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Claude's story

Claude always got along much better with animals than he did with people. People, he said, always lied to him or did worse things.

Claude arrived in Australia from the UK in the early 1950s when he was nine years old. He was immediately sent to a Catholic orphanage in Newcastle and told that his brother would meet him there. This turned out to be the first lie. Claude never saw his brother again.

After the initial shock, life at the orphanage became bearable. There were even moments of joy when staff let Claude play with the animals.

‘The cows fascinated me and the horses. They had a draft horse there called Nel. I used to think that the horse could talk because it would understand everything I said. I’d swear blind it would talk, but I know why it didn’t: because it was too frightened I’d ask it to go to work.’

Sadly, the good times didn’t last. After a few years Claude was sent to a Marist Brothers orphanage. Many of the Brothers who ran the orphanage were paedophiles. They tried to bribe the boys into performing sexual acts by offering trips to the races. Claude always resisted.

‘I wouldn’t go down on their terms because some of them would say “If you bend down for us we’ll let you go to the race”.’

In time the Brothers got fed up with Claude’s rebellious behaviour and sent him to work on a nearby farm. Claude was pleased to be back with the animals, milking cows and looking after a flock of pigeons. He was then sent to live with the Masters family who were good to him.

Again, this didn’t last. Claude was shipped off to an orphanage in Sydney. The priest who ran the place, Father Prout, took him aside.

‘He said, “Sit down, be nice” and all this. Then this other fellow came in. They said to me, “This fellow will take you on his farm. You can ride a horse every morning and round up cattle for him”. I thought, “Oh this is good. Wow”. I said, “Yeah, I’ll be into that”.’

The man’s name was Walter. Instead of taking Claude to the farm, Walter took him to a coffee shop and gave him his first taste of coffee. ‘Then he took me to a place in a hotel somewhere. Something bad happened. That’s why I can’t stand people touching my back.’

Later the police found Claude wandering the roadside, bleeding from the anus. He was taken to hospital and treated. A police officer then showed him some photos of various men. Claude identified Walter. He found out later that Walter was arrested, pled guilty to assaulting him and was sent to jail for eight years.

Claude spent the rest of his wardship living with the sister of one of the Marist Brothers. At 16 he struck out on his own and started working at a factory. By now he had serious problems trusting men. Bad memories of what Walter had done to him at the hotel festered in his mind to the point where he decided to take action.

‘I went to jail twice on purpose hoping that I’d get him. Because I said to myself if I killed him I wouldn’t have no more of these dreams again. No more of these insecurities of him coming back again.’

Claude never managed to track down and kill Walter. He assumes he’s missed his chance by now, since more than 50 years have passed since the abuse occurred and Walter is almost certainly dead.

Claude was accompanied in his Royal Commission session by his friend Kathy, who has been a great support to him. He said, ‘I wished I would have met her years ago. She’s like a sister. She’s always there’.

Throughout his session Claude relied on the words of others to express himself, quoting several lines of poetry including this one: ‘O solitude where are your charms, that innocence put into my face? Tis better to be in the midst of alarm than have to stay in this chaotic place’.

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