Dirk was training to be an altar boy in the 1950s when a priest driving him home put his hands up his shorts and tried to play with his penis. ‘And because nothing much happened, I didn’t do anything.’ At 11 years of age, this wasn’t the first time Dirk had been sexually abused by a religious member of the Catholic Church.
Dirk’s teacher at school, Christian Brother Joseph Olwen, was ‘completely useless’ in the classroom and had a reputation for free use of the strap. Within the Sydney school violence seemed readily tolerated. The Brothers had their straps made to order by a bootmaker with razor blades sewn into them.
Olwen frequently sexually abused Dirk, often after being put on detention and kept back alone after school.
‘He would make me stand next to his desk on his left hand side and put his left hand up my shorts leg and play with my penis. After a while of doing this he would pull down my shorts and underpants and masturbate me … I remember him telling me that, “Your father said that I could do whatever I liked with you”, or words to that effect. My father wouldn’t have said that but he twisted whatever he did say to make it sound true.’
One day Dirk looked through the classroom window and saw another student being abused by Olwen. He fled and didn’t speak to that boy or any of his classmates about the abuse he had experienced or witnessed.
On another occasion Dirk was speaking with his friend, Jeremy, who told him he was having sex with a girl on his way home from school. Olwen saw the two boys talking and demanded to know what they were speaking about. Dirk revealed the conversation to Olwen, and years later found out that Jeremy had been coerced into bringing the girl to school and having sex with her while Olwen watched.
At the end of second term, Dirk was removed by his parents from the Christian Brothers’ school and sent to the De La Salle Brothers. No one explained the reason for the move, but Dirk thought it must have been because of the answers he’d given to a school questionnaire that asked boys if they’d ever been touched inappropriately by a teacher. Dirk had answered honestly, disclosing Olwen’s behaviour. The only mention made of the disclosure thereafter was on Dirk’s first day at the new school when the headmaster told him he didn’t have to worry, because ‘we don’t do those things here’.
In his early 40s Dirk disclosed his abuse in a throw-away line at a dinner party. He told those present, including his brother, that they shouldn’t trust anyone with their children. Years later, Dirk contacted the school trying to track down Olwen. ‘They said he’d gone to Queensland and they didn’t know where he was, which was a lie.’
In the mid-1990s Dirk again contacted the school, this time telling them about the abuse and notifying them that he wanted to know where Olwen was. He received a reply offering apologies and regret and advice that Olwen had left the Christian Brothers. The letter also encouraged him to contact the police.
The following year, Dirk reported the abuse to the police child protection unit in Sydney. He found the investigating officers very supportive and helpful. Olwen was arrested and in went before a magistrate on child sex charges.
Attempts to get Jeremy and other students to provide evidence were unsuccessful so Dirk testified against Olwen alone. The magistrate found Dirk to be a credible witness but thought that without corroborating accounts, the case if brought before a jury, probably wouldn’t result in a conviction. Olwen was acquitted.
Two years after Dirk made an application for compensation to the Christian Brothers he received $45,000. Of this, $10,000 went to lawyers’ fees and expenses. He didn’t think the amount paid was nearly enough for the harm caused.
Dirk told the Commissioner that he thinks it was almost impossible in the past for those who’d been sexually abused to disclose or report it.
‘No one would have said anything in those days. You couldn’t say anything against the Catholic Church. Everybody’s been brain-washed from when they were born. And you didn’t talk about sex in those days to anyone. Not to your parents, and they didn’t talk about it to you either.’
He’d come to the Royal Commission ‘to put another nail in the coffin. That’s all I wanted to do’.