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Brett Stuart's story

‘I was very young … I remember running down the hill, crying, running down. I was only a little boy and my family were driving out … I thought they didn’t see me coming down the hill crying, but they actually did. My stepfather just made the decision to keep going. I can’t get that out of my head.’

Brett doesn’t know why he was placed in a children’s home run by the Christian Brothers in Western Australia in the 1970s. He told the Commissioner, ‘I had a stepfather situation, and that wasn’t very helpful’.

Brett believes that despite him making a huge effort to change for the better, the anger he directed towards his family when he was younger has caused irreparable damage. ‘We don’t talk. My family don’t talk to me because … I’m the black sheep.’ The only family member he has any contact with is his teenage son.

While he was in the boys’ home, Brett was sexually abused by one of the Brothers.

‘It is extremely difficult for me to openly discuss the sexual abuse I suffered when I was young … about 12 I think, and it happened in the first week I arrived at the home. I was a very quiet and a nice little boy who was very, very scared at the time.’

Brett woke up to find ‘a man standing over the bed with his hands under my blankets. He just kept saying, “Shhh” as his hands went all over my body and I’ll never forget the smell of his aftershave … I still get a surge of anger when I smell that brand … wherever I am or if I’m walking down the street. The memories come back as clear as day. It’s disgusting. He came back three times after that first night and I don’t feel comfortable at all about speaking about what he did’.

Brett told the Commissioner that the abuse ‘has created very embarrassing and shameful scars in my memory that will never go away. I am deeply ashamed and even though I knew, I know I wasn’t at fault, no matter what process I use, I cannot shake how deeply ashamed I feel’. This shame and embarrassment has prevented Brett from ever talking about his abuse prior to coming to the Royal Commission.

For Brett, ‘What sticks out is … I was put into a home, supposed to be for my own good, when it actually worked against … I still [remember] quite clearly thinking, “This is not going to work. This is going to be bad” and then I just got angry and I then tried to break every rule in the book’.

After the boys’ home, Brett spent time in a number of juvenile detention centres, before ending up in jail. ‘[In] most of these institutions, physical assaults were used to discipline myself, and some assaults and techniques are especially vivid in my mind … these memories are especially painful.’ Brett remembers one very violent detention centre where he used to listen for the footsteps of the guards at night, knowing that he would get up the next morning, battered and bruised from another beating.

‘I … strongly believe that the physical abuse against my person has had a huge impact on my resilience and determination in life. I am determined to become a good human being … I use writing as a tool to analyse and examine my thoughts, and to process my past and to look into my future.’

Brett has an extensive criminal history, but over the last 10 years has ‘worked hard … to develop proactive and suppressive strategies to deal with my past and also with my anger. I’m not the type of person to point blame or to use blame as an excuse for my actions. I … know the difference between mistakes and actions that are my own responsibilities, and actions and emotions that stem from wrongful treatment in my past’.

Since contacting the Royal Commission, Brett has become quite anxious, ‘to the point that I have difficulty describing the terrible emotions and feelings that have been churned up from my past’. However, he told the Commissioner, ‘I feel comfortable speaking to you guys, because I know that you’re not the bad guys. You couldn’t possibly be’.

Brett told the Commissioner, ‘Kids just need to be listened to a lot, you know. You need to hear them … I was never … [In my day] it was to be seen and not heard, you know … and now … things have turned’.

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