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Col's story

By Col’s own account, he came from a very sheltered, ordinary, middle-class background. Growing up in the early 1960s in Victoria, he knew little of the world, and nothing about sexual experiences.

His parents had him converted to Catholicism so he could go to a boarding school in Tasmania run by the Marist Brothers. He described it as a harsh place where ‘we were flogged mercilessly. They’d line us up. We’d have to wait our turn’.

The environment was also ‘excessively tactile’.

‘Every time you’d be in the shower, there’d be a Brother there … The boys used to fool around in the dormitories and things but the priests, the Brothers, would always have their hands on you, particularly after sports or showers or anything else. It wasn’t overt, they weren’t groping you, but the hands would be on your bum …

‘Being naive and innocent, you really didn’t think about it. It’s only in reflection that it becomes obvious.’

Col explained that his recollection of anything else that happened at the school is hazy. He knows he complained and was put in a psychiatric institution and given shock treatment, but there are big gaps in his memory of his time there.

He ran away from the school, and ended up in Sydney. ‘I got picked up by the railway police and charged with being in moral danger. The only moral danger I was in was from the State.’ Col was sent to a remand centre and placed in an isolation cell.

‘A very large guard came in and beat me senseless. He then said “You’re nothing but a cock-sucker”, and made me perform fellatio on him. I was 15. The only thing I knew about authority was my father used to have a Sunday beer with the local policeman.’

At his trial Col was sentenced to a ‘general term’, meaning detention for an indefinite length of time. He was sent to a juvenile correctional facility in New South Wales. There was a school as part of the centre, and one day he was in a storeroom attached to the classroom.

‘This boy walked in to where I was, and he was a big boy, six foot … and he proceeded to rape me – and the teacher’s six foot away – with complete immunity. Didn’t care. That went on for half an hour and when I eventually emerged from it, the teacher just looked at me and looked away.’

Col told the Commissioner that it was clear the teacher knew what was going on.

‘How could you not know? I was crying. This boy … he was fully mature, he looked like 18, 19 years old … and he just didn’t care. That meant the whole class knew. How you could not know beggars belief.’

When Col was released from the centre he was given just a train ticket and $2. ‘For about four, five years I just existed on the street with petty crime and hanging around. I’m not particularly proud of it. I got no education at [the centre] at all. I ended up running into an extreme right-wing party, which I suppose gave me some structure and discipline.’

Col put himself through postgraduate studies and enjoyed a successful career. By now he had developed a deep hatred for authority and particularly the prison system and he became committed to prison reform work. He is highly suspicious of people who work as prison officers.

‘The truth is, I think, that you have to examine who seeks out those jobs. They’ll always advance the excuse “We need more training”. You don’t need to be trained to know not to abuse people, bash them. I think it attracts a certain type of person.’

Col’s childhood experiences and career choice coalesced into a crisis point last year, when he was stripsearched while visiting a prisoner as part of his work. It triggered memories that brought on a breakdown and he had to quit his job.

‘Apart from attending hospital appointments I haven’t left my home in seven months. I made a couple of appointments for professional help. I’ve not gone to them. I used to pretend it didn’t exist. My life collapsed around me.’

Col said up until that point he had blocked out what had happened to him, and covered his life ‘with a thin veneer’. He had not disclosed his abuse to anyone prior to attending his private session at the Royal Commission, and had not sought any treatment.

‘I think coming here has been a significant step. I rang shortly after that incident. I was in denial. I haven’t had sex in eight years. I can’t maintain a relationship. To me, sex is violence, that’s why I avoid it.’

He was grateful for the opportunity to tell his story but said that while he’d like to think there will be change, he remains doubtful.

‘It’s this lust to inflict pain on others, particularly the most vulnerable. The more defenceless, the greater the desire.’

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