Daryl grew up in a remote area of Queensland and in the early 1980s, when he was 12 years old, he went to a non-denominational boarding school in Brisbane. Struggling to adapt, particularly for the first two years, Daryl sought help from the school counsellor.
Rules seemed harsh and arbitrary and older boarders were given free rein to bully and intimidate younger students in rituals entrenched in the school’s history. The house master, just out of university, was largely absent from what was going on within the dormitories.
Daryl said senior students would punch and hit younger boys, making sure injuries were hidden under the school uniform. They’d often wake junior students in the middle of the night, and make them dress in their uniforms and stand silently beside their beds for an hour at a time. On one of these occasions, Daryl smiled at a joke made by another student and he was picked up and held by his ankles out the window of the three storeyed building.
Within this culture, Daryl said he didn’t feel there was anyone to whom he could report the sexual abuse perpetrated by school counsellor and ex-Christian Brother, Gordon James. Called to James’s office for ‘relaxation exercises’, Daryl was instructed to undo his trousers and masturbate himself, while thinking of happy childhood memories. While doing so, James would also be masturbating.
‘I guess when it was happening, because of the subtlety of the abuse I was sort of sitting there thinking, this is strange but maybe this is what happens when you become a man, you learn these sorts of things, so this is what I’m doing here, I’m learning how to relax and grow up into society, sort of thing.’
It was well known among the boys that James was sexually abusing students. ‘If you went and saw James you were a wanker, because that’s what he made you do. So if you’re a wanker, you’re a poofter.’ Daryl told the Commissioner that the abuse continued for two years and stopped when his mother became a visible presence around the school, undertaking various professional roles and being elected to the parent council.
‘I have often thought back though, I wonder if, perhaps, if I myself was too much of a risk … I was generally a tell-the-truth kind of boy [and] I wonder if he just sort of picked up that I might say something.’
In 2000, a Brisbane newspaper featured an article on serious crimes committed by an ex-student of Daryl’s school. The article referenced that the man had been sexually abused by James and that James had been charged in the late 1990s with child sex offences but had suicided before the court case completed.
On seeing the article, Daryl’s mother rang and asked if he had been abused by James. Daryl at first denied it but rang her later her to confirm that was the case. This event, coupled with drug and alcohol problems and other physical health issues led Daryl to seek professional psychiatric help. He said he’d been an alcoholic from the age of 17, and could still recall his first drink. ‘I just remember the weight of the world being lifted off me. And I mean I’ve struggled with alcoholism and drug addiction since.’
By the late 2000s, Daryl had lost his job and his marriage and moved back to live with his parents. He started going to Alcoholics Anonymous two years later and said staying away from alcohol and marijuana remained a constant battle.
He also still had great difficulty trusting anybody and believing that the abuse wasn’t his own fault. He also still struggled with the ‘shame of it happening and not doing anything about it’, especially when he later found out the scale of James’s abuse.
In the early 2000s, a group action was brought by ex-students against the boarding school for damage caused by James’s sexual abuse. Although Daryl wasn’t part of the group – and he found out from others that it didn’t go very well – he met with and sought a written apology and acknowledgement from the school’s headmaster. Only a verbal apology was given, and the letter he received referred to the abuse being ‘minor’ and ‘inappropriate’ in nature.
Part of Daryl’s reason for coming forward to the Royal Commission was to give an account of the abuse when he knew others couldn’t. ‘I was speaking to my best mate this morning and he said, “Make sure you say something for me as well”, because he just can’t do it, he can’t ring the Commission. He said it just makes him so angry to think about it that he just has to block it out. He can’t deal with it.’