At eight years of age, Connor didn’t recognise the behaviour of the Christian Brothers at his Victorian school as sexual abuse. But he knew the difference between being cuddled and being groped, and said the Brothers would always touch him around the genitals.
‘Because I was youngest in the class, I think I was more susceptible’, Connor said. ‘And I also topped Christian doctrine, so there’s no doubt these people had pets and there’s also no doubt that these people had a certain system of picking their pets. I’m analysing this situation now as an adult. They picked kids who were rosy cheeked, non-pimpled, naive looking – susceptible in other words. If you weren’t picked you felt as though you weren’t favoured. And that’s terrible when I look back on that, because you regarded that as, not a badge of honour, but you regarded it as being a badge of specialness.’
Connor said the methods of abuse by Brother Edwards and Brother Sullivan were the same. They would stand behind a boy and rub his genitals while touching themselves under their robes. As well as this happening to himself he witnessed it with at least 10 other boys, two of whom he recalled coming out from one of the Brothers’ offices. He said they hadn’t been strapped and didn’t want to talk about it, but their ‘reaction was different’.
Connor said one of these boys died in a motor vehicle accident at the age of 17, and he wondered if the boy’s death along with two others was risk-taking as a consequence of sexual abuse. ‘In my opinion the fact that these boys, and I’m speaking as an adult again, and this upsets me a bit [but] their story needs to be told because it mightn’t have been their fault they went off the rails.’
In the mid-1950s in Form 1, Connor said a new lay teacher gave a lecture in biology class on reproduction and sexual intercourse. The teacher was open to the boys participating and asking questions but Brother Sullivan came into the room and after a short time listening told the teacher to pack his bags and leave. The Brother then told the boys they were not to take any notice of anything the teacher had told them.
News of the Royal Commission and the thought of the boys who’d died prompted Connor to tell his account of being abused by the Brothers in the mid-1950s. Until then he hadn’t spoken of it with anyone. ‘My thought philosophy on life was shut it down’, Connor said. ‘I just lost interest in the school.’
He didn’t disclose the abuse to his mother because she was working two jobs to support three children after the death of her husband. Connor wondered if he’d had a father whether he might have been able to tell him that ‘something funny was going on’.
Connor told the Commissioner that the abuse’s effect on him was that he ‘went off the rails’. In a short time his school work deteriorated from top of the class grades and being told by teachers he had a high IQ to expulsion in his last year of school. ‘My mother and I begged to come back’, he said, but the Brothers wouldn’t have him.
The success of his brother and sister in their careers reminded Connor of his loss. ‘The family wasn’t saying to me, “You’re a failure”, but in a way they were. It’s always been in the shadow. My brother’s never said, “Look I’ve done better than you”, but he doesn’t have to.’
After leaving, Connor went to night school but didn’t stay long. He drank heavily as a way of suppressing his feelings of depression. ‘It took me 10 years of drinking to realise I had to make some decisions’, he said. He married at 28 and remained so, happily. He enjoyed family life, but felt sad that he avoided physical contact with his five sons. ‘It’s very hard to express hugs, close contact. My kids will give me a hug but I find it very difficult.’
He’s never approached the Christian Brothers or Catholic Church to disclose the abuse or seek compensation, and isn’t sure if he ever will.
‘There’s obviously an injustice here but you can’t put a monetary value on it.’
He said he’d been uncertain about contacting the Royal Commission and travelling to tell his story. He wanted to ‘remember for others that are deceased’, but didn’t want to ‘remember because I don’t want to bring it back’.