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Barry Robert's story

‘As you get older you try and explain yourself to people and they just think that it’s just so horrific that it’s not real. And in fact it’s real.’

Barry was made a ward of the state in the mid 1960s when he was one year old. He spent the rest of his childhood in Catholic orphanages in regional Victoria and Melbourne where physical and sexual abuse were ‘normal’ parts of life.

‘You arrive so young … you don’t know anything else, you don’t talk to anybody else, you certainly don’t see anybody outside of the walls. So you tend to think that it’s just, “That’s how life is”. You don’t know any other way.’

The first incidents of sexual abuse that Barry can remember happened when he was about six years old.

‘During the night-time a nun would wake me up from sleep, walk me down to a large room, like a basketball hall or stadium or something. It was an indoor venue. I’d be placed into a small, dark closet and left there for a little while. How long I wouldn’t know.

‘Then I would hear people walk into the large room and then sometime after I’d be let out of the closet and my bedclothes would be removed from my body. I’d be made to stand in the large room while one of the priests, and certainly some of the nuns, they’d fondle my genitals and just touch me basically all over my body.

‘I’d be made to stand there either by being hit with hand brooms or straps or any device that they see fit to hit you with, for a while. And at the same time they’d be groping me. After what seemed a long time I’d be put back into the closet and I would hear them open another door and take another child.’

This happened to Barry on seven or eight occasions over the course of about a year. During this time he began to self-harm. ‘I used to injure myself a lot’, he said, ‘because the safest place for me was in the hospital. No one could touch you there’.

Eventually he told one of the nurses what was going on. He believes that she then spoke to the head nun and soon after that Barry was moved to a different Catholic children’s home.

This home was no better than the first. At night the dorm master, Brother Phillip, would molest the boys in their beds. Nine-year-old Barry fought back one time and punched Brother Phillip in the face. The Brother dragged him to a private room and whipped him with the strap.

At other times this same Brother and two of his fellow Brothers would make all the boys stand naked in front of their shower cubicles. They would then ‘walk down and fondle us, saying they were checking for diseases’.

Barry told the Commissioner that ‘a lot of other things’ went on in that home ‘which I don’t really wish to talk about at this point for fear of what may come back to haunt me … We have to be very guarded with our information that we give to you because if we give too much of ourselves, who knows what could happen to us’.

Barry’s time at the second orphanage ended much the same way as his time at the first. He reported his abusers to a nurse and she then spoke to her superiors. Barry has a vague recollection of being interviewed by police. A short while later he was moved to a third Catholic orphanage.

It was here that Barry, now aged 11, finally had a stroke of luck. A staff member at the orphanage ‘took it on his personal journey to not only just control me but to try and turn me into a better person’.

Barry credits this man’s intervention as one of the reasons he’s always managed to maintain employment, form relationships and generally function well in life. The other reasons are his wife and son.

‘I’ll leave from this room and I’ll go straight to the phone and I’ll talk to my wife and she’ll sort me out. Everything will be business as usual. I’m not a self-harming person anymore or anything like that. I don’t look for anything like that at all. They’re not thoughts of mine at all. I have too much ahead to look forward to.’

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