Conner was born in a remote part of New South Wales and spent his first few years of education at a primary school in his small town. In the mid-1960s when he was 11 he was sent to board in Sydney, attending first a school run by nuns, and later a Marist Brothers boys’ school.
The treatment by nuns ‘was bad enough’, Conner said, but ‘in no way was it in any measure like that which I had to endure’ with the Marist Brothers.
In his first year at the boys’ school, Conner’s older brother helped him settle in. However from his earliest days he was ‘constantly picked on and bashed by other boys’. It seemed ‘without doubt’ that teaching staff noticed the bullying, but none did or said anything to stop it.
Similarly, Conner thought that teachers must have known about the behaviour of Brother Gregory Walsh. The culture was one of such violent discipline, however, that it seemed unlikely to Conner that they would have asked questions of another staff member.
In a written statement and at his private session, Conner described ‘being cracked over the head with the edge of a large blackboard ruler’; ‘belted across the head’ so that he fell off his seat; and ‘kicked up the backside so hard that I was sent to the infirmary as a result’.
In his third year at the school, Conner was summoned from his bed one night by Brother Walsh who told him to go to another room. Once there, Walsh launched into a detailed explanation about a ‘condition’ he had that could only be alleviated by Conner rubbing his penis. This scenario played out several times a week throughout most of the school year.
‘He convinced me that I was helping him and got me to do his bidding, then he would either go into a trance like state or pretend sleep until he ejaculated and he would then wake up and send me back to bed.’
As a result of these ‘encounters’, Conner was given special privileges. This came to the notice of other boys who then subjected him to further bullying. While being late to class ordinarily resulted in severe punishment, Conner did so many times and his behaviour went without comment by teachers. He also missed classes but didn’t get into trouble for that either.
Conner recalled that the final two years of his schooling were not as ‘brutal’ as earlier; however, by then he had become ‘an angry young man’. He stayed clear of the Brothers and retaliated against bullies.
‘The consequences that resulted from my time at this great school have been with me all my life’, Conner said. ‘As a result of the sexual interference in my early years I had a constant feeling of inadequacy and uncertainty in my relationships with women.’
He believed that his time spent at the school made him angry, lacking in self-confidence and ‘unable to take any form of criticism’. He felt that he performed below his ability as a student because of his ‘mental state of mind, then and afterwards’.
Conner told the Commissioner that he had a loving wife but regretted being such ‘an angry father’.
He ‘tried to be perfect’ and was often ‘very emotional’, something that at one time had been an obstacle in his workplace, but which he’d learned to harness in managing staff in a manner that wasn’t ‘aggressive’ and ‘bullying’.
In the mid-2000s, Conner told his wife about the abuse. It was his first disclosure and he’d subsequently told an ex-classmate. He also told one of his brothers, after finding out that he had also been sexually abused at the school.
Several of Conner’s brothers hadn’t fared well at various times in their lives. Conner suspected this could be partly because of the treatment they’d received at school. He felt sad for them and for his parents too, who’d sacrificed a great deal to send their sons to what was seen as a prestigious school.
Conner had thought about reporting Walsh to police but decided not to because he felt the onus of proof would be too high for any matter to be pursued in court. He’d recently begun discussions with a law firm about making a civil claim and he’d also seen a counsellor for the first time.
‘I’ve always sort of formed the opinion I can’t use that part of my life as a crutch for anything in my life. I’ve just got to get on with my life, so that’s what I’ve done to the best of my ability, though it’s always been there. As the counsellor said to me yesterday which I thought was really quite nice, was that, “It’s not your secret, Conner. It’s their secret, and that secret is coming out”. So that makes me feel more comfortable.’