‘I was a bit wild. That was one of the reasons I was shipped off.’
Chester has only praise for his mother. Widowed in the early 1960s when Chester was five, she worked day and night to provide for her children in their country town. She saw education as the best way for Chester and his siblings to get by in the world, and managed to send all of them to an elite boarding school run by the Anglican Church in Victoria.
The head of the Junior Boarding school was Luke Brady. There were over 100 boarders and Brady lived in a room next to the dormitories. Brady was a very ‘touchy feely’ person and would always be adjusting collars and touching boys on the shoulders. He would also watch boys, including Chester, while they showered.
‘He didn’t do it to everyone’, Chester told the Commissioner. ‘He would’ve known I didn’t have a father. So I was half-wounded, perhaps.’
Brady subjected Chester to years of physical abuse. His favourite weapon for beatings was a leather slipper, often flogging Chester until he bled. ‘It used to happen a lot to me. Every week, sometimes every day for a week … He used to say, “I will break you”. He was on a mission.’
‘He didn’t [break me]. It used to infuriate him.’
Chester feels Brady used to enjoy seeing the damage he’d inflicted on the boys as they prepared for a shower.
‘I used to walk backwards so he wouldn’t see my buttocks and the blood. I’d deliberately just look him in the eye.’
‘You could be real sure the next morning when you copped some more it’d be really heartfelt from him. He wouldn’t speak, he’d just walk out shaking his head.’
Apart from the shower intrusions, Brady would expose Chester in the morning sometimes, by ripping off his bedclothes without warning. Chester believes Brady was trying to see if he had an erection. ‘When he did it he was never looking at your face, he was always looking at your groin.’
Chester remembers Brady being isolated in the school, seemingly avoided by other teachers. Older students held him in contempt; Chester recalls hearing boys comment as Brady walked past, ‘There goes that fucking pervert’.
Chester did not complain and just got on with his life. He was already a tough child, having grown up without a father in a country town, and he just ‘rode the waves’.
‘There were openly gay teachers at that school … They never threatened us … they had a real – don’t get me wrong when I say it – a genuine love for you, because if you perhaps had an artistic bent, they nurtured you into that thing. Whereas this other man – there was no nurturing.’
Chester escaped Brady after a few years when he moved up to his senior years at the school. He describes the effects of the physical and sexual abuse on him as ‘profound’.
He self-medicated with alcohol and believes he has come close to alcoholism a few times in his life, and has struggled with relationships. ‘There was an inability to trust, I think, that was the main thing.’ Eventually he married, and despite his personality problems the marriage has lasted a lifetime.
Chester is most distressed by the memory of how he treated his own children. He believes he was too strict with them and too physical with his punishments. ‘Sometimes I would just lose it, like a confusion almost.’
‘I just found myself in some instances doing very similar things [to Brady] … I’d say to myself what the fuck are you doing?’ He counts himself lucky that his children are successful and loving as adults and his relationship with them is good, despite the difficult early years.
Chester has rarely spoken about the abuse he suffered. Recently Victorian police asked him to make a statement about Luke Brady to aid them in an investigation of the man. He found the police supportive and professional, though he felt re-traumatised after telling his story in detail. He has not heard if Brady has been charged with anything.
Just before talking to the Royal Commission, Chester received two letters from his old school. The first acknowledged some abuse had taken place at the school but was rather dismissive. Another letter followed, this time from a new principal, offering an apology and assistance organising professional counselling for Chester. Chester has never received counselling in the past, but is thinking about it.
In over 40 years Chester has never returned to his old school.
‘I get invited to things. I just can’t do it. We have a school reunion in a couple of months; I just threw the paperwork in the bin.’