Donald was sent away to Catholic boarding in the late 1960s when he was 12 years old. During his first few weeks at the school, a teacher and dormitory master named Brother Julius began to groom and then abuse him.
‘He’d get you alone somewhere’, Donald told the Commissioner. ‘He’d put his arm around you and start talking to you, “How are you going? Is everything okay? Are you settling in all right?” Then he’d have his hand straight on your crotch and he’d start fondling you.’
Donald did his best to stand up to his abuser and fend him off.
‘As the months progressed he’d go to touch me and I’d push him away, and he got so friggen violent. So violent. He’d play emotional games with you. He’d be nice. And you go “Okay, he’s not angry, I can let my guard down now”. And the minute you let your guard down that’s when he tries again, starts to molest you. And then you push him away eventually and he loses the plot again and he just gets so angry.’
The more Donald resisted, the more Brother Julius targeted him for physical and emotional abuse. One time Donald stayed up for hours polishing his shoes, knowing that the next morning he and the rest of the boys would be facing an inspection.
‘He said, “Show me your shoes”. And I sort of just nudged them out from the edge of the table, and he said, “No, no, stick your foot out, show me your shoes”. And I said, “They’re clean, Brother”. And I put my foot out further and he stood on it, to make it dirty. He said, “They’re dirty, get up the front”.’
Julius sent Donald and three other boys up to the front of the room. He then picked up a cricket bat:
‘And hit them four times across their arse with this cricket bat. And not just tapped them, he friggen hit them. You could hear it echo in the room. And when he came to me he just sneered at me. And then he hit me six times with this cricket bat. I had to walk back to my table. … I was trying to hold the tears back. I was hurtin’ so bad. And all he could do was say to everyone, “Oh look at this little wimp, he’s not a man, he shouldn’t even be here, he should be at home on his Mummy’s tit. He’s nothing”.’
As the abuse continued, Donald began to lash out at the other boys.
‘Even if they just looked at me in a way that I felt intimidated or threatened, or if they sneered at me or laughed at me or anything I just would lash out and just hit them. It’d only ever be one hit, but it was filled with so much rage and anger.’
After one particular incident, the school sent him to see a psychiatrist. During the session Donald almost revealed the abuse.
‘I was that close and then something happened and my Dad made a comment in there that just shut me down again like a snail back in the shell.’
Eventually Donald did speak out. One day, after he had rebuffed Julius’s advances yet again, the Brother beat him severely. Donald managed to escape and eventually returned to his room.
‘I sat there and cried. I couldn’t tell my father what was going on so I made an appointment to see Brother Norrish.’
Norrish was Donald’s brother’s teacher, and a family friend.
‘I’d built up so much courage to say what was going on, you know. I couldn’t tell my parents, I couldn’t tell my family, I didn’t have anyone to tell. So then I went to tell him. I said, “I just want to tell you about Brother Julius and what’s happening”. I didn’t even finish my sentence and he put his hand straight up the inside of my trousers and started struggling to pull my undies away and get under my undies. Started molesting me straight away. I couldn’t trust anyone after that.’
Donald’s aggressive behaviour escalated and he was eventually expelled from the boarding school and several more schools after that. From there he went through dozens of jobs, enjoying many of them but unable to hold any one down long-term.
‘The rage was like a light switch that just kept going on and off all the time.’
But there was some hope. Donald described his marriage as ‘one of the only cornerstones I’ve ever really had’. He met his wife when he was still a teenager and talked to her about the abuse after they had been together for a few years. He told the Commissioner that she has always been supportive. ‘She always saw something in me that others didn’t see.’
In the 1990s Donald decided that it was time to speak up about the abuse. He contacted police but was initially disappointed with the officer who was assigned to his case. Undeterred, Donald wrote letters to the Ombudsman and senior police and shortly afterwards the case got back on track.
The matter was eventually brought to trial and in the courtroom, Donald encountered his abuser for the first time in over 20 years.
‘The funny thing is, as an abuse victim, I had this picture of this guy that abused me ... and that image – that got locked away, that I was terrified of for so many years – had changed. And it’s like, “you’re nothing, you dirty old man. I was scared of you for so many years in my own childhood life and I maintained that fear for so many years and that hatred for you for so many years, and look at you”.’
Brother Julius was convicted of physically assaulting Donald, but not of sexually assaulting him. Donald did not attend court to hear the final verdict.
‘I was exhausted mentally, emotionally. I was drained and dragged. At one stage I wanted to walk away from the whole thing. And my wife said to me, “No, Don you’ve come this far, you can’t walk away, you’ve got to stick with it”. So because she said to stick with it I did, and I’m glad I did, you know, because it put closure to some things.’
In the telling of his story, Donald expressed his emotions boldly and openly. He told the Commissioner, ‘I brought a supply of hankies. Don’t let it bother you with the tears. At the end of the day the memories are there but the pain’s not’.