When Brian was a baby his parents lived in a tent. Alcohol was a problem and they often fought. One night the police were called and they took Brian and his older brother Johnny to the police station. It was meant to be for an overnight stay but the boys’ father, who was supposed to collect them, never turned up.
The boys were made wards of the state and in the mid-1950s, when Brian was eight months old, he and Johnny were placed in a Catholic-run children’s home in a small Victorian town.
‘I recall basically the only word that can come to my mind is neglect’, Brian said, describing an early memory of the home. ‘It stunk – I can still smell it. It just stunk of babies’ excrement. And I remember going around from cot to cot … I remember hopping into other cots with other babies, and I just remember that the people who were taking care of us had these white nurses’ uniforms on.’
Over the next four or so years Brian and Johnny were returned to their mother’s care for a period – ‘which probably wasn’t a good idea’ – and the rest of the time were moved around between several different children’s homes. But when Brian was about five they were sent back to the home where their institutional life had begun. Brian remained there for nine years, and was sexually abused throughout that time.
‘It was a pretty constant sort of thing. Pretty frequent sort of thing.’
The main perpetrators were two young male staff members. The abuse included masturbation and oral sex. There were also frequent sexual assaults from older boys.
‘There was just so much of it over such a long period of time, I can’t accurately recall the details.’
Reporting the abuse just brought more trouble.
‘The nuns down there, if there was any mention of a sexual nature – you know, if somebody mentioned that someone touched my willie – the nuns would just … They beat us down, punished us and told us not to speak or do devilment.’
At one point, he revealed in confession some of what was going on. ’I recall just saying that I was doing devilment with other boys. … I remember telling that there was devilment going on, that I was involved in it – he gave me my penance. Ten Hail Marys and 10 Our Fathers. That sort of stuff. And I guess that’s as far as it went.’
There was also an episode of abuse by a priest, when Brian was in his early teens. The priest was standing in for someone else. It happened after mass, when Brian went to change out of his altar boy robes.
‘He was just really nice to me. Then he offered me some wine. I took the wine without any hesitation … what he done then – I guess he groomed me up in the matter of about 15 minutes … I had some host, I drank some wine, and then he started fondling me, my genitals, and he masturbated himself. I just recall then leaving the church, and I was staggering back to the boys’ wing – I was obviously drunk. My head was spinning.’
It was the last time Brian was sexually abused. As a 14-year-old he was moved to another Catholic-run home for boys, where he remained for about three years. Soon after he arrived one of the Brothers there tried to abuse him. ‘I was a bigger boy then and I could reject the approach … It was actually the first time I was able to reject it.’
Brian disclosed the abuse for the first time in his early 30s, to his brother Johnny and another family member. ‘I was drunk … It just popped out – I told them I was sexually abused for a very long time as a child.’
In the late 2000s Brian approached a law firm about getting compensation for what had happened to him as a child. ‘I think I – I just come to an age where stuff – yeah, just memories started coming back.’ He didn’t get very far, he said.
‘They got back to me eventually and said they can’t sue the Catholic Church because of some statute of limitations … You owe us $700 for administration and paperwork, and we’ll waive the rest. So that was the end of that. But they suggested I go through the Towards Healing process and that’s what I’ve done.’
The initial response from Towards Healing was very slow. ‘I’m a pretty patient person – in certain areas, I’m pretty patient. But I did have to eventually write a letter to them to find out how it’s progressing. Since then it’s progressed at a reasonable pace and progressed to a conclusion.’
That ‘conclusion’, in about 2011, was a letter of apology and a payout of $10,000. Brian said he’s done his own calculations: medical costs, lost income – ‘It comes to a hell of a lot more than $10,000 …
‘I feel like someone putting their hand out. I feel quite desperate, to take it. Obviously it’s an insulting amount. They did conclude that my experience was at the top of the range … Extreme.’ But he was told by the Sister he was dealing with that $10,000 was as much as the Church could manage.
‘She said they just haven’t got a lot of money left, and they can only offer me the top amount, and that maximum amount at the time was $10,000.’
As Brian explained to Towards Healing, his childhood experiences left him with PTSD and behavioural problems. He managed to maintain a reasonably normal family and work life until his mid-40s. ‘I then started experiencing flashbacks, depression, instability and difficulty holding down jobs.’ With help from a survivors’ support group, he has been receiving regular counselling since the late 2000s.
‘What counselling’s probably done for me is help me understand the psychological impacts of the trauma … But as far as how I feel goes, I believe as I’m getting older it’s getting more difficult.’