Colum spent his early childhood in an orphanage in Europe before being shipped off to Western Australia in the late 1950s when he was about nine years old. He then saw out the remainder of his childhood within the walls of a Christian Brothers orphanage.
In a written statement Colum described how he was sexually abused by one of the Brothers. ‘It was a minor affair – in that he “insinuated” himself by hugging me from behind and fondling my genitals. I simply walked away from him and never presented myself as an “opportunity” again.’
Looking back, Colum believes that the sexual abuse had a minor impact on his life compared to the emotional and psychological abuse that he suffered. This included religious indoctrination which, as a boy, he took deeply to heart.
‘I was too religious, I was too holy. I relate to the current terrorism thing that is going on with Islam. Young kids indoctrinated so much so that they can be talked into tying a bomb around their waist … I was such that, I think that if Brother Hugh had asked me to go into a crowd and blow myself up I probably would have.’
Colum said that his institutionalised upbringing also deprived him of valuable social skills, in particular the ability to relate to women. ‘I was never trained to be streetwise. I was a very naïve, very silly little bugger. I felt insecure with women and as a result of that I never married, and that’s one of my regrets because I never became socially adept.’
Over the years Colum has also suffered from bouts of depression, or what he calls ‘long dark nights of the soul’. He said that in his younger years after he left the orphanage he was often troubled by a need to connect with his past. At 30 he managed to do just that, tracking down a cousin and then his mother and half-siblings in Europe.
The meetings went well, but Colum said it was a small, unexpected encounter that really made the difference.
‘I visited an old grave site, and there in this old graveyard – it was overgrown with weeds and everything else – there was one headstone, you could hardly read it, but I read it. It was “Michael Daly”, and the word “Daly” was the thing … It was a defining moment, a light bulb moment, that sort of thing. It gave me an identity. The gravestone said 17-something to 18-something. So he’s my great-great-great – somewhere along the line – grandfather.’
A few years back Colum received some compensation from the state government and the Catholic Church. He now lives with his dogs and is regularly visited by many close friends. Colum described himself as ‘a happy little soul’. When the Commissioner asked why he came forward to tell his story he said, ‘So it doesn’t happen again, for goodness sake’.