Arnold was born in England in the 1940s to an unwed mother, and was immediately placed in an orphanage. At 11 he was sent to Western Australia, where he spent five years at a farm school run by the Christian Brothers.
Brother MacBain was one of five Brothers who physically and sexually abused Arnold from the age of 13 to when he left the farm school at 16. Arnold said that MacBain was the most violent of the abusers. ‘He was ruthless.’
One night, MacBain told him to come to the dairy to help with a cow. ‘So I went down. That was the worst thing I had done. That’s when he first sexually abused me. He flogged me. Nearly killed me. Yeah.’
There was a Roman bath and shower room at the home and one of the Brothers ‘used to get the kids … he’d be parading around in the nude and all that in the bath, right in the middle. Kids had to wash his back and all. I won’t go any further. He was just one of them. But he never belted me or anything like that’.
Another time, when Arnold was working at night helping to lay parquetry, Brother Stevens ‘had a go at me twice … in the evening, that’s when he sexually abused me. They all knew what was going on, you know, the Brothers’.
The boys used to go to confession and when Arnold ‘confessed my sins, I said, “I’ve been …” you know, this that and the other. “Oh”, he said. He gave me a couple of Our Fathers, Hail Marys, and said, “Now, why don’t you come down to my room and show me what they done?”’ Arnold told a few other boys about this, and they warned him not to go, so he didn’t.
At the time, Arnold ‘didn’t know it was anything wrong. I knew it was a sin … not a crime’. He only realised when he was in his 50s that what had been done to him and the other boys was a serious crime.
The abuse Arnold suffered had a huge impact on his life.
‘I never got married because I was too frightened of women. I never knew what they were for and all that.’
Until the late 70s, when he stopped drinking, Arnold had a serious problem with alcohol. He drank a carton of beer a day – ‘big bottles, not the small ones’ – and ended up in hospital. ‘I was frightened. I used to get that drunk … I’d have girls interested in me and by the end of the night I was legless, you know. I was frightened of women.’
Arnold worked as a shearer for most of his working life, and to cope with his past, ‘I just kept shearing’. Mateship and ‘going bush’ helped too.
Arnold was involved in a class action against the Christian Brothers in the late 80s, which resulted in a compensation payment of $2,000. When he approached the Church about five years ago in an effort to get more, the Brother he spoke to said, ‘What do you want, mate? Oh, you signed a paper … That’s all you’re getting. All you boys are liars. At least we taught you to work. Now, get out of here’. Arnold told the Commissioner, ‘That’s the exact words he said. How I didn’t knock his arse over tits.’
Arnold was able to get a slightly larger payment related to the original settlement, and another $45,000 through Redress WA. ‘They paid up for the Christian Brothers. They got away with fucking murder. They haven’t paid anything at all, have they?’
In 2013 Arnold was able to travel to Ireland for the first time, with the help of the Child Migrants Trust. He managed to meet his half-brother, but said ‘it would have been better if I had found my mother before she died’.