Arlo migrated to Australia from Italy in the early 1950s, when he was an infant. ‘When I was a kid, I had a lot of fights, being called a wog and a dago – you got a lot of that in the 50s and 60s and 70s. And I still get a bit pissed off with it today.’
His mother ‘got very sick’ soon after they arrived, and was admitted to a Melbourne psychiatric facility.
‘It wasn’t a very good environment for my mother, who’d come from a small village, to this place where she didn’t have many friends, and she couldn’t speak the language.’
As his father had to work, he was unable to care for the children and they went into care. Arlo was separated from his sisters, and sent to a home run by the Sisters of St Joseph.
During his time in care he maintained contact with his parents, seeing his dad on weekends and sometimes visiting his mum at the hospital.
Arlo had trouble communicating with his dad, as his dad only spoke an Italian dialect, whereas Arlo grew up speaking English in the homes. An uncle acted as translator for them. Despite these language barriers, he is grateful they could maintain contact, as many boys he lived with in care were orphaned or had no connection with family.
Sometimes Arlo would stay with other families during the holidays and weekends, and one wanted to adopt him. His dad refused to consent however, so he stayed at the home for a few years. He thinks if he’d been adopted, ‘it would be a lot nicer life’.
Arlo moved to a different home, run by the same order, and remembers being physically and emotionally abused by the nuns. He was humiliated for wetting the bed, and beaten. The children were shown little care or love.
When Arlo was nine, he was sent to a Christian Brothers’ orphanage, and attended the affiliated technical college. At first, he was glad to have left the home run by the Sisters, to escape their abuse. ‘I was really happy’.
This happiness was short-lived, as he was sexually abused by two Brothers. Brother Hammond, who taught at the school, would fondle the boys in plain sight of other students, having asked them to sit on his lap during class. Hammond attempted to molest Arlo too, but he resisted and pushed him away. The Brother gave him a clip over the ear, but did not abuse him further.
Arlo was regularly sexually abused by Brother Payne, who would ‘play with me all the time’ in the dormitory.
‘I’d started wetting the bed, and then he’d come and check my bed ... If I’d wet the bed, he’d get me to have a shower. Then after the shower he’d be playing with himself.’
The abuse stopped after about five years. Payne asked Arlo into his office, and made him drop his pants. ‘I’d matured a bit, and once he’d seen that ... He just didn’t want to know. He just said, pull your pants up and get out. And that was the end of it.’
When Arlo disclosed Payne’s actions to his ‘best mate’, the boy replied ‘bullshit’, so he didn’t speak of it anymore. He’d also heard that another boy who had reported sexual abuse had been beaten, so wasn’t inclined to report to anyone at the orphanage or school.
On leaving care, Arlo worked and moved overseas for a while. Many years later, Dave, another boy from the orphanage, called him and said ‘Brother Payne did you too, didn’t he? ... That’s when I realised I wasn’t the only one’. It turned out the friend Arlo disclosed to at the time had later told Dave about it.
Arlo called a phone number Dave had given him, and the lady he spoke to helped him to connect with the Towards Healing process. At this time, Arlo disclosed the physical abuse by the nuns as well.
Meetings were arranged with both the Sisters of St Joseph and the Christian Brothers for the same day. Arlo was assigned a counsellor, but told he did not require a lawyer.
In the first meeting, the Brothers offered him a moderate amount of money, which he accepted. They also gave him an apology, which was ‘magnificent’. ‘They said, don’t blame yourself ... And that’s what you do, strangely enough, you do blame yourself.’
By the time he met with the Sisters around an hour later, he was emotionally worn out. He felt guilty because the nuns he met with appeared to be frail, elderly women. Because of this, he felt it would be wrong to take their money, and so said he would not pursue anything from them.
Arlo found the Towards Healing process very difficult, as he had to repeat his story several times to different people. On reflection, he thinks it was too much to meet with both orders on the same day – he needed more time to deal with his emotions between meetings.
Now he feels he was manipulated into forsaking his claim against the Sisters in a way, and that the Church provided little support despite his obvious vulnerability after meeting with the Brothers.
Twenty years ago, after it ‘all hit one day’, Arlo saw a psychiatrist about his abuse ‘for quite a while’ but has not engaged in any counselling since. Although he has some mates, and maintains close connections with his kids he stated, ‘I can’t hold down a relationship. I’m a loner’.
He still remembers lying in bed when he three or four years old, after he first went into care, and thinking, ‘I’m on my own now ... I knew it, and I still know it today’.