‘With my kids, I had a very close relationship with them but I didn’t show them love. I didn’t know what it was to love, you know. I never put my arms around any of my kids, and this is what it builds you up to be’.
As a young child, Alexis sustained a head injury after being in a car accident. Rather than sending him to school, his father left him in the care of friends and here Alexis was sexually assaulted by two of the older sons in the household. When Alexis told his father what they were doing, he was slapped across the mouth. That was worse than the sexual abuse, Alexis said, and as a seven-year-old he began to resist and rebel against his father who then sent him to a boys’ home.
From the ages of seven to 12, Alexis was in two different homes. He arrived at the first, a Salvation Army home in Western Australia, in the 1940s and was subjected to sexual abuse by one of the sergeants. Several nights after seeing Alexis crying in the dormitory the sergeant told him he’d done something wrong and had to be strapped.
‘The next thing I knew, he was abusing me. And me, I just turned around, I didn’t know whether to cry or what to do, but when I went back to my room I was crying.’ Back in the dormitory another boy comforted him and they became firm friends but the sexual abuse was never talked about.
At eight, Alexis was transferred to a Christian Brothers boys’ home in Perth. In the four years of his stay he was physically abused by most of the Brothers and sexually abused by Brother O’Dowell. He absconded many times and though he reported the Brothers’ abuse to police, he wasn’t believed. On one occasion, police officers handcuffed him to a door and beat him with telephone books.
‘They used to laugh at you and say, “Don’t lie. The Brothers wouldn’t do that”,’ Alexis said. Several times, the police came to the home and told Alexis to repeat what he’d said to them in front of the Brothers, but he knew enough not to do so. Previously, welfare workers had visited the home and called boys individually into an office while one of the Brothers was present and asked how they were going.
‘And you never said boo, because if you turned around and said anything to the welfare officer, when they left you’d cop more than what you bargained for.’
One day to escape the Brothers, Alexis climbed a tree. ‘And next thing, bang, bang. One of the Brothers was shooting at me and the tree, trying to get me down. And they ended up having to get the fire brigade in there to get me down because I wouldn’t come down. Two days, nothing was done and then do I cop it.’
Alexis told the Commissioner that boys his age and younger joined others up to the age of 12 constructing buildings and fences on the property, and milking cows by hand. Boys were forced to fight each other in organised boxing matches and Alexis described crying often until one day he decided, ‘no one’s ever going to make me cry again’. He’d adhered to that throughout his life and said it had formed part of the defiant attitude that got him through difficulties.
At 12, Alexis returned to his family and started work in a nearby abattoir. He worked on properties and stood up to bullies and authority figures, often resolving disputes by the use of violence. When he was 16, a farmer one day pointed a gun at him and told him he wasn’t allowed to go to town. Alexis responded by setting fire to the man’s property. He then served a jail sentence for the crime.
At a reunion of ex-residents of the Christian Brothers boys’ home in the 1990s, only five turned up. Many had died and Alexis noticed that everyone drank except him. The other men encouraged him to have a beer, saying it helped ‘you forget’. He declined and told them they might forget for the time being, ‘but it’s back tomorrow’.
At around this time he applied for compensation through the Western Australia redress scheme and received $20,000. He would have liked an apology but none was forthcoming.
That was the first time that he’d disclosed the abuse to his wife. He also sat down with his children to tell them about his early life. ‘I didn’t tell them all the details. I told them I had a pretty rough time and that … I said, ‘I ain’t been much of a dad have I?” I says, “I hope this will help youse”. And that’s why I give them all $500 each.’
As an adult, Alexis had tried not to think about the abuse. ‘I think the reason why I never had any problems when I was younger [was] because I kept working’.
Lately he’d been having nightmares and had started seeing a counsellor and this was helping him ‘come a bit better’.
In later life he’d reconciled with his father who apologised for being so hard on him when he was a child. ‘And you know what, that was one of the mostest, wonderfulest thing ever in the world that happened to me’.
His faith in God had been important to him. ‘I tell you what, if everyone … thought about, they’ve got that man up there to look after him, they’d be right. And I think that’s why I’m good, because I’ve always believed in that and I always will.’