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Cameron John's story

Cameron spelled out very clearly in his written statement what he wanted from the Royal Commission. He wanted to talk about his experience; to have his abusers named and shamed and the Catholic Church exposed for its cruelty; a clear statement that child migrants were particularly vulnerable; and to have the Commission recommend changes to the statute of limitations in civil cases, so that child abusers can’t hide behind unfair legislation.

Cameron was one of thousands of British children forced to migrate to Australia in the 1950s. ‘Parents were told their children had been adopted out by loving British families. As we know, that didn't happen, that was a lie.’

He was a happy and high-spirited five-year-old boy, but the fear set in as soon as he got off the boat in Western Australia. The children were disembarked into a big shed, where the Christian Brothers were ‘laying down the law’. From then on Cameron was constantly in fear, all through his school days.

‘Fear just controlled my life.’

Cameron was placed in an orphanage for toddlers, run by Sisters of Mercy nuns. ‘No love, just cold-hearted people.’ After two years he was transferred to a Christian Brothers orphanage. It was ‘like jumping out of the pot into the frying pan’. He spent the next 10 years in two different Christian Brothers institutions being physically brutalised and sexually abused.

‘The beltings and floggings are quite vivid. All else, apart from the sexual attacks … is a blank a lot of the time.’

Brother Hudson sexually abused Cameron at the first orphanage. Brother O’Toole and Father Suarez, the resident priest, sexually abused him at the second.

At first Cameron regarded Brother O’Toole as a bit of a father figure – he always gave the boys straight answers and he was a good storyteller. One night when he was 11, Cameron woke up with a terrible toothache. He went to Brother O’Toole’s room for help because his light was still on. O’Toole put some Bex powder on the affected tooth and then instructed Cameron to lie on his bed. Then he raped him.

Father Suarez, the resident priest at the second home, heard the boys’ confessions three or four times a week. The only things that interested him were whether boys had touched themselves or each other, or had bad thoughts in bed. He’d call Cameron into his room and draw him close, then start fondling his genitals and buttocks, under the pretext of looking for pockets in his shorts where he could leave lollies.

Cameron’s fear, as well as the shame of being abused, stopped him from telling anyone, even the other boys. As for reporting to the police, well that was a joke, he said.

‘The state government worshipped the Christian Brothers … And the Christian Brothers worshipped the state. That was their cosy arrangement. So it was pointless reporting anything to the police.’

Cameron is deeply upset by other injustices in the homes, such as the hard physical labour the boys had to perform, often in bare feet. The Brothers ate home cooked meals, with red or white wine, fresh bread and butter, and dessert. The boys had stale bread and jam for breakfast and their dinner was doled out of massive aluminium pots.

Brother Bennett was principal of the second home. He was ‘an animal’ who made the place a living hell, Cameron told the Commission. Bennett didn’t sexually abuse Cameron but he did use him as a punching bag.

‘I can’t count the amount of times I went from his office to bed, crying. Battered and bruised. I think animals like Bennett … must have read the Gestapo training manual “How to break down little children”. They wouldn’t dare try this on boys in their mid-to-late teens.’

Cameron has clear memories of the terrible floggings other boys endured from Bennett as well.

The boys in the second home were billeted out every fourth week to different families. They looked forward to this break from the home. But in one family home, Cameron was sexually abused and humiliated by the two older brothers when the parents were out.

Ten years of sexual and physical abuse left Cameron unable to relate to anyone ‘properly or responsibly’ as an adult. He sought solace in alcohol, found it impossible to take orders at work and was unable to read or write properly.

His relationships have failed and he knows full well how the abuse he suffered has affected his kids, even though they are unaware of what really happened to him.

‘I can see the terrible cost for my children from having a father who was emotionally unavailable and physically absent for much of their childhood,’ Cameron wrote. ‘It hurts me deeply to know that my children still carry my burden, which has become their burden.’

Things turned around for Cameron when he contacted the Child Migrant Trust several years ago. He was put in touch with his mother and brothers and sisters in the UK. Through money he received from WA Redress he was finally able to meet his family.

‘At Christian Brothers institutions in WA, life truly was unbearable … It was void of all love. There wasn't a skerrick of tenderness or compassion … Who takes the blame for what happened? Is it the British Government or the Australian Government or the un-Christian Brothers? I would think it is all three organisations that made this happen … I don't think I would have wanted to go on living if it hadn't been for ... the Child Migrant Trust. Finding my family has truly turned my life around. At last I wanted to make a go of things.’

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