In the early 1950s, five-year-old Basil came to Australia as a child migrant ‘without my mother’s consent or knowledge’, as she ‘had not signed any documents whatsoever allowing me to be taken out of the country’.
As soon as Basil arrived in Western Australia, he spent two years in an orphanage run by the Presentation Sisters. ‘My one enduring memory … was that [the nuns] locked me in a dungeon for two days. I have a very fearful memory of … being hurt and bleeding after a belting. I know that I felt very afraid and confused.’
From seven years of age Basil spent a couple of fairly happy years at another orphanage. Next he was transferred to a farm school run by the Christian Brothers, and ‘that’s when my life really changed’.
‘I cried for weeks because I had to leave behind the other kids who had become my substitute family … I felt scared and intimidated by the rough and angry treatment that the Brothers showed us … They were just angry all the time’.
Basil was an altar boy. The priest, Father Kevin, took boys to his room, ‘and he’d put lollies in your pocket and of course, he’d fondle you, but he never went any further than that’.
He was raped repeatedly by Brother Michaels, who threatened him with a beating if he told anyone, and believes that Michaels targeted him because he was ‘a very quiet young boy’.
‘They seemed to pick the type of boys that they want to have their sexual fantasies with … I noticed the young ones that were quiet and were being bullied by the older boys and things like that, and I think a lot of these became … vulnerable for the paedophiles.’
Basil tried to suicide while he was at the farm school. ‘I wasn’t successful … Now I’m glad I wasn’t, of course, but at the time, I just wanted to end my life. It was my only option. I had nothing else.’
The sexual abuse stopped after Michaels confessed to Brother Franklin, who ran the school, that he had been abusing boys. ‘I think Michaels knew, eventually, because I was getting older, I think he knew that I’m going to tell somebody … I was becoming more resistant to his requests.’
One morning Basil discovered that Michaels had been transferred to another state. He was called to see Franklin, asked about the abuse, and told that the matter had been dealt with. Franklin warned Basil that if he told anyone about the abuse he would be punished. ‘I don’t believe Franklin was a paedophile … [but he] was a ruthless … son of a bitch.’
Franklin was also a very violent man. ‘He’s just a mongrel. He broke my fingers and I didn’t know until I was 20 years of age, that my fingers had been broken as a child … broken with straps with razor blades in them.’
The children at the farm school were treated very harshly. There was no education. The children worked long hours doing arduous farm work, and were poorly fed. ‘Pigs got better [food] than what we got.’
The time that Basil broke an arm and a leg it took two weeks for him to be taken to the hospital. He believes that ploughing fields at one o’clock in the morning in the middle of winter led to him catching rheumatic fever and spending months in hospital.
When Basil left the farm school at 16, one of the Brothers said to him, ‘You’ll never be anything in life’. ‘They were the words I remembered more than anything else … I think the thing that made me want to become successful was the fact that I was told I wouldn’t be.’
Basil told the Commissioner, ‘when people talk loneliness, they don’t know what loneliness is. I’ve been through loneliness … Going to a hotel [alone] and having a drink on your 21st birthday. Not having a Christmas dinner until I met my wife … I used to sit in the boarding house having chicken sandwiches and things like that’.
He left Western Australia and went on to marry and have children, and establish a successful career. Initially he educated himself by sitting on park benches and listening to people talk, then completed formal studies.
For a long time, Basil found it difficult to trust people. He has been treated for headaches and migraines since childhood. The first person he told about the sexual abuse was a psychiatrist when he was in his 30s, and the psychiatrist attributed the headaches and migraines to what happened to him as a child.
He was part of a class action against the Christian Brothers about 15 years ago and received a very small payment, in return for signing documents preventing him from making any further claims. ‘I think that was wrong. I think that was all wrongly done.’
Basil is still a highly emotional man. ‘When I see something on television and I see a child being abused … I cry, and it takes me a long time to get over that … And sometimes I [want to] … grab that person that’s hurting that [child] and strangle them, or something, but I can’t do it. But you just want to do it.’
He was happy to come to the Royal Commission and tell his story.
‘I know … a lot of children that went through what I went through can’t handle it … I think that the atrocities that have happened to the children, including myself, were, to me, one of the most disgusting things that children could endure …
‘When I talk to people … I get satisfaction because it’s helping me. Because when you bottle it up for so many years, and you’re able to release that, the satisfaction is just enormous … I always feel so much happier when I talk to people now about it.’