Alex told the Commissioner that from about the age of seven he lived on the streets.
‘If you read the documents of the day it’s all about “uncontrollable child, parents couldn’t deal with him”, blah blah blah. But it’s clear to me now ... my parents just didn’t want me.’
Then in the mid-1970s, when Alex was 11, he was sent to an Anglican boys’ home.
‘It was a brutal place. No sexual abuse, but just brutal. I was thrown out the back of a ute and thrown across shower stalls and locked in a cupboard and all those things.’
One day, while Alex was out on his latest escape attempt, the home was closed. He was caught by police and sent to stay at a Catholic institution run by the De La Salle Brothers. Alex told the Commissioner that when he arrived it was the first time in his life he’d felt genuinely happy.
‘You need to understand that from a kid that’s basically had no schooling, no family, nothing, you walk in the gates … and all of a sudden here’s a cottage with parrots, here’s a school, here’s a gymnasium, there’s a pool, there’s horses. This is like the best thing that could ever happen to you.’
But there was a dark side to the home, which Alex encountered in the form of Brother Landis.
‘He used to pretty much always visit me in the middle of the night in my little room … It was all about him being pleased and pleasuring me. He tried a few times to have sex with me. I wouldn’t allow it. Pretty much from day one it was about, “If you let me do this you can ride the horses, and if you let me do this you can join the pony club”’.
Coming from such a rough background, Alex said he accepted the abuse as a kind of price he had to pay for an otherwise happy life.
‘The big thing was, I was going to school, I was lapping it up. For the first time I was doing maths and English and I was really having a good time.’
The good times increased for Alex when the director of the home organised for him to spend his weekends and holidays in a foster home with Louise and Dan Woodford.
‘They were wonderful people. They treated me as one of their sons … They still today call me their “chosen one”.’
The Woodfords promised Alex that at the end of 1980 he could leave the home and live with them permanently. After that, the focus of Alex’s entire world became about ‘getting to the end of 1980’.
By August of that year he felt so confident about his upcoming placement with the Woodfords that he decided he didn’t have to put up with the manipulation, threats and abuse from Brother Landis any longer. He confronted Landis after class one day and was shocked at the man’s response.
‘He basically said, “Okay, no worries, all good”. And then for a couple of weeks nothing, and I thought it was just the greatest moment in my life.’
A few weeks later Brother Landis cornered Alex alone while he was cleaning out the piggery.
‘He then attacked me and he took all my clothes off and threw me in the pig mud and then attacked me with an electric prod, and basically didn’t say much except, “You don’t get to say no”.’
Afterwards, Alex debated with himself whether to report the incident.
‘It’s at that moment that I look back now and I continually say to myself “I should have said something, I should have done something”, but I was selfish because I wanted to get to the end of – it was a couple of months until my time to leave the home was up and I just wanted to get to that end and I just wanted to go and be placed with the Woodfords so that I could then start my life.’
Alex didn’t mention the abuse to anyone and Brother Landis didn’t touch him again after that.
At the end of the year Alex left the institution and moved in with the Woodfords. They helped him to get a job and then an apprenticeship, ‘And I never looked back’.
Years passed. Alex married, had children and worked hard, never mentioning the abuse to anyone. ‘I lived my life as an ostrich – head in the sand.’ Eventually his marriage fell apart and ended in a messy divorce. His mental health began to suffer. Alex’s solution was to immerse himself in his work.
‘I’ve been prescribed anti-depressants probably five times in my life. Probably taken a grand total of two tablets. Because I think at the end of the day I’d say, “Snap out of it. Get on with your life”.’
In recent years Alex saw a TV program about the institution and decided to step forward and report the abuse. He entered a mediation process with the Catholic Church and eventually received about $330,000 in compensation, after legal fees were taken out. He also participated in a criminal investigation into Brother Landis and is waiting to see if the matter will go to court.
Alex now has a new relationship and a young family. During the court case he took a proactive approach to his mental health, attending every counselling session on offer. When the Church stopped paying for the sessions he paid for them himself.
‘Once you open the jars you can’t really put the lid back on. And look, I’m much better for it now. I still have issues, but I’m not locking the house nine times a night, I’m letting my child run free a little bit. I mean, life is better and needs to continue to get better.’