‘We were known as a demonstration school. We had what was called an observation room behind the school room, so people could come in, look through the mirrors and watch us.’
Barrett went to a Marist Brothers school in regional New South Wales and, after the death of his father, he started to be given special treatment by his teacher, Brother Matthew Samuels. In class, Samuels would hug Barrett whenever he did something right, but because he did this to other boys in class and the playground, Barrett thought it was normal.
When he was about 10 years old, Barrett was one day asked by Samuels to come to the observation room to help with some work. Once there, Samuels hugged Barrett, but unlike other occasions, this time didn’t let go.
‘He picked me up and … laid me on a desk. He leaned over me … I could feel his erection and I knew what he was up to. He asked me how I felt, and was I scared ...
‘I can still remember … I said to him, “Uncle Tony’s been teaching me boxing since Dad died and I’m quite capable of throwing you up against that back wall if I really wanted to”. That was enough.’
Samuels backed away and they left the room, returning to class as if nothing had happened. That afternoon, Barrett told his mother what Samuels had done.
The next day, after Barrett’s mother went to the school to make a complaint, Barrett was called into the principal’s office and interviewed. He was then suspended.
After several weeks, he was asked to come back, however upon his return found himself in a different, lower class. And despite no longer being in Samuels’ class, the Brother seemed to always be around.
‘Friday nights I used to compete in [sports] carnivals and I was in the relay team. I’m waiting for my [team mate] to come up and I was in lane 8 … [Samuels] just stood there with this smile on his face and … I didn’t look at him but I knew he was there … It was awful.’
After several months, Barrett no longer saw Samuels. He isn’t sure but believes he was transferred to another Marist Brothers school.
Barrett didn’t speak again about what Samuels had done and no further mention was made of it at home. He wasn’t offered counselling or support, and the school hadn’t seemed concerned about Samuels’ behaviour.
Although he tried to do well at school and not let what had happened affect him, Barrett found things difficult, and at 15 he moved to a different area and found a job. At the same time he started drinking heavily and using drugs.
In the 1980s, Barrett enrolled in several different courses while working casual jobs. He married and had children, but after his marriage ended in divorce, he made the decision to do something about his substance use, and he ‘straightened’ himself out.
He stopped taking drugs and focused his energy on raising his children. Working several jobs, he sometimes went without meals himself so his children could eat. They’d become the main motivating force in his life and he recounted his pride in the strong connection he had with them.
‘That’s something that [kept] me going. I have achieved something in life … I wanted them to have a good life.’