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Dwight's story

Sexual abuse was rife at the Christian Brothers primary school that Dwight attended in Queensland in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The Brothers would ‘parade around naked’ in the change rooms when they took the boys swimming and Brother Kirk would regularly molest the boys under the guise of helping them into their clothes and sports gear.

But the worst offender was the school principal, Brother Stewart. With his long dark cassock and ‘terrible black eyes that could look right through you’, he seemed to Dwight like something out of a nightmare.

Brother Stewart would order Dwight to go to his office while the other kids went off to class. Then he would put his hand up Dwight’s shorts and fondle him. Stewart’s manner was not threatening, Dwight said. Nor was it flattering or affectionate. It was blank.

‘It was like it didn’t matter. He didn’t care. You were just there. And you were just there for what he wanted.’

When Dwight moved on to high school he thought that he’d escaped Brother Stewart. And for several years he had. During this time Dwight never mentioned the abuse to anyone. Then at the end of the school holidays, when he was 13 or 14 years old, he realised that his youngest brother was about to start at Brother Stewart’s school. He decided that to protect his brother he had to tell someone about the abuse.

He couldn’t tell his parents. Dwight’s mother was a devout Catholic who revered the Brothers. Dwight’s father had the opposite attitude. He once said to Dwight, ‘If anyone ever – priests or Brothers – touch you, you tell me and I’ll fucken well kill them’. Dwight was terrified that if he told his dad what the Brothers had done, his dad would do something crazy and end up in jail.

So Dwight decided instead to approach his parish priest, Father Gaughin. During confession he told Gaughin what was happening at the school. Gaughin grunted and told him to get out. That was it.

Soon Dwight was back at school. He was in class one day with Brother Farris – a notoriously brutal man – when out of nowhere Farris grabbed him by the neck, threw him up against a wall and punched him so hard in the chest he couldn’t breathe. ‘He said, “You’ve been telling lies about the Brothers to Father Gaughin”. I thought, “Oh shit”.’

Farris told Dwight that he had to go to the principal’s office where ‘someone’ was waiting for him. Dwight made his way down the corridor, fully aware that the high school principal was not at school that day. When he reached the office he found Brother Stewart waiting for him. Stewart hauled Dwight inside then closed and locked the door.

‘He’s just said to me, “You have to pay penance. You have to pay penance for the lies you told Father Gaughin”. And I thought – I couldn’t say it, but I thought: they weren’t lies. You know they weren’t lies.’

Stewart pushed Dwight down on the desk and raped him. Throughout the ordeal Dwight stared up at the Sacred Heart image of Jesus on the wall, thinking ‘Why aren’t you helping me?’

In the bathroom later he washed the blood off his legs then hid until his brothers got out of class so he could catch the train home with them. He didn’t tell them about the incident. He didn’t tell his parents either. He did try and tell a young visiting priest during confession. The priest drew back the curtain, looked right at Dwight and said ‘Did you enjoy it?’ Dwight left, unable to speak.

Over the next few years his grades dropped and he barely scraped through his final years of school. As a young adult he became rebellious and violent, joined a criminal gang and ran into trouble with the law.

‘I started to hate people. I didn’t like people. I didn’t want to be around people. If I was around people I was angry, I was aggressive.’

He remained isolated and silent about the abuse for the next 35 years. By the year 2000 Dwight had got much of his life back on track. His marriage was stable and he’d enrolled at a university course. Around this time he was becoming increasingly distressed by media coverage of incidents of child sexual abuse. He sought advice from a friend at the university.

‘I said “Kevin, this is coming up, it’s choking me, I can’t stand it, it’s driving me mad, it’s on TV all the time. I want to get an apology”. He said “Go through Towards Healing”.’

Dwight followed his friend’s advice – and soon regretted it. At Dwight’s first meeting with Towards Healing the representatives denied that they’d ever heard of Brothers Kirk or Stewart. When Dwight produced a school report signed by Kirk the representatives instantly dropped their denials. They didn’t apologise or explain themselves, they just asked Dwight if they could keep the report for their records. Dwight, of course, refused.

At meeting after meeting, Dwight kept saying that all he wanted was some help with the cost of his university course and, more importantly, an apology. Towards Healing ignored his requests and reduced the process to one simple offer: $60,000, take it or leave it. Exhausted, Dwight took it.

‘I don’t feel justice has been done. I’m very angry over that Towards Healing. I thought I was doing the right thing and following all the right things … but they sort of played me, and I’d break a bit. They treated you like they cared and then at the end they just wanted to hammer you.’

Despite the traumas of the process, Dwight went on to complete his studies with top marks. He now works in the community sector helping to keep Aboriginal kids out of jail.

‘I think the whole way I spent my life was because of what happened here, back with the Brothers, and it made me just determined to protect kids.’

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