Bowen grew up in a very large family in regional New South Wales in the 1960s. They didn’t have much money and life was often very tough, but they were a close-knit family. Bowen went to a Catholic primary school where he said he was an average kid but got by okay.
The school was run by the Christian Brothers and the principal was Brother McAllister. When Bowen started Grade 6, McAllister became his class teacher.
‘I was a pretty contented young bloke. I was pretty happy but I was a bit cheeky and stuff like that. He would pick on me all the time, give me the strap and everything. They were pretty aggressive teachers.’
The day of the school swimming carnival, McAllister sexually abused Bowen.
‘I’d done something wrong, I can’t remember, and I had to stay back and that’s when he done what he did to me. He got me into his room, into the office and he made me sit down on his lap. I sat down there and he started putting his hands up and down my pants and playing with me and that. He was affectionate. He was nice to me. I didn’t know what to do, I was 12 years of age.’
Bowen said he doesn’t know why McAllister picked him out of all the other kids.
‘He must have thought because I was a bit shyer he sort of picked that. And when it did happen, then he started giving worse, giving me straps and he’d bear down on me … He was savage.’
Bowen managed to get out of the room that day and McAllister never tried it again.
‘I hated school after that. I just couldn’t bear school. I got nightmares and I told my parents but my parents just said go back to school. In them days they would sort of let it go past, they didn’t do anything.’
Bowen went on to high school but left as soon as he could in his early teens, just to get away from the Brothers. There were no teachers he felt he could confide in.
‘I got a job for a while, I was working at a timber yard. I worked there and I didn’t get no trade or anything, I just sort of worked from job to job, unemployed, job, unemployed … If I would have stayed longer I could have got a trade if I wanted at school.’
Bowen started drinking heavily when he was 12, soon after the abuse, and has been an alcoholic his whole adult life. He said it makes him forget things and takes away his stress, although it has also caused him a huge amount of trouble over the years. He also took a lot of drugs in the past, and managed to give those up, but he’s not yet ready to give up the booze.
Another significant and ongoing impact of the abuse has been his inability to form long-lasting relationships. Bowen is single and lives alone and says he doesn’t have many friends. The relationships with most of his family have also deteriorated, although he is very close to one of his nephews, who came to support him in telling his story.
‘I had a girlfriend. Relationships never, I could never, they reckoned I couldn’t love them or something, that’s what they told me.’
Bowen didn’t tell anyone about the abuse for a long time but, in the mid-2000s, he met up with an old school friend and found out that McAllister had abused him too. He didn’t do anything until much later when this friend told him about the Royal Commission and encouraged him to go to the police.
He then reported McAllister and charges were laid in relation to Bowen and four other victims. McAllister pleaded guilty. Bowen is now finding out how to go about seeking compensation from the Church.
‘I’m glad that it’s come out into the open because there’s too much of it happening in the Catholic schools and it’s been there for years … I just think it’s a disgusting thing to happen. It shouldn’t happen. The teachers are there to teach you, not to do things like that.’