Now in his 80s, Donal has not told anyone except his late mother about the sexual abuse by a ‘mad’ Christian Brother at his boarding school in South Australia soon after World War II.
Donal’s first experience of a Christian Brothers education was in New South Wales at age five. But it was short lived and moving around mining towns with his parents, he was soon being taught in Western Australia by ‘old Irish nuns – they were shockers’ who whacked him repeatedly for using his dominant left hand which they considered ‘the Devil’s hand’.
His parents split up at the start of the war and he opted to stay with his mother. Donal never saw his father again.
At his second Christian Brothers school, in Perth, where he was a day boy – ‘it made a difference’ – he had no bad experiences.
When the war ended, Donal was sent briefly to a school in regional Western Australia run by the Marist Brothers. His worst treatment was being whacked with a cricket bat for not knowing Latin verbs, and a blow to the head from the French master.
Donal was 15 when he believes he became ‘a charity case’ at his third Christian Brothers school, this time in South Australia. He knows of no other way his mother could have afforded to send him there, and he was schooled with boys who went on to become prominent leaders in society and industry.
The first year ‘wasn’t too bad’, being dragged up the half a year he had missed, coming from Western Australia. ‘I was a good student’, Donal said. ‘I went to school at the beginning of the year and went home at Christmas. I didn’t go home in the mid-terms because it was too far.’
By that time his mother had remarried and lived well over 1,000 kilometres away.
Year 9, however, brought Brother Fenton, later to become a headmaster and who was not averse to using either strap or fists on boys.
‘And [Brother] Matthias was absolutely mental – one of those three men, who used to break the nose on someone’s head every single term. He was right off his face.’
When Donal was in his mid-teens, he was sexually abused by Matthias during athletics practice at the school. While his close friend Bill decided to stay in the team, Donal ‘quit athletics altogether to escape’.
‘It really dropped me. I shudder to think what could have happened to me if I was less perceptive of what was going on. They’re supposed to be men of God. It’s just very hard to understand. Of course it goes back to the stupidity of their celibacy really.’
After also being physically abused by Matthias, Donal wrote to his mother and she sent a telegram telling the school to send him home. However, the Brothers would not allow it and blamed Donal for necessitating the discipline.
‘They wouldn’t let me go home. Because they had control of me at that stage, despite the telegram.’
Donal eventually managed to leave the school before the end of term and never returned.
The impact of his abuse, Donal said, ‘does affect me, badly. I could have been a multi-millionaire’, he said of several instances where he had chances to make ‘a lot of money’.
‘I think the lack of education was the cause. You just have to acknowledge that you went to the university of hard knocks instead’, he said, during his private session at a regional prison.
And it was his lack of sex education that led to his present incarceration for sexual offences with a minor.
‘I’m in here I think because of that, quite frankly. I think what affected me back then affected me, brought me in here.’
While still a teenager he’d gone into the defence forces. ‘And the only sex education I ever had was a lecture the first week ... “You’re in uniform. The girls will chase you all over the place”.’ Sixteen was the legal age of consent, and new recruits were instructed ‘If she’s not 16, don’t touch her’.
‘No one had ever told me that’s not right. It’s no longer 16. It’s 17 in South Australia and if you are a person in control it’s 18. And that’s why I’m in here. I truly thought 16 was the legal age.’
With some years left on his sentence, Donal said that apart from his mother and Bill, who was ‘there anyway … I’ve never told anyone before.
‘But I think you’ve got to get it off your chest somehow. It’s been stewing me up for a long time.’