Christopher emigrated from Europe with his mother and little brother, arriving in Sydney in the early 1950s. He was only 10 years old at the time and spoke little English.
Soon after the family arrived, Christopher’s mother got a job that sent her travelling around Australia on a regular basis, so ‘the powers that be’ sent Christopher and his brother to live at a Catholic boys’ home.
Christopher was appalled by the conditions at the home. He remembered there being more than a hundred boys, all dressed in rags. Because of his heritage he was vilified and teased and violently punished by the Brothers.
‘I was caned mercilessly on the palms of my hands. I went to the matron, and they were all black and blue and bursting with blood vessels in them. I said, “Look, where was I supposed to go? To the director of the home? Brother Chapman?” He would say, “Christopher, these things don’t happen here”. Like blazes they don’t.’
When the Brothers found out that Christopher had tried to report the abuse, they delivered him ‘twice as much’ punishment as before.
Christopher was also sexually abused at the home. In a written statement he said, ‘Brother Milton would only come to my bed on an irregular basis and he would put his hand under the cover and would touch my genitals before leaving and returning to his room. I could never predict when he would be rostered on as the night housemaster, so every night I was fearful. I would also see him every day either in the school or the grounds or the tuck shop and so could never feel safe from him’.
Christopher left the home when he was in his mid-teens and then moved to a remote farm where his mother and new stepfather were living. But the farm couldn’t support the whole family so Christopher became ‘the sacrificial lamb’ and went off to work at a cattle station nearby. From there he went on to settle in a steady career in the city where he stayed until he retired.
Over the years, Christopher discussed the abuse occasionally with his brother but rarely mentioned it to anyone else. Though he kept his story to himself, he was still suffering from the ongoing impact of the abuse every day.
‘I know I battled. And I tried to keep me head above water. And I kept on getting continuous nightmares and I thought, “Somebody’s in my room”.’
He said he felt ‘unclean’ and struggled to form relationships.
‘I feel so bitter. I’m not the person who’s going to commit suicide, I’ve never had any thoughts … but what am I supposed to do? Am I supposed to get the tissue out or the hanky out and wipe the tears off?’
In the mid-2000s he decided to make a formal complaint to the Catholic Church.
‘My reasons for not reporting earlier were that I doubted myself and that I would be made to feel a fool. What prompted me to report was the realisation that the weight of what happened to me was not going to go away with time and that I needed to do something to help heal myself.’
Christopher entered into a redress process with the Church and was ultimately awarded $5,000 compensation plus about $3,000 for travel expenses to help him reconnect with his family in Europe. He felt let down by the process, particularly because the Church never arranged for him to report his abusers to police.
‘The redress program, it doesn’t mean a thing to me. Nothing at all. A score out of 10, I’d give it nothing.’
Christopher is now receiving regular support from social workers and a counsellor. He told the Commissioner, ‘She’s helped me. She’s done a lot of good for me in the last year or two’.
He is also exploring new legal options and pushing ahead with his case. He said he wants the Church to pay proper compensation to victims and apologise publicly for all the harm they’ve caused.
Nowadays, Christopher no longer keeps the story to himself. Instead, he’s doing his best to get it out in the public eye.
‘Me mother always said, “Whatever you do in life, son, don’t bottle it up in yourself, because you’re going to take it into the grave with you and no one’s going to know”.’