‘Look, I’m sitting here at 66 and I’m going “These people must think I’m crazy coming in after so long and still talking about it like it happened yesterday”, but that’s the reality of it. I struggle with it … I could be 100 and still come in, still be that kid back then that has those feelings.’
Carmichael grew up in a deeply Catholic family in the 1950s in regional Victoria. He described himself as ‘a young, fresh kid from the country who’d had a certainly very sheltered … but happy childhood’. As the eldest sibling, his parents had great hopes for him and, when he reached high school age, they sent him to a boarding school run by the De La Salle Brothers.
In most regards, he loved it. ‘The school was terrific, I got on really good with the Brothers; I think I was quite popular with the seniors.’
However, in his first year there, at the age of 11, Carmichael was set upon by a group of older boys, led by Clive Turleigh. This started off as bullying, but at a certain point it turned, and Carmichael was held down by the other boys while Turleigh sexually abused him.
Following that first incident, Turleigh targeted Carmichael on his own and abused him behind a shed or in the dark for the next two years. The abuse included raping him.
Carmichael told nobody about the abuse. Partly, he said, this was because it was ‘un-Australian to dob back in those days’, but also it was because he knew it would break his parents’ hearts. He understood the sacrifice his parents had made to send him to the school and he desperately wanted to do well. So he kept quiet.
‘I began to develop quite a sense of low self-esteem, probably within months of this starting and I just fought and fought and dealt with it myself – no I didn’t deal with it myself, I kept it to myself. And I think that began to affect my personality a bit.’
As an adult Carmichael struggled with alcohol use, but he also pushed himself to achieve in business and his personal life.
‘I’ve dealt with it and I’ve coached footy teams and I’ve … put myself into situations where I would gain strength from it, and not fall over. I just think that I felt that I didn’t want this to get on top of me and to put me into a situation where I’d really go downhill and become whatever so … I’d strive to achieve all the time …
‘I went into a black hole throughout this situation and I didn’t want to be there and I didn’t want it to take over so it probably became a daily battle almost, to say “What’s today going to be like?” or “How am I going to get on with it?”’
Carmichael married and had children and, although he is no longer with his wife, his family are a fantastic support for him. He never did tell his parents but, now they have passed away, he talks quite openly about the abuse to those close to him.
However he said there isn’t a day where it doesn’t affect him. He often experiences anxiety and his physical health has suffered as a result of pushing himself so hard in his work life.
In the mid-2000s, he went to see a counsellor for the first time. ‘It was about the time the grandchildren were a possibility and I thought “Gee I want to be the best person I possibly can be for them”.’
The counsellor encouraged him to report to the De La Salle Brothers, which he did. He was invited to a meeting where he told his story and the Church expressed regret at what had happened. They talked about counselling and compensation but Carmichael said he was never interested in money.
Despite being keen to point out the many good things about the school, he still feels they failed him by not having policies in place to prevent the abuse, and by not noticing what was going on. His entire agenda for meeting the Brothers was to help prevent similar things happening in the future, and he was pleased they believed him.
A huge area of sadness for Carmichael is the way the experience took away his love of religion. He still believes in God, but he is very disappointed when he reads about Church leaders hiding the past.
Now, he concentrates on his family, and takes great joy from his grandchildren. He’s working on improving his health and making better choices around alcohol so he can enjoy the grandchildren for a lot longer. He tries not to let the ‘dark clouds’ of anxiety take him out of the moment.
‘It’s a devastating thing to a kid’s life to have that innocence and the whole world ahead of them and all of a sudden this happens and degrades them to the point where they feel worthless. That’s the biggest sadness I have, that that happened …
‘I had an energy as a kid and I think that’s what kept me through actually, cause I still very much feel that I’m that person but I’ve been a bit tainted by the experience …
‘I feel that I’m still very much the person I am. I love life, I love people, I want to do good.’