Derek Arnold's story

Derek’s parents were displaced persons from Europe, who settled in Victoria in the early 1950s. His father was a violent alcoholic. His mother spoke little English and found it difficult to support her children, so when Derek was seven, he and his siblings were made wards of the state. Derek was sent to live at a boys’ home run by the Christian Brothers, and remained there for 10 years.

‘There were a number of men who took boys overnight … This man used to take two boys at a time … to watch a footy match. Then you’d go … and have fish and chips … then go to the man’s house.’

There were only two beds at this house. ‘He got into bed with me and … I was pushed up against the wall and he was fondling my genitals and trying to get me to fondle his genitals.’

When the man began digitally penetrating Derek, ‘I’m pushing away and … I think I punched him in the balls … He … went into the next bedroom and I could hear the noises … I knew what the other boy was going through … I just closed [my] ears’.

Neither boy spoke about the abuse when they returned to the home. The next day, Derek went to see the Brother Donaldson, who was in charge, and told him he didn’t want to go out with the man again.

When the Brother asked why, Derek said, ‘Because he was touching me up and he was … And I think he did it to the other boy’. Brother Donaldson’s face ‘went scarlet … “You’re lying” … I’m talking faster and faster and … Whack … one side of my face … belted across to the other side’.

Derek ran home to his mother’s place. He didn’t tell her about the sexual abuse, only that Brother Donaldson had hit him and he didn’t want to go back to the home. When Brother Donaldson came to collect him, Derek’s mother ‘picked up a broom and she’s jabbing it at Donaldson and I’m hiding behind her, and she’s speaking in her broken English that she’s going to the police, and she’s going to the government’.

Once Brother Donaldson calmed his mother down, he convinced her to send Derek back, and promised that he wouldn’t be belted again. On the way home, they went for ice cream and cake, and Brother Donaldson warned Derek not to say anything.

Soon after, Derek was enrolled by Brother Donaldson at a prestigious boys’ school in Melbourne, where he completed his education. ‘I reckon he was paying me off … whatever I wanted, I got, afterwards.’

Derek has been in contact with a number of men who were sexually abused at the boys’ home. ‘When you find out others are suffering like you, it makes you feel better, because you are not alone … If anyone knows of other … inmates with problems, urge them to seek treatment. It works. Look at me. Then again, I am not sure I am a good example. Don’t look at me. Look away and find somebody else.’

In a written statement supplied to the Royal Commission, Derek wrote, ‘I just think that if more people opened up on what happened to them, then the ones that are suffering in silence might seek counselling and help. The one thing I learned … is that keeping it bottled up inside does you no good. When I commenced counselling it was a massive relief to find out I was not the only [one] with problems’.

Derek told the Commissioner, ‘I am still in a state of shock and bewilderment about the identification of sexual offenders at [the boys’ home] … I think most boys were and still are, ashamed and embarrassed by what happened. I did not have the slightest inkling that Donaldson was involved … I was totally unaware that for some inmates the price of the basic essentials of life was sexual abuse and lifelong psychological trauma’.

Until he discovered that so many boys at the home had been sexually abused, Derek had always defended the place. ‘Whenever anyone criticised the orphanage, I would back them and say, “Hey, listen. My father was a violent alcoholic. My mother was … okay, but we were homeless … no means of support, owing rent everywhere … So we were picked up, and I was fed. I had a warm bed and I got an education”.’

Derek is ‘determined that my bad experiences will be told to the Commission’ and that he came forward to encourage others who were abused, but are reluctant to come forward. When he sees his male friends who were abused, he’ll ‘be open and say, “I went to the Commission and it wasn’t bad. They were pretty good, you know”’.

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