‘The stress factor inside is just terrible, it’s like ripping your whole body apart when you’ve got nothing inside. And it just hurts me so much, ‘cause what happened to me.’
From a young age, Bernard was in and out of various institutions – children’s homes, a Benedictine mission just outside of Perth, and eventually juvenile detention.
It was his time at the mission, where he lived from the age of six, that he wanted to tell the Royal Commission about. His 18 months there in the early 1970s were marked by multiple sexual assaults perpetrated by older boys, including many instances of rape.
‘They all held me down and took turns and all that, and I was screaming, crying ... I just got hit, and bent over. And they just took turns ... I was the smallest one there, I couldn’t do nothing. And that’s the way it was there.’
He estimates he was assaulted by these boys approximately 40-50 times. There was nobody he could turn to for protection. ‘You’d say something, then the Father would come in drunk in the middle of the night and just flog you anyway – “Well, you should’ve kept your mouth shut”. And these are the fellas that the society put us there, for them to look after us. And that’s how they look after us.’
There was ‘only one good Father I can think of, is the fella who used to make the holy bread’, and would give them the offcuts to take to eat at school.
It was not until Bernard was an adult that he spoke about the abuse with some of his siblings. ‘I can only talk to certain people, like my brothers and that, and my sisters, they’ve been through the same situation. So I can sit down and talk to them ... But anyone else, I won’t say a word.’
When Bernard left the mission, he went back to live with his mother. Even when he was grown up, ‘I’d go to her house three or four times a week. That’s my mum. That’s my love’.
Bernard only formed personal relationships with people he knew to have come from similar backgrounds.
‘Other fellas that had never been in that situation, I couldn’t even get on with them. ‘Cause they’re up there, and I’m down here. And that’s the way society has put us, and that’s the way I’ve lived. I try walk tall and strong for my kids. But deep down inside, there’s always something dead and wrong.’
Bernard finds it difficult to be touched by anyone except his closest family, or to have other people near him – ‘I like my zones to be empty all the time’. He often gets panicked and anxious in crowded situations.
‘I can’t even be in my home family now. At a funeral, I’ve got to be on the outside of the tribe, when I should be in the middle of them. But I can’t, because I start shaking, I start sweating, I can’t handle it. It’s like my insides are getting churned upside down. I got to go out and breathe.’
Several of Bernard’s younger kids have been placed in a kinship care arrangement. He has made numerous attempts to have these children returned to him, as he strongly believes they are unsafe in their current home.
Only one, his teenage son, has come back to him.
‘He’s a different boy, and I tried to talk to him. Because I’m thinking, before the welfare took him away, he was always happy ... When he came back, I don’t know what happened. He’s very quiet.’
Recently, the police came and charged Bernard’s son Raymond with sexual assaults against younger boys. ‘Oh my God, I have to go through all of this again.’
Bernard wants his son to own up to his actions and take the consequences, but hopes that someone will look at what led him to commit these kinds of crimes. He believes the changes in the Raymond’s behaviour, including these offences, are an indication that he was sexually abused while living in the placement.
Raymond has not made any disclosures to him about being abused, and Bernard understands that if something has happened he may not be ready to talk about it. ‘I tried to talk to him, but ... look at my own stuff. It took me 30-something years to bring it all out.’
Even so, Bernard thinks he can identify the man who abused his son. When he mentioned his name, Raymond ‘got really wild, and just hushed up’.
Bernard explained that he had spoken to child protection authorities about his concerns for his son and other children on many occasions, but it does not appear that they have acted on this information.
‘In my mind and soul, it just takes me back to the mission. Now my kids are in the same situation, and the department and the police just let it go by ... The more I talk about, the more I get told to shut up.’
Bernard applied for the Western Australian redress program. Although he detailed much of the abuse he experienced, he received ‘a couple of dollars, but that never covered nothing’. He gave most of this money to his children.
So far, Bernard has not been able to access his records from the mission. ‘My daughter went up there ... They got all documentations of me and that, she wanted to get them. But they reckon nah, only I can get them. And I don’t want to go up there.’
He now has information about obtaining free legal support about getting his files, investigating other avenues of compensation, and obtaining advice about the current situation with his children. ‘At the end of the day my kids’ souls, their heart, is totally dead. They’ll never be fixed.’