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Andreas's story

In the early 1960s, when Andreas was seven, he was sent to Australia as a child migrant. ‘We came on a boat called The Sydney … and we were locked in a cabin all the way because we couldn’t speak English at all. And then when we arrived we ended up in Fremantle harbour.’

Andreas and his friend Luka were taken to a home in Perth run by the Christian Brothers. There were three other boys from their country there, and if any of them were caught not speaking English they were beaten with straps and cricket bats. ‘We had to completely forget our language’, he said.

During his seven years in the home Andreas was sexually abused by two Brothers, Klyne and McVenn.

Klyne would watch the boys in the shower and make sure they all dried themselves correctly. ‘He used to sit there on a chair, and you’d go up beside him and he used to touch you all over, you know what I mean? And if you were wet, bang. He used to like hitting, too. You’d go flying against the wall. I’ve seen it happen many times.’

McVenn would prowl the dormitories looking for anyone talking after lights out. When boys were caught, the Brother would take them into his room. ‘We had to take our clothes off, kneel down facing the wall, naked. One at a time into his room, and he’d put you over his lap, and he’d touch you and he’d hit you really hard. Yeah, molester he was.

‘We were all scared of these guys.’

For the child migrants it was a harsh and lonely life. ‘None of us had families … They knew that they could do what they want with us. No protection, no one came to check up on us. There was no one there.’

A couple of years after arriving at the home, Andreas was taken out for a weekend by a young couple. His English still wasn’t very good and he couldn’t really communicate with them.

While they were visiting a church, Andreas went to use the toilet. A man followed him inside and dragged him into a stall. ‘He says if I scream or anything he’ll cut my throat. And then I got raped.

‘I just went back into the church. I didn’t know what was going on, you know what I mean?’

When he returned to the home the only person Andreas told was his friend Luka. He was too frightened to tell the Brothers.

After that he said any chance of getting an education was destroyed. ‘My mind just shut down.’

When he finally got out of the system Andreas could barely read or write. ‘I wish I had a good education. I could’ve become something decent at least, but all my life is just labouring work.’

‘This is why I stuck to myself a lot at that time. Just worked, worked, worked.’

Keeping busy helped Andreas not to think about his past. ‘Certain things do happen, like when I was working and I see a family with children and everything … I never really got to see my mother.

‘I was sent out here because they promised her probably that I was going to get a good education and all this kind of stuff.

‘The Brothers said that they were dead, my family was already gone, they passed away when I was young.’

Andreas later discovered that his mother had tried to find him, but because he’d come to Australia on a boat called Sydney, that was where she went. ‘So she was looking for me and she went to Sydney … but I was in Perth. And apparently after that she passed away.’

When he went home many years later, Andreas visited her grave.

In the mid 90s, when he was at a low point, Andreas finally sought help for the sexual abuse, but counselling didn’t help him. ‘I mean, it’s nice to have someone to listen to your story but … nothing cures what happened. It’s like a scar in your brain.

‘What can you do about it? You just have to live on.’

Andreas spoke to the police several years ago but was put off when they asked him why he didn’t report the abuse to the priest. ‘I thought, "How can I report it to the priest? They’re all together in this". I had to keep quiet.’

However, he did receive compensation, and an apology from the Western Australian government. After decades of trying, he also received an apology from the Christian Brothers.

When he spoke to the Commissioner, Andreas was on a disability pension for injuries dating back to the physical labour he was forced to do in the homes. He’s also been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

‘I don’t mix in with many people. It’s hard to trust people – when you were so young, this is what happened to you. How can you trust anyone, you know?’

However, with support from his family and a new grandchild, Andreas described his life now as ‘peaceful’.

‘I collect water from the rain. I got a big tank. I live mostly from the earth. Grow vegetables, plenty of vegetables, yeah. That’s my interest in life, that’s my stress relief.

‘Nature.’

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