Dunstan’s mother was unwed when she gave birth to him in the early 1960s. The government at the time decreed unmarried mothers were not capable of caring for their children, Dunstan told the Commissioner. As a result, he was placed as an infant in a Queensland orphanage run by the Sisters of Mercy where he stayed until he was 13.
At the orphanage, children were subjected to physical, psychological and sexual abuse from the nuns as well as neglect, such as inadequate clothing and poor education. Initially Dunstan lived in the nursery section. He recalled that on one occasion ‘I had a nun … lift her dress over my head and she dropped her underwear and made me play with her’.
From age of five Dunstan was moved from the nursery section and placed in a dormitory. The dormitory had two separate rooms, and Dunstan was placed in the room that the ‘dumb kids’ were in.
During his time at the orphanage, Dunstan was routinely humiliated and ridiculed in front of the other children. If he had difficulty learning in class, he was often told he was ‘the dumbest kid in the orphanage’ and made to stand in the corner.
When Dunstan was about six, the orphanage chaplain, Father Begley, invited him into the presbytery. Father Begley then made Dunstan sit on his lap and masturbate him, afterwards telling Dunstan how much he enjoyed it. This occurred on numerous occasions and Dunstan believes Father Begley also abused other boys in this manner. In confession, Father Begley would encourage Dunstan to ‘play’ with himself, telling him ‘God will love you for it’, and one occasion attempted to anally penetrate him.
Father Gelbing was a priest who often visited the orphanage. One day he collected Dunstan in his car to take him on a weekend trip and during that journey abused him. ‘He did what Begley did to me.’
Sometime later, Dunstan was temporarily fostered to a family during the holidays. Father Gelbing came to visit the home for a barbeque where he drank heavily and proceeded to molest Dunstan.
On one occasion Dunstan fell off the slippery-slide and was punished for breaking his elbow. ‘I broke my elbow when I was nine years of age and got a flogging before the nuns took me into the public hospital.’ While recovering from his broken elbow, one of the nuns would help Dunstan bathe himself and would abuse him in the process. ‘A nun used to bath me and then Sister Maree used to play with me in the bathtub.’
While being treated at the hospital for his broken elbow, the medical staff performed an assessment and confirmed a suspicion that Dunstan had an intellectual impairment.
Afterwards he attend a special needs school. Children who attended travelled on a bus driven by Mr Stiles, who was violently abusive of Dunstan.
‘I’ve got to wear a hearing aid. I came to classes deaf because I was punched all the time … Also, I was thrown down the steps by him … And I had concussion. On the Friday we used to get a bus into town. I got out of the bus and fell straight to the ground and the bus driver said, “Just tell them you’ve got a headache”. They didn’t do anything about it. Then early Saturday morning I was sick all over the floor so I got told by a nun “Go down and lick it up” … When I went to mass Saturday morning, because I couldn’t get down and get up, the bus driver clobbered me. At lunchtime I spilt the milk and got a flogging for that.’
Eventually Dunstan was taken to the doctor who confirmed he had sustained a head injury from Stiles’ abuse. ‘The doctor was amazed I didn’t die because he said, “You have concussion. You had a brain injury”. I have actually been told by the doctor that I’ve had a fracture of the skull and a brain injury.’
In addition to physical abuse, Stiles also sexually abused the children. Dunstan told the Commissioner about a time Stiles came into the dormitory to watch the boys shower, touching some of the boys and making them turn around with the excuse that he was checking they were clean. ‘Sit down and the bus driver would make you watch him while he was using the bathroom. That was what it was like. I regularly got that.’
Children at the orphanage were frequently beaten for minor misdemeanours. On one occasion Dunstan was unable to attend mass because he had to visit the doctor, and he was beaten for this. If a child wet the bed they were beaten and sometimes locked in the storeroom for hours.
When Dunstan was 11, he witnessed a young girl climb onto the balcony and throw herself off. The girl, who died from the fall, had wet the bed and was so terrified of the beating she would receive that she took her own life instead.
Dunstan was small in stature which made him a target of other boys. ‘There were a lot of bigger boys than I was, and I regularly got bashed up.’ One boy attacked Dunstan in the genitals with a broomstick. Another boy once urinated on his face. Dunstan was unable to report these and all the other incidents of abuse to the nuns at the orphanage because he knew he wouldn’t be believed.
At 13 Dunstan left the orphanage and was placed with a foster family with whom he stayed until he was 23. This was also an unhappy experience that Dunstan is uncomfortable discussing. ‘I was in a foster home for 10 years … I don’t talk about it.’
As a result of the abuse at the orphanage, Dunstan has severe hearing loss and irritable bowel syndrome. He has tried to take his own life three times, been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and is on medication for his insomnia.
In the late 1990s, after seeing a program on television about the orphanage, Dunstan publically disclosed his experiences of abuse. Ten years later he received $29,000 from the Queensland Redress scheme. ‘It took a while and there was a lot of sad moments. It led to a lot of tears, some of it.’
Dunstan has never approached the Sisters of Mercy for compensation and has been informed the Catholic Church believe he is lying about his experiences and would fight any claims for compensation. More recently Dunstan appeared in the local paper detailing his experiences at the orphanage. While he has received a lot of support for speaking publically, he has also been accused of lying and told to ‘stop running the Church into the ground, see a psychiatrist’.
Dunstan has numerous health complications and told the Commissioner that his redress payment has not gone far in addressing this. ‘One of the biggest thing we have at the moment is medical expenses. Because we go to the doctor … we’re paying a lot of money out of pocket … It’s just the matter of getting my life back so that I can keep working. I’ve got to the stage where you can’t be in the bathroom 10 times a day. That’s the stage where I wanted to give up.’