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Cecil Thomas's story

Cecil’s dad was an extremely violent alcoholic, and his mother drank heavily too. In the late 1950s his parents voluntarily placed him and his siblings in a Benedictine mission a couple of hours drive from Perth.

The mission was a harsh, cruel place for a 10-year-old. The Aboriginal kids were taught nothing of their culture at the mission. ‘That was one thing they never learned us, you know, about Aboriginal language or all that.’

The children suffered frequent physical violence at the hands of the missionary Sisters, Brothers and priests. Food was inadequate, and proper medical care lacking. They would have to pick ‘big black weevils’ out of their cereal (‘it was either eat it or starve’), and dinner was often sheep’s head soup. Shoes were only to be worn on Sundays for mass, but never during the week or even when walking to or from the church.

Many of the Brothers and clergy sexually assaulted the children too, and a number of girls became pregnant to them. Two of these men gave Cecil wine or whisky on separate occasions, and fondled him when he became tipsy.

When Cecil was 12, he was called into Father Desoto’s room. The priest gave him several glasses of strong wine brewed at the mission, and raped him when he blacked out. Cecil woke up feeling nauseous and with significant pain in his anus. This happened to him around half a dozen times. Other boys told him Father Desoto did this to them as well. None of them felt able to tell anyone, especially as the priests were supported by police.

Cecil was also repeatedly raped in his bed by older mission boys. A white boy who was training to be a priest raped him many times too. He never disclosed any of the abuse to his parents. He worried that his dad, who was usually drunk and owned a gun, would shoot the offenders and get into trouble if he knew.

In later years Cecil saw some of the boys who had abused him, but didn’t confront them about it. ‘Never worried about them ... They probably been taught that by the Brothers I suppose. The Brothers must have done the same thing to them when they were younger.’

Cecil left the mission in his late teens and went to work as a stockman. He married early and is still with his wife, acting as her carer now that she is unwell. Now in his late 60s, and suffering for numerous health issues, he thinks about what will happen to him in the future. He recommended that institutional abuse survivors should be helped to stay with their families when they get older, as nursing homes can seem similar to the places where they grew up.

In recent years Cecil received compensation through the WA Redress scheme, and a smaller amount from the Catholic Church. He has never engaged in counselling, and has generally kept the abuse to himself. ‘I’m pretty good at keeping myself calm. I didn’t want to upset myself and get sick or something ... Probably as I get older I suppose, it might hurt me a bit more, might pull me down.’

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