Recently, due to ill health and the media coverage of child sexual abuse, Des experienced a severe depression.
‘This huge black wave came over me and it would be impossible for me to describe what was happening to me. But it opened up a number of doors in my memory and the reports that I’d seen … for victims of abuse, particularly in the Catholic Church, triggered my memories … It took me back to events.’
As a child, Des’ home life was violent and this led to Des receiving extra support at the Catholic high school he attended, a boys’ school in Sydney that came under the control of the Brothers of St Gerard Majella.
‘When the Brothers of St Gerard came they decided that for my wellbeing that I should be given special attention. That special attention usually involved keeping me back after school up until 6 o’clock … It was acclimatising me to their life.’
In the years after Des was in the school a number of the Brothers were convicted of child sexual offences.
‘I think I might have been one of their first attempts [of grooming] without even realising … that I was being groomed … they were … basically getting them [boys] away from home putting them into this family environment and abusing them because they’d been cut off from their families, they’d isolated them – they had their prey.’
Des was bullied by the other boys because of this attention.
‘If one was to be seen to be gay, you’d either be labelled a sheila or a poof, and we had a large group of bully boys there. Because I spent so much time with the Brothers, not at my request but at theirs, that’s what I was labelled.’
There was also a man, Mr Livingstone, who arrived at the school with the Brothers. Livingstone ran all the extracurricular activities for the boys. Des told the Commissioner that the boys knew to keep away from him, ‘He definitely fondled every boy he could get hold of, at every opportunity’.
On one school activity, Livingstone approached Des and said, ‘I hear from the other boys you like to muck about with other boys. If you would like me to set you up in that scenario I’d be more than happy to help’. Des believed that, ‘the intent … was to line me up with himself … to me that was a blatant advance on his part’.
‘I was just horrified … I was petrified. This is a person who has authority over you and basically they owned you during school hours … You couldn’t do anything.’
Des told his mother what had happened.
‘Because my mother was a devout Catholic, I could not possibly be right. I must be mistaken … You simply weren’t believed in that era. That a clergyman or a teacher could possibly be guilty of such a thing … It was pointless saying anything.’
Des felt ‘helpless’ but believed that at least one other teacher ‘knew … what he [Livingstone] was and what he was trying to do’ and attempted to limit the man’s contact with students.
Des thinks that it was his negative reaction to the proposition that meant Livingstone didn’t pursue him further. He worries though, that the man had more success with others.
‘That was my reason for coming … I’m pretty certain he would have got someone eventually. And I hope I’m wrong … but I’ve got a gut feeling I’m not … If there’s someone out there that requires my assistance with evidence I’ll be happy to give whatever assistance is required.’