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Flannery's story

‘In my own mind myself I think it impacted a lot on my life, because even though I wasn’t showing it, but in the back of my mind it was always there and even today it still impacts a bit on my life. When something happens like to me, I think it’s involved that. I don’t know how but it seems to go back to that even though it might have nothing to do with that. But that’s how you think.’

Flannery knows only a little of how he came to be in a Sisters of Mercy orphanage in Sydney in the mid-1930s.

‘From what I can gather off my ex-mother who’s dead, somebody from the federal government took me from her and said she couldn’t raise me and then they handed me over to the state government.’

Flannery was three when he arrived and until he was 17 he moved between several different orphanages. He didn’t have any visitors and knew little about the outside world.

‘We didn’t even know there was a war on and we never knew anything like there was Christmas or that you had a birthday, anything like that. Toys, we never ever saw toys in our life so you just had to do what you were told to do and go to school and go to church and things like that.’

When he was about 10 a politician came to visit the orphanage and the children were put in their ‘Sunday best’ and paraded before him.

‘We just did what we was told and then afterwards there were three of us put in this room. We didn’t know what was going on so there was two other boys, another boy by the name of Keith and another boy by the name of Jim. Course the nuns didn’t know what was happening. Anyway the politician came into the room with us and that, and he said to us, “I’ve been asked if you’d all strip down and take all your clothes off”.

‘And of course we didn’t know what was going on so we all did what we were told. And then Keith was asked to play with him, sexually like. And we just looked at him, didn’t know what was happening and that, and then all of a sudden I was asked to bend over and before I knew it, which I found out later, it was called rape. I was raped.

‘When he finished with me then he went to Jim then and raped him. I don’t know what happened to Keith, but Jim, I was talking to Jim about four years ago and he was dying so he asked me, “If anything ever comes out of all this will you stick up for me?” And I said, “Yeah mate, I will” and that’s why I’ve come down to do it.’

Flannery said after the assault he and the other boys told a nun who replied, ‘you don’t know what you’re talking about’, and that ‘he wouldn’t do such a thing, he’s a politician’. That was ‘about as far as it went’ and Flannery tried to push the assault ‘to the back of my brain’.

After he moved to the high school orphanage, one of the teaching staff, Brother Kevin, noticed Flannery was having difficulty sitting down. Flannery initially denied there was anything wrong, but then ‘ended up telling him’.

‘So he took me down to Central Police Station in Sydney here to report it because it hadn’t been reported. Nobody down there wanted to know about it. So then he took me down to Parramatta Police station, tried to report it down there. Didn’t want to know about it.

‘Some of the kids must have found out about it at the orphanage so I was getting a bit bullied and things like that, so Brother Kevin was in charge of the poultry section as well so besides going to school he got me a job down on the poultry farm which kept me away from the other boys. He took me under his wing more or less. So even though I forgot all about it, but it’s still in the back of me mind.’

After leaving the orphanage, Flannery was directed to labouring and farm jobs, difficult work for which he was often not paid. He kept moving until he found employment that he liked.

In his early 20s, he returned to the first orphanage and asked the nuns for details of his mother.

‘[The nun] says, “Oh no, we can’t tell you that”. This was all under the privacy law then, but she had a book opened and I think it must have been organised because another nun knocked on the door and said, “Sister could you come out here for a minute?” So she went outside and alongside the book was a pencil and blank piece of paper so I ducked around the table and I saw all this and I thought, “Oh, okay, here’s my mother”, and I wrote it all down real quick, all the particulars about it on the piece of paper, and then I put in my pocket and that’s when I found out all about who my mother was.’

After tracking down his mother one day he told her about the rape. She ‘didn’t doubt’ him, but ‘didn’t know what to do about it because it had happened so long ago’. His mother suggested Flannery ‘forget about it and leave it at that’.

‘But in your subconscious mind, you couldn’t forget about it. It’s there and it’s there for a long while. So even when my wife found out she won’t talk to me because I didn't tell her when we got married and all that.’

Flannery’s wife had told him she didn’t want to hear anything about the abuse or have him speak of it. He hadn’t told his children but thought he might do so.

Throughout the years Flannery had never had any kind of counselling. ‘Nobody ever told me about that in the younger days so I never ever thought about it. It’s not until the last few years I’ve heard about the actual counsellors and that. Now that I’ve brought it out in the open like, I think I’ll be a lot better off, because it means I don’t have to worry about having it at the back of my brain all the time.’

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