‘The Fathers there were seen to be next to God by the students and all the parents. I think it would be very hard for any student [then] to mention anything that was going on at the time to their parents and be believed.’
Garry was 12 years old when he arrived at a school run by an order of Catholic Brothers in Victoria. He remained at the school for only a short period, in the early 1970s. In that time though, his education was significantly interrupted because of the culture and environment of the school.
It was ‘quite an odd school … it was, in those days, on [acreage] and so the front gate was over a kilometre [away] … You couldn’t just jump over the front fence and be in the real world.
‘I was aware of various things happening … What I was hearing, as a person there, was if you were a boarder especially, and you went … to the infirmary, these things [sexual abuse] were happening, particularly by one [individual].’
As a child he wasn’t completely sure about what these ‘things’ were or what the cause of them was but he had had an instance of sexual abuse when he was in primary school and was alert to the potential for adults to take advantage of children.
Garry began to adopt behaviour that removed him from potentially abusive situations.
‘I realised these things were going on and I thought it would be best to stay away from that. So, I was very careful not to be in a room, if I could avoid it, with any male on a one-on-one basis. If I was, I stayed between them and the door … that was a culture that became a part of my life.’
Garry also began to truant ‘more and more often’ as the year progressed.
‘I would find any excuse not to go to school and feigned any excuse not to go to school.’
One day he arrived back at school after being absent for a day to find that one of his close friends had taken his life at the age of 13.
‘A friend of mine who was very uncomfortable at the school … there was a Monday that I was truant, went back Tuesday to discover that he’d gone home, he’d been there [Monday], gone home and sat on the verandah, put a shotgun to his head.’
‘He never spoke of [sexual abuse] happening to him but I know he shared my discomfort. When it was talked about, “Bill or Fred was in the infirmary”, there was a little titter amongst the boys, “Oh, I hope he’s all right”, sort of thing.
‘Some people took this in their stride … others were greatly affected.’
After his friend died, Garry began to stay away from school for large periods of time. His parents believed he was a ‘poor student’ and didn’t ask him directly why he didn’t like the school. He transferred to the local state high school and while his marks picked up, his trust in male authority and commitment to education both waned. He left school at 15 years of age.
The anxiety and insecurity he felt from his experience at the school meant that he ‘would have nothing to do with a single [lone] man’. He spent many months working on his family property.
‘I was almost a recluse … It wasn’t until I was … in my early 20s before I could deal easily with men. I was always in fear.’
His lack of a university education has dogged him throughout his professional life. While he ran his own small business he could provide for his family, but a series of personal and financial tragedies have left him without a regular income in his late 50s.
‘The world has changed but there is now so much that is blocked to someone who doesn’t have a degree and I see that as a ramification of this [school experience] directly.
‘I hadn’t realised that until your Royal Commission came into existence and that caused me to reflect on it and that was the message I wanted to bring … we hear of the people who are totally traumatised … but I don’t know [how many] others there are in my circumstance that weren’t personally affected but [have] huge ramifications in their lives.’
His time at the school also impacted his parenting.
‘I always wanted my children to have a degree … [and] I kept them away from anything that could be deleterious.’
His friend’s death haunts Garry.
‘I knew how unhappy he was … we all knew things were going on that were inappropriate in the school … Children are … just faced with the circumstances they are at the moment … Children don’t know what to do.
‘As a young person you only know what you can see on the day, you haven’t got a lifetime of experience to draw upon … I don’t know how to cure this [sexual abuse] anyway. I’m fearful that it can all happen again.’