Andrej grew up on a farm in regional New South Wales. His father was a ‘tough, hardworking man’ and his mother stayed at home to look after Andrej and his sister. As his parents had emigrated from overseas and couldn’t speak English well, his school life was ‘essential’ in helping his parents understand the Australian culture.
Andrej loved going to school because it got him ‘out of the farm’. As his family were staunch Catholics, he attended a Catholic primary school before progressing to a Marist Brothers high school in Sydney in the late 1960s. He was an obedient student who never questioned his teachers or the Brothers.
When he was 12 years old, Andrej met Brother Wesley. Wesley was an elderly man who often sat at the back of the classroom during lessons. Andrej can’t recall if he ever taught classes at the school, but he was ‘always around’. He said that Wesley was a ‘weirdo’ who often asked him about his cleanliness and health.
One afternoon after class, he was cornered by Wesley, who asked him to come to his office for a discussion. They had a lengthy conversation about ‘coming of age’ and how Andrej’s hygiene should be a priority. Wesley then asked him to ‘drop’ his pants and then fondled his penis as a ‘health inspection’. Episodes of abuse like this occurred twice a week for a year, until Andrej moved on to a different Marist Brothers college.
Andrej’s behaviour changed dramatically at his new school. He said he ‘lost all interest’ in learning and he began to truant frequently. He grew suspicious of the Marist Brothers and was always on his guard with them. His grades dropped dramatically and he got into trouble several times a week. He didn’t talk about his issues at school because there was no one he trusted, and he didn’t want to upset his parents.
‘I just didn’t want to go … I became very angry and I couldn’t work out what was going on.’
In the early 1970s, Andrej dropped out of school and started working on a construction site. He said his parents respected his decision but they expected him to work full time. He managed to find a full time job and worked for the same company for over 20 years.
When he was about 16, Andrej started to experiment with drugs and alcohol. His friendships grew up around ‘abusing’. He smoked cannabis and abused alcohol for several years before developing a ‘very serious’ addiction to heroin. He said he was ‘sneaky’ in the workplace and often relied on his colleagues to cover for him if he ever felt hungover or was experiencing a ‘come down’.
Now in his 60s, Andrej still finds it hard to trust people. He has attempted suicide several times as an adult. He suffers from nightmares, anxiety and depression. He sees a counsellor regularly and is on medication for his mental health. Andrej also has a number of health problems and no longer works. He has been drug-free for a number of years but can’t shake his alcohol problem.
‘I took every drug known to man and I smoked cigarettes. I’ve stopped all that, it’s just the bloody alcohol. I still lean on that … Sitting here talking to you people it wouldn’t have happened [with the drug addiction]. Everybody is a bastard, I don’t trust anybody, I’m angry with the world. Now I can sit down, it’s not easy but it’s easier.’
It wasn’t until the mid-2010s that Andrej reported the abuse to the police, but no further action was taken. He is interested in obtaining compensation and intends to follow that up. Andrej has not told any of his family members or friends about his abuse and wants to keep it that way.