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Callie's story

The sexual abuse of Callie’s older brother, Bryan, at a Marist Brothers boarding school in the 1970s led to his ‘train wreck’ of a life.

Callie’s large Catholic family grew up in Sydney. Her parents were very busy with older children when Bryan was young and their father was ‘quite strict’ with her brothers who were all at school by the time Callie was born.

Initially all her brothers attended a local Marist Brothers high school, but Bryan was different. He had learning difficulties, and he was physically small, so he ‘looked very young’.

He also had a ‘hard act to follow’, coming after his popular and sporty older brothers, including Vince. Bryan attracted bullies, so in Year 9 he was moved to the boarding school.

Over the next four years he ‘ran away a lot’ and was hospitalised with many ailments that were never properly diagnosed. His parents presumed they were ‘psychosomatic’.

Callie told the Commissioner, ‘That’s one of the things as an adult that I have reflected and thought, “There is a reason he didn’t want to go back to school”’.

One day during the 1990s Brian and Callie were driving along a freeway and she mentioned her boss who had been publicly open about his own sexual abuse at a Marist Brothers boarding school in Melbourne.

Bryan ‘started to shake and he started to cry and I said, “Pull the car over”. He was just hysterical. And I said, “What happened to you at [boarding school]?” … He said, “Who told you … How do you know this?’” Did Vince tell you?” I said, “No. I just guessed it, mate. I’m just looking at your life”’.

Even though Bryan gave her a few details, Callie said she did nothing about it until after Bryan’s premature drug-related death in his 40s.

Gradually, with input from some family members, Callie ‘started to piece together Bryan’s life and self-destructive behavior’ which included her memory of him being restrained from jumping off a balcony in his mid-teens.

Bryan had told her that when he started Year 10, Vince was in Year 12. ‘He remembers [this] Brother putting a hand on him. He looked across and he saw Vince with some other boys in the playground and he said, “I just stared at him”. He said, “[Vince] knew something was wrong and he came over and he just put his arm round me and said, “I’ll take it from here, Brother”, and moved him away. And [Bryan] said he was never abused that year after that.’

Bryan and Vince both told Callie that the abuser was his former dormitory master, Brother Felix Brennan.

According to Vince, another Brother – Brother Kenneth – may have recommenced the abuse when Vince left and Bryan still had two years to go.

Callie had also had a conversation with Bryan in which he told of being propositioned by a gay friend. He told her he wasn’t gay ‘because I had gay sex as a teenager – and I didn’t like it’. Callie reminded Bryan that he had been sexually abused.

‘But in his mind it was the same thing.’ Both Bryan and Vince told Callie that other boys were also sexually abused at the school.

Bryan had ‘periods where he was clean for years’ of drugs and alcohol and held down jobs but later ‘he really destroyed himself’. He had the personality, as the youngest boy, that kids – and perpetrators – ‘picked on’, Callie reflected.

Later, ‘as an adult [Bryan] got far more attention than anyone’ from their parents who were ‘incredibly loyal’, if not enabling, and were devastated by his death.

Drug-free for about five years in the 1990s, Bryan married and fathered a son but as soon as that happened ‘his life started to fall apart again’. He also came into some money ‘which is not good for a drug addict’ and his ‘life fell apart completely’.

Callie found it ironic that ‘he put [his son’s] name down’ at his old school. There’s ‘some indication that he enjoyed the school somewhat or he wouldn’t have done that’.

Bryan never reported the abuse to police or the school or sought compensation. Callie thinks he told a psychiatrist during rehabilitation, his wife, a friend, and Vince as well as herself – but did not disclose the full details.

Vince later told Callie that his biggest regret in life was discouraging Bryan, then in his 20s, from telling their parents because their dad wouldn’t believe it. So Bryan never did.

Much later, Vince said their father had heard stories from his old school mates at another Sydney boarding school about child sex abuse. The stories had completely shocked him. And while their father had wanted to ‘talk about Bryan and [the school]’ to Vince one day, Vince told Callie that he died before they did so.

Callie believes children need to be part of a sporting team or socially included in some other way in the community. This would provide a protection for those who would otherwise be loners, like Bryan.

While the sexual abuse obviously affected him, she doesn’t think his drug addiction was solely due to that. ‘However, there is a very clear pattern which follows other people’s lives.’

Brennan, she has since found, was jailed recently for child sexual abuse offences.

Callie found her private session at the Royal Commission on behalf of her brother ‘quite cathartic for me … It’s been hanging over me that I’d never done anything about it.’

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