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Art's story

When his parents separated Art was shifted on to live with his grandparents in Queensland. He became quite rebellious, he said, and at age 10 was put into a boys’ home run by the Sisters of Mercy. It was the first of four boys’ homes Art came to live in and it ‘was horrible and a real shock’.

After two years Art absconded with a friend. When they were caught, Art was sent to another home, this one run by Methodists, who were ‘quick with hitting children’. Here he was sexually abused by the male director, Rector Keith Porter.

‘It happened in the showers’, Art said. ‘It happened on a regular basis. I tried to defend myself but he used to carry a cricket bat with him so I didn’t stand a chance.

'I found myself being picked up by the other boys off the shower room floor. He’d struck me a few times with the cricket bat.’

At 14, Art was sent to a halfway house for boys leaving the home and he started work in a shop in Brisbane. The caretakers of the house were kindly, he said, and they told him he was too young to be working and he should go back to school. So he could complete his education, the couple arranged for Art to meet with Brother Seamus Ryan, the director of a De La Salle boys’ home.

‘He accepted me’, Art said. ‘He told me you have to abide by our rules and regulations and get a haircut. Long hair was the norm back in the late sixties and early seventies. I accepted his conditions and I left work in mid-January of 1971.’

Art told the Commissioner he enjoyed learning new skills in the home which was also a working farm. At 15, he knew how to drive tractors, bale hay and put up fences. ‘We were proper farmhands’, he said.

One Easter break, Brother Ryan suggested to Art that he stay in the home and earn some money with his farm skills. During this period, he was with one or two other boys in the sheds when Ryan came by in a truck and asked Art to go with him to cut some chaff for the stock.

‘I’d just been shown how to use the chaff machine’, Art said. ‘It was feed for the dairy cattle. However we didn’t go there. We went to another shed and he proceeded to sexually assault me and when I was putting up a struggle, he was slapping me and trying to fondle me. I wet myself. Wet myself, and that put him off. So he had to drive off and get some towels, pick me up in the car and take me somewhere to get cleaned up. I got dressed, but it didn’t stop there, Commissioner.’

After the assault, Ryan had Art moved to a new cottage at the back of the property. Boys there had to walk 200 metres to use the shower in the gym. After their allocated time, Ryan made Art stay back to clean the showers and during these times would sexually abuse him. Each time it happened, Art would wet himself which resulted in threats from Ryan but no change in his behaviour.

Art thought other boys were being abused by Ryan but he didn’t know who they were.

‘We couldn’t talk about it because if the other kids found out about us, we would be ridiculed and singled out as pooftas. We were behind the eight ball on that, behind a rock and a hard place.’

The sexual abuse continued for the 12 months Art was in the home. One day he secretly got a letter out to his grandparents asking if they’d take him back, and his grandmother came to collect him.

On his release, Art started Year 10 but by then had missed two years of school and it was difficult to keep up, despite extra tutoring from several understanding teachers. He’d also formed a gang with other boys ‘ripping off everything’, and they were constantly in trouble with Queensland Police. ‘I was angry. I was so angry and I just wanted to do something and get at society and make my mark in society.’

Art fled to Adelaide and at 16, was arrested there. He put his age up so he’d be sent to adult prison, because he knew there was a lot of sexual abuse in juvenile detention. He was released after four months and the experience he said, ‘made me sit down and realise this is not the way to go’.

He then worked odd jobs before joining the defence forces where he served for more than two decades. ‘In the army it’s one big family’, he said. ‘That’s what I was looking for. I found that in the army - family. Army friends, army mates, you know. You can’t find those sort of friends outside. I’ve looked. You can’t find them, the mates you had in the army.’

A few years ago Art was watching a television program and saw Brother Ryan had been arrested for child sex offences. He contacted the law firm that was mentioned on the program and got them to represent him in a civil damages claim against the De La Salle Brothers. Later he received $205,000 in compensation of which $66,000 was paid in legal fees. He said it felt good to finally tell someone about the abuse and the lawyers he dealt with were sympathetic. The De La Salle Brothers apologised to Art for the abuse, but he felt they had no ‘idea of what was going on’ and that they’d only met with him to ‘make the problem go away because they don’t want media exposure’.

Art hadn’t told his son, who was now in his early 20s, about the abuse and he didn’t know if he would. He was glad though to have told the lawyer and also that he’d come to the Royal Commission. ‘I’ve come here for a reason’, he said. ‘The reason was to clear the air and make myself feel a little bit better about myself. Just coming here and talking to you has helped me, believe it or not. It has helped me.’

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