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George John's story

George was born in the UK in the mid-1930s, and placed by his mother in a Catholic-run orphanage during World War II. He had his first experience of sexual abuse while he was living there: one of the nuns would bath two or three boys at a time and take the opportunity to fondle George. ‘She used to always give me the tickle in my bum, and she used to enjoy doing that. And believe you me, sometimes she really hurt.’

After the war, George was sent to Western Australia as part of the Child Migrant Scheme. Just a few days after arriving in Perth he was sent to a residential farm school for boys run by the Christian Brothers, in regional WA. The Brothers there were violent bullies, George recalled. One, Brother Amos, ‘didn’t care where he hit you’. He struck George across the head and left him with a serious injury that went untended for weeks. The Brother who finally took George to get medical attention told the doctor he’d fallen over.

After about a year of physical abuse and hard labour – ‘working me guts out’ – George was sent to another Christian Brothers’ home, in Perth this time, so he could learn to read. He remained here for the next two years. He was given work to do, supervised by a man who wasn’t a Christian Brother – a kind man, George recalled, who he could talk to about anything. ‘He used to look after me.’

But the supervisor wasn’t able to protect him from the Brothers. One of them raped George when he was alone in his work area one day. Another savagely bashed him after taking offence at something George had said. ‘He went “I’ll teach you”’, George remembered. ‘As soon as I stood up, bang. And then a boot in the mouth.’ He suffered black eyes, cracked ribs and a broken nose in the assault. ‘Another boy helped put my nose back in place.’ Later, many of George’s teeth fell out, another consequence of the attack.

When he was 16, George was sent to work on a farm, and later became its manager. ‘I cleared that whole block of land in five years’, he said. He went on to join the military, and eventually found a job that kept him travelling for long stretches of time.

Looking back, George’s main grievance with the Brothers is not the years of deprivation or abuse, but the lies he was told. ‘I asked every Tom, Dick and Harry in the Church to find my mother’, he explained. They all insisted she was dead.

‘“She’s gone to Heaven, my son”. I got that from every priest and that would be about 30 … “I’m sorry my son, she’s gone to Heaven” … “She’s gone to Heaven, my child. You’ll meet her once again up in Heaven”.’

After spending decades and a small fortune searching – more than 40,000 pounds – he finally discovered that his mother had passed away in the late 1990s. As far back as the 50s he’d made sure he always had the money to get to the UK, should she be found. And it was his determination to find her that kept him going through many difficult years. The role of the Brothers and the Church in placing obstacles in his way makes him very angry. ‘That’s what I’m savage about’, he said.

George has not sought compensation from the Church, and he didn’t apply to Redress WA because he didn’t know about it. His past resurfaced when he tried to get a passport and found that his legal status as an Australian citizen was uncertain, due to lack of documentation. But in the end this was resolved, after the intervention of his federal MP.

And though he didn’t get to meet his mother again, he found other family members – siblings and more – and has reunited with them.

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