‘It was systematic, and it was condoned. Two words.’
That was the way Dom explained the culture of abuse at his Catholic boys’ school in the late 1960s. ‘I do have a bit of an axe to grind’, he told the Commissioner. He sees the physical violence and sexual molestation he suffered as a teenager at the school as barely surprising.
‘Catholicism has basically ruled the European world for centuries, right? They’ve covered up murders and rapes – all sorts of stuff – that went on hundreds and hundreds of years ago. The Catholic culture overall, I think you’ll find if you start digging – the number of babies buried in convent yards, the number of paedophiles … What you’re hearing now is the end of it. The beast has lost its power’, he said.
Dom grew up in country New South Wales, the middle child in a large Catholic family. He went to the local Catholic primary school. When it came to high school there was no question. His parents wanted to give him the best education they could, and that meant sending him to board at a Catholic boys’ school in Sydney. His older brother was already a student there.
Dom felt stressed and unsafe at the school from the very beginning. The older boys were abusive and violent. The Brothers offered no protection. ‘They were in fact more violent and keen to single out any boy who even looked at them the wrong way’, Dom said.
Brother Samuel used two steel rulers taped together to hit the boys. Or he’d knee them in the back, push them to the floor and hit them with a stick. Brother Vincent was unpredictable: ‘He could be pleasant one moment and violent the next.’ Brother Remy, the maths teacher, would make Dom stand beside him. Then he would stroke Dom’s back and legs and fondle his genitals. ‘He’d do this in front of the class. He’d be standing right there, stroking’, Dom said.
‘All this stuff was done in front of everybody. You’d just get assaulted publicly.’
The worst was Brother Nazio. ‘He would just suddenly snap, get out of control and he’d bash someone. And it wouldn’t necessarily be someone who was doing something wrong. He’d just snap. He was a dangerous man. And strong.’ One day in class Dom turned round to speak to the boy sitting behind him, and Brother Nazio hit him so hard on the side of the head it knocked him across the room.
‘This guy punched the shit out of me … I felt like he could have killed me’, Dom said. ‘I don’t remember a lot about school from this point. … That first and second year just rolled into a blur of being knocked around and pushed about.’
In his third year at the school, Dom came to the attention of Brother Francis, the football coach and also Dom’s dorm master. ‘That’s a lot of access. He’s there at nights, and he’s there in the afternoons. And by this time I was an easy target.’
Brother Francis gave Dom extra coaching, and key roles in the team. ‘Eventually he coaxed me into bed. … I’m in his dorm, and he would come and get me and we’d go to his bedroom and he’d get me to jerk him off.’ Dom was 15 by now. ‘I’m starting to wise up about sex and stuff, and I knew this guy was weird … But I didn’t know what to fucking do.’
The abuse happened numerous times. There was no one Dom could turn to. He only saw his parents in term breaks, and didn’t feel he could tell them. ‘[Dad] worked long and hard to keep us boys at boarding school ... He was making a life choice for us, and sacrificing his own to give us the best education he could. He used to say that and I think that’s why I never said anything.’
There was no one he felt able to tell at school either. ‘I never even thought of it … [It] was like I was split off’, Dom said. ‘It was like I disappeared somewhere.’
Dom’s father was unable to pay school fees for a term that year, and Dom went to the local high school instead. By the time he was sent back to boarding school, Brother Francis was gone. Another boy had complained about him, and – Dom believes – he’d been transferred to another school.
Dom left the school in the early 1970s. ‘By the time I finished I was depressed, anxious, and really all I wanted to do was smoke dope, because it made me feel better.’ He got married young and had three children. He worked for years in a government department. He joined a church.
He kept his life together for many years, he told the Commissioner. But in his mid-40s, things fell apart. ‘I had some serious issues to deal with that I didn’t know about. Didn’t have labels, didn’t have names … I can remember being afraid to go home because I didn’t know how to handle the situation. And then hitting my son, and thinking – I might not be able to stop. That’s fucking scary.’
He and his wife divorced. He left his church. ‘Once the wheels fell off with my family, I had to let out what was in me. I’d held it down for so long … What was in me was this shit. And this rage. This incredible fucking rage.’ For the next 10 years, ‘sex, drugs and rock and roll took over my life’.
These days Dom has counselling and attends Narcotics Anonymous. Indian medicine has helped him. He prays. He is in a stable relationship with a partner from whom he has no secrets.
While he manages his drug addiction, his struggle with it is ongoing. ‘I can’t have one [joint], because a thousand’s not enough … I might just have one joint today, and in three months’ time I’ll have two joints, and in six months’ time I’m a full-blown raving ratbag, who hates himself and doesn’t want to be on the planet. That’s what I got from [the school]. I fucking hated myself and I didn’t want to be on the planet.’
Dom doesn’t plan to report his abuse to police, but he is considering a civil claim for the school fees his father paid.
‘I would love to get my dad’s money back. I don’t want blood money. I just want my dad’s money. He worked fucking hard for it … I’d like that. Because quite frankly I don’t have a house. I blew everything … I had everything and I lost it. I’m not blaming them, I did it. But my addiction kicked in. That stuff that I was suppressing just busted out of me’, he said.
‘I think I’m a walking miracle. I think there’s lots of guys my age that are still using, there’s lots of them dead, there’s lots of them in relationships where there’s no love … I’m glad to be alive.’