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Barnaby William's story

Barnaby’s Catholic mother died in the early 1950s when he was four, and her dying wish was for her children to be raised as Catholics. He was sent to two Catholic schools run by the Christian Brothers in Tasmania.

On his first day at primary school, the children were singing. Barnaby joined in. ‘I was hauled forward and I was flogged. A few days before, I’d been six years of age … “What sort of beast would take a strap …” And why did he do it? He [said] “You’re not singing. You’re shouting”, and I later learned what he was doing …

‘You take the child with the biggest smile, the most open canvas, and you flog the shit out of them, and then never again will any of the children who witnessed this give you any trouble. And that was their policy.’

Barnaby’s father remarried, and Barnaby’s abusive stepmother didn’t want the children living with them. After living with his grandmother for a few months, Barnaby’s father told him that he was going to a Christian Brothers boarding school. He was seven, and he spent a little over a year as a boarder.

Once again, Barnaby was subjected to endless floggings. He also witnessed boys entering the dormitory master’s room. ‘[They] would go in there and come out with sweets … and they were having a good time …’

Barnaby was in Brother Stephen’s room one night. ‘[He] asked me to kiss him, so I kissed him on the cheek … He said, “No, kiss me on the lips” … I’d always been exhorted to never, ever kiss … a stranger [on the lips], so I said, “No, I’m not allowed …” He then asked me to lick his penis. I said, “No, that’s sinful”.’

The Brother turned to the other boys who were in the room and said, ‘I told you Barnaby is too young’. It surprised Barnaby that the Brother was talking to a boy just two years older than him, ‘as an equal. As in an internal, connected, socially connected dialogue … This was quite shocking’.

Two weeks later, Barnaby was in some sort of trouble and was told to go and see Brother Stephen. Instead, he went to bed. Later that night Brother Stephen came over to Barnaby’s bed and took him to his room, where he told him to drop his pyjama pants. Barnaby expected to be strapped. Instead, Brother Stephen raped him.

Barnaby returned to bed. ‘I’m sobbing … I become aware that one of the boys had come across the room … Robbie said, “What’d he do … Did he bum ya?” and I said “Yeah, I suppose so” and he said, “He’s not allowed to do that”.’

Because he had soiled the bed, Barnaby refused to get up the next morning. When another Brother pulled back the bedclothes and saw the blood and faeces, he sent Barnaby to the matron. Barnaby couldn’t stay in the sick bay because a student in there was contagious, so he was put into a room with an elderly Brother, who was well liked by all the boys.

No one in the school was allowed to talk to Barnaby. ‘I eventually told my father that … this sort of sexual predation was happening.’ When his father asked if it had happened to him, Barnaby said, ‘No’, because ‘it’d been made quite clear to me that my father, being a Protestant, was not to know about this, otherwise it would damage the Church’.

Sometime later, Barnaby was called to Brother Charles’s room. He told Barnaby that some rules had been put in place: Brother Stephen was no longer allowed to touch him, or be in his presence. Barnaby was also not allowed to be in a room alone with any of the Brothers. Barnaby pointed out to Brother Charles that he was alone in the room with him.

Barnaby would not keep quiet about the abuse. ‘I told everyone. They did ask me not to talk about it, but I told everyone. Everyone who would listen would get bored shitless with me saying, “This is what Brother Stephen did to me”.’

A few weeks after Barnaby told his father that there was sexual abuse occurring at the school, Barnaby became a day boy. Three months later, he won a prize, and Brother Stephen presented it to him.

When Brother Stephen said to him, ‘You didn’t tell your father. No one’s ever going to believe anything you say again’, Barnaby said to him, ‘“Brother. You touch me again, and I’ll kill you”, and I meant it’. Before coming to the Royal Commission, Barnaby had never told anyone of the threat he made to Brother Stephen that day.

Brother Stephen taught Grade 6. About three months before Barnaby was due to start Grade 6, Brother Stephen disappeared. No one would tell him where he had gone.

Barnaby did some investigating, and discovered that three boys had gone to the headmaster to complain about something that Brother Stephen had done to Robbie, the boy who had spoken to Barnaby on the night of the rape.

The father of one of the three boys came to the school and was told he couldn’t speak to the headmaster. He threatened to contact the archbishop. The next day he saw the headmaster, who informed him that Brother Stephen had left the state that morning. Barnaby believes that Brother Stephen was sent to teach at another school.

‘The simple fact … was that people with responsibility used organisation processes not to cover it up – people say they covered it up, they weren’t covering it up, they were putting them in a position where they could re-offend and crush other lives. That, I will never forgive.’

The physical, emotional and sexual abuse Barnaby experienced at the hands of the Christian Brothers has had an adverse impact on his adult life. He has used alcohol to cope with the memories, and has had long-term mental health issues, including a severe mental breakdown.

Barnaby now lives on a disability pension and the small amount of compensation he received did not go a long way to relieve his financial situation. He believes he should have received a lot more.

Barnaby told the Commissioner, ‘We’ve got to stop it happening to anyone ever again. We’ve got to crush this …’

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