‘My parents dropped me off there. They left me up in the hard dormitory on my bed. I think about three minutes after they left Brother Lorne, who was one of our dorm masters there, I was eating a lolly on the bed and he came up and said, “No eating on the bed”, and took me in and gave me three canings on the arse … I ran to the window and I could see my parents’ car driving around the football oval, leaving.’
Bran grew up in a happy farming family in western New South Wales. In the 1980s he reached high school age and was sent to board at a Marist Brothers college in a regional town. There were 400 boarding students during Bran’s time at the school. The Brothers and lay teachers lived on the premises and all students were in constant fear of being disciplined.
One of the worst teachers was Fergus Shanahan. He was the dormitory master and responsible for discipline. ‘I had the cane off him about 65 times the first year there.’ After a few months Shanahan also started to sexually abuse Bran. ‘After he’d cane me it’d be, “Come here and give me a cuddle”. He’d push you into him that tight and rub his hands all over your bum and this happened about 40 times over Year 7 and 8.’
Bran could feel Shanahan’s erection pressed against his stomach on many occasions.
‘You were just that scared of him.’
Bran also remembers other boys outside Shanahan’s office on numerous occasions and has wondered if they were also abused. He does not recall any of the other students talking about it. ‘I was too scared to tell anyone. I thought I was the only one it happened to. I felt that ashamed. I didn’t tell my parents, I didn’t tell anyone.’
The culture of the school kept junior students ‘on their toes’, in fear and completely isolated from the outside world. They were not allowed to go into town until Year 9. Bran remembers there were only two phones with which to call parents and they often didn’t work.
In the latter part of Year 8 Bran was moved to another part of the boarding school. He didn’t see as much of Shanahan and the sexual abuse stopped.
Bran never told his family. While he was still in high school his father suffered an illness and Bran didn’t want to burden him further. He just tried to ‘block it out’.
Bran continued his education at the college but his schooling went downhill after Year 8. ‘I was just that angry. And ashamed of myself.’ He lost interest in doing well at school. He’s never had a career and has moved from job to job.
‘It’s affected my life so much. Alcohol, drugs. We’re not talking about heavy drugs. Just marijuana, alcohol, just mainly to help me get to sleep at night.’
A few years ago Bran tried to report the abuse by Shanahan to the police in the town where the college still operates. He left two messages but they didn’t return his call. A year later a senior detective contacted him. Other complaints had been made against Shanahan, and he was eventually convicted and sent to prison.
Bran has never received professional counselling but admits he is in need of it. He is thinking of approaching the Marist Brothers for compensation to cover his medical costs.
‘I’m sure someone at that school knew that this was going on. They had to know … That’s what makes me so angry all these years. That they put us through this when they didn’t have to.
‘I’m just nearly out of tears, anyhow.’