half every morning, that’s all part of what I do to stay who I should be. I’ve got to – I want to be around to see my grandkids go through school and be happy.’

Alek didn’t ever make a report to anyone about the Brothers. He hoped they were dead. He took civil action against the Marist Brothers and after a process spanning more than two years, had recently received compensation of $250,000 from which $80,000 was paid in legal fees. He’d also sought an apology but, at the time of his session with the Royal Commission, was still waiting for it.

Alek recommended that institutions employ permanent counsellors that have regular meetings with each child as they progress through the school years. He also believed that if a teacher or other person ‘is found to be abusing children in any way, shape or form’, they should be banned for life from working with children.

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