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Carmine's story

‘Looking back, I was so naive. It’s just a childish naivety and you can’t expect any more from a child. So then you become an easy target I guess.’

Carmine’s parents moved to Australia because they wanted to give their children a better education than they had. ‘Dad went to Grade 6 and Mum Grade 3. That’s the sort of education they had come from, a peasant background I suppose. Not being pejorative in that sense, but they were farmers and grew things.’

The family moved to Australia from Europe on the assisted passage migration scheme when Carmine was a young boy.

‘Dad had a high regard for education and teachers in particular … It was something he aspired to and he insisted on us. Education was very important.’

In the mid-1960s Carmine started Year 7 at a local Marist Brothers high school while his father worked two jobs to pay for his school fees. Although Carmine was bright and hardworking, and showed promise as an artist, he experienced relentless bullying and racism from the students and teachers alike, and was often denied the same education opportunities as his classmates. There was a strong disciplinary culture within the school and the students were frequently humiliated and brutally beaten by the Brothers.

Not long after Carmine had commenced high school, one of the Brothers sexually abused him by touching his leg and genitals under the guise of correcting his mathematics homework. This happened on several occasions.

Later that same year, Carmine’s history teacher, Mr Forsythe, befriended him. Forsythe was in his late 30s at the time, and as Carmine had been subjected to constant bullying at school, he finally felt like he had an ally and welcomed Forsythe’s perceived kindness.

Initially Forsythe would write letters to Carmine, encouraging him to read and loaning him books such as Lolita. Forsythe also ingratiated himself to Carmine’s parents and was a welcome guest in their home.

As Carmine began to devote more energy into producing art, his parents set up a home studio for him to work from. Forsythe began privately tutoring Carmine in this studio, and it was here that his attention turned from kindness to abuse. The teacher repeatedly raped Carmine in the studio between 1967 and 1968.

Carmine was unable to tell his parents, particularly his father, about the abuse because of the high esteem he held for teachers.

‘I didn’t feel I could talk to him about issues because he had the mentality that the teacher is correct. If you come home and tell him things then you’ll get double punishment as it were. He trusted the institution, trusted teachers, and naively so.’

Carmine was confused and felt trapped by Forsythe’s abuse. Although he didn’t feel he could disclose it to his parents at the time, he somehow managed to convince them to send his younger brother to a different high school.

‘I don’t know how I managed to sway my parents to not send him to Marist Brothers and he ended up at a boys’ high school [elsewhere], which was a very good school. He escaped it.’

Carmine does not know of any other students at his school who were abused at the time, but he believes the staff and Brothers were aware of it happening. ‘I think they should have been aware. Because, looking back now, you realise there were transfers of Brothers and so on. You start joining the dots.’

Following school Carmine felt like he had lost his identity. He was ashamed, suffered from depression and anxiety, lost his faith, had low self-esteem, and developed eating and sleep disorders. He questioned his sexuality and considered suicide. He was also deeply affected by the racist bullying at school that has stayed with him into adulthood.

‘Once I became a young adult you could suppress things and you tended to get on with life, got energy, you just suppress it. But it comes out in various ways. You can’t suppress it forever.’

Carmine became triggered by the art he once loved to create. ‘I understood creativity of any sort can be a healing thing. I’ve always been interested in art therapy. But it’s the very area that I was gifted in and loved I couldn’t do, because the abuse took place in my studio and I hadn’t connected the two until fairly recently.’

He moved interstate, married and had children. But after 10 years of working and raising a family, his mental state began to deteriorate and he could no longer work full-time. ‘I managed 10 years full-time which was quite an effort. But after that I had to go part-time because I was not coping very well.’

Carmine first disclosed the abuse to his wife when their relationship began to suffer. ‘I started disclosing to my wife because there were problems that rose up. So that’s when the disclosure started and she was very gracious. So it’s because of that relationship that gave me the courage.’

Around this time he also started receiving counselling. ‘I didn’t expect counselling and that’s been incredibly helpful. I followed that up, it’s helped me make lots more progress especially in relation to my art and reclaiming my studio space. And I’m producing work. It’s still a struggle getting in there but I’m making progress.’

Carmine has recently disclosed the abuse to his children as well as his parents. ‘It was surprising how they responded, they didn’t respond as I expected in a way. They were very understanding and not harsh at all. I didn’t feel they blamed me too, which was a good thing.’

He still works part-time but hopes to return to full-time work soon, as well as produce more art. ‘I believe I could have had a successful artistic career and even worked for many more years full-time. Teaching art is a passion too. I’m trying to be creative in to how to, I guess, to not waste the pain of suffering, to be creative.’

The news of the Royal Commission public hearings has been triggering for Carmine but it has also helped him heal. ‘It was helpful when reading even that children from doctors and lawyers and very educated people, even their children would get abused, as well from friends and relatives and teachers. So I don’t feel as bad towards my parents for not protecting.’

He is glad that survivors of child sexual abuse are now more easily able to access support.

‘I think it’s good to encourage people that have been victims of all sorts to get support and seek help and so on. But for many years it’s a private problem and you’re afraid of shame and sharing things and being hurt again.’

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