Fynn was born in London during the Great Depression. His father walked out and his mother left six-week-old Fynn and his 18-month-old brother David in a bread basket outside an orphanage run by Catholic nuns.
He stayed there until he was seven, when the two boys were sent to Western Australia to an orphanage run by the Christian Brothers.
Once in Australia, the brothers were separated and Fynn was sent to a Catholic boys’ home. In the 12 months he was there he was regularly beaten. He slept in a dormitory reserved for children who wet their beds.
Fynn told the Commissioner, ‘Every time we wet the bed … we got a belting every morning, and that put fear into us. That maybe even contributed to us wetting our beds in fear’.
He remembered one of the Brothers saying to him, ‘You’re going to be hopeless when you grow up. You’re going to be useless, you’re going to be a failure’.
‘Even at eight years old, that sort of hurt’, said Fynn.
He was then sent to another boys’ home and finally to a Christian Brothers farm school, where he was reunited with his brother. The environment was extremely harsh, with frequent physical abuse. On one occasion when Fynn had done something wrong, he was strapped so brutally he could hardly sit down for two weeks.
At the farm school he was also subjected to sexual abuse. One of the Brothers would watch the boys showering and afterwards make them line up for a ‘dirt inspection’.
‘He knelt down in front of me and he’d just start fooling around with me, you know, and I thought that’s where the dirt must be.’ Fynn said he didn’t really understand what was going on but he knew something was wrong, and when the Brother heard another approaching, ‘he sprung up like a bolt of lightning and said, “Get your clothes on and get out of here”’. Fynn saw this happen to other boys, too.
Another time, he was by himself in one of the cow sheds and the same Brother came in.
‘He just done the same thing – pulled my pants down and, after he’d messed around with me a bit, he just walked away as if it was, there was nothing to worry about or anything like that, and all these things really bothered me.’
Fynn recalled two incidents at the farm school when boys died, once when a boy fell off a truck in front of them all, and another time when a boy was found dead on the ground. There were rumours he had been pushed off the building by one of the Brothers, and this was later used as a threat to all the boys, to keep them in line.
At times the emotional abuse was too much to bear.
During World War II, a Brother read out a letter that had arrived from London.
‘He said the orphanage “where your mother dumped you” – that was the word he used, “where your mother dumped you” – “razed to the ground”. And isn’t it funny, even when you have never seen your mother, when he said, “Your mother and father are dead, they’re all gone too”, that’s when I cried like mad, and so did David, and three was no counselling then, no arm around you to comfort you, it was terrible. Just “Stop your crying, stop your crying. Small boys don’t cry”.’
One time, the archbishop came to the farm school and the Brothers dressed all the boys up in fine clothes. The archbishop asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up and David said he wanted to be a Christian Brother. Fynn asked him why on earth he had said that and David said simply, ‘The food’s better’.
David did go on to become a Christian Brother and, 30 years later, he told Fynn that the night after he took his first vows, two Brothers came into his room and raped him. He had never told anyone else.
‘I couldn’t believe it’, said Fynn. ‘I think, like me, he was too frightened to talk because you were threatened with Hell fire, and that was the teaching in the Catholic Church.’
Fynn left the home at 17 when he got a job, but said he was unprepared for the world, especially around women. However, he has had a stable life working on farms, which he loves, and is happily married to a supportive woman.
What the Brothers had told Fynn about his mother wasn’t true. David found out she was still alive and many years later they travelled to England and met her. Fynn said he was very happy to see her, but the special bond they should have shared just wasn’t there.
He went through Towards Healing and found the Church representatives to be very kind and understanding. He was given $25,000 in compensation and a formal apology, but he wished the apology had come directly from the Brothers who had abused him.
Fynn said he felt it was important to tell his story, for the sake of future generations. Because, even after all these years, sometimes things just crumble.
‘I’ve been on the farms most of my life and I’ve always thought I’m as tough as a brick and then I simply go to water occasionally.
‘And when I talk about this it’s … I can just see it all in front of me, you know?
‘I’m glad that I had the guts to tell it … it hurts, because I feel like I’m now a 10-year-old and we’re right there going through it again.’