Bryant was 12 years old when he went to a boys’ home in Sydney run by the Salesian Brothers of Don Bosco. In the four years he was in the home he saw many instances where the Brothers targeted and sexually abused boys, particularly those younger than him.
Three months after his arrival there in the mid-1940s, Bryant was in bed when Brother Fenton came into the dormitory and tried to rape him. Bryant had brought a knife with him from the Salvation Army home he’d been in previously, and he stabbed Brother Fenton in the hand.
‘I knew what was going on. I traded a whole kit of marbles and jacks for a folding knife, quite a substantial one, highly illegal these days.’
The next morning at breakfast Brother Fenton had a bandage on his hand. ‘He looked at me and I looked at him. No words were spoken but I was left alone.’
Bryant told the Commissioner he’d been prepared for the assault because at the previous home, Salvation Army officers were always sexually abusing boys, particularly in the communal bathing area. ‘They’d get in the shower and wash you down, show you how to wash your private parts and push up against you and all that sort of stuff.’
After the knife attack, Brother Fenton didn’t try to abuse Bryant again. Nor did any of the other Brothers.
‘They’d talk among themselves and say, “Don’t try anything on that bloke”. There were two or three of us, and they’d leave us alone. They’d try early on and once they knew, they’d leave you alone and pick on the younger ones, and that’s the upsetting part.’
Bryant said it still troubles him that he wasn’t able to protect younger boys in the home all the time. On one occasion two boys had come back from the dairy in tears and he knew they were crying because Brother Christopher had sexually abused them. Bryant went to see the Brother and ‘put a spoke in his wheel’.
It wasn’t always possible though to be with younger boys. ‘They used to keep the younger ones, the nine, eight year olds in a different house and split them up from the bigger boys you know, so you couldn’t really look after them all the time.’
‘You’d try and keep an eye out for them all the time and keep company with them so they couldn’t take them away. They used to take them under the pretext of doing something and then they’d be gone for the day and out of school … They’re all cowards. As soon as you stand up to them, they take it out on the younger ones all the time.’
In the home, Bryant learnt trade skills and felt prepared for work when it was time to leave.
‘When I left there at 16, I could break down a side of beef. On the plus side they prepared a lot of the boys I suppose – I know me – for outside the school to learn a trade … So you’ve got to give credit where it’s due.’
His personal skills weren’t as well developed though he said. ‘I suppose if you look at it, I got married too young – a sense of wanting to belong.’ He and his wife had three children and their marriage lasted 10 years. ‘I ended up getting married again’, Bryant said. ‘We were together 12 years. Decided if we didn’t part we’d end up killing each other. She was a great lady and I was the unstable part there. I just wanted to move on and explore what was over the hill I suppose.’
At the time of coming to the Royal Commission, Bryant was in a new relationship and he’d told his partner about the abuse, but not in any detail. He’d never reported it to police, and hadn’t sought compensation from any organisation.
He had once tried to report Brother Christopher’s abuse to the principal of the school and was punished for doing so. ‘You didn’t have any rights and the younger ones had no rights at all. You basically had to walk in fear. Half the kids came from broken homes, had no back-ups. If you spoke out – I think I had to clean the toilets for two weeks for speaking up … Four of us destroyed the vegetable garden to get back at them. All hell broke loose the next day.’
When he was preparing for his first marriage, Bryant told a priest about the sexual abuse perpetrated by the Brothers in the home, but he wasn’t believed. He’d found it to be a common reaction when he’d tried over the years to tell people, particularly staunch Catholics, what had happened. He said he now avoided religion and religious people.
‘I’ve had to live with it for 70 odd years. It affects me talking about it, you know. It probably has affected me in my dealings with life I suppose to a degree. I can’t imagine what would have happened to the younger ones there because they were nine, 10 years old, and you know, it was terrible …
‘The best thing that’s happened is that the scab has been peeled off and now the wounds can be cleaned and healed and make sure it doesn’t happen again. They can only do that by supervision and regulatory controls and make sure they get rid of the – they’re not all bad people, I’m not assuming that for a minute, but there’s a lot there that are only there because it suits their purposes to how they can exist.’