Gilbert grew up in Western Australia in the 1960s. Although he has repeatedly asked his mother, she has never explained why he and his brother were sent to live in a boys’ home run by the Christian Brothers. Gilbert was nine years old, and the two boys spent a year at the home.
At first, Gilbert thought the place ‘looked all right to me … what I can remember of it’. ‘Then I realised that we were running around naked all the time, you know. It was always, “Pull your pants down. You’re going to get punished. Do this. Do that”, you know. It’s pretty bad … A lot of voyeurism going on there. You know, like always running around naked.’ Gilbert also felt uncomfortable there, because it was a very ‘touchy’ place, where the Brothers would often ‘touch you on the bottom’.
Gilbert told the Commissioner that when the boys were in the showers, there were always Brothers ‘there preying, you know, like, you know – they’re picking out their supper for the night. That’s how bad it was. That’s how it was’.
‘I reckon it was a fully sexualised … everything they did was sexualised. And they always had to … manhandle me … when it come time to punish me it was, “Pants down” in front of people.’ When Gilbert received medical attention from the nurse for boils, there was always a Brother there who would take the opportunity to examine his genitals. Brothers would also examine the boys’ genitals in the showers. Gilbert told the Commissioner that he found this molestation particularly humiliating.
Gilbert also recalls older boys abusing the younger ones, and ‘a lot of bad things going on there’. A disturbing incident that still haunts him today is when an eight-year-old boy committed suicide by hanging himself from a tree on the grounds of the home.
Soon after he arrived, an older boy warned him to watch out for the Brothers, and especially Father Warren, who would call boys to his room at night. When a Brother collected Gilbert one night to take him to Father Warren’s room, he was wary and frightened.
Father Warren asked him to take his clothes off and bend over for a strapping. Instead, Gilbert sprinted out the door and hid in a shed on the oval. Although he got into trouble for running off, he was never called back into Father Warren’s room. ‘Actually, that guy … I really wanted to catch up with that guy … if he’s still alive. To thank him, you know. He virtually saved me, you know. He put a few things in me head, to get away from these people, you know.’
‘They never punished us with bare hands. It was always with some form of weapon. Well, I class it as a weapon, anyway. A belt’s a weapon. A strap’s a weapon. A stick’s a weapon.’
Gilbert told the Commissioner, ‘There was very bad abuse going on. There was slavery there. There was a lot of shit going on there, mate’. He remembers seeing boys of seven and eight put to work, and struggling to lift huge bales of hay onto the back of a truck.
Gilbert and his brother ran away several times. When they were caught by the police, officers didn’t believe them when they told them why they had run away. Gilbert told his mother about what was going on at the home, but she didn’t believe that Brothers would do that sort of thing. His grandmother believed them, and she was the one who finally got them out of the home. ‘She was disgusted.’ She stopped going to church and he never saw her use her rosary beads again.
‘When I left there I came out to be a worse person than I originally went in.’ Gilbert told the Commissioner, ‘I was just dysfunctional. Turned out to be a little evil boy’. As an adult, he has suffered from depression, anxiety and low self-esteem and has completely lost his faith.
After he finished school, Gilbert did an apprenticeship, but ‘all of a sudden … next thing … trouble again, you know … to jail, to jail, to jail and you know, just spiralled out of control. I don’t know what happened … just a blur … I think I might have rebelled against everyone and just went to jail for another way of escaping’.
‘I spent most of my time in prison because I was angry and nasty and, you know.’ After he received a small amount of compensation through a redress scheme, his attitude changed. ‘My anger’s changed. Even when I talk to people I’ve changed.’ He is also receiving help from Relationships Australia, which he is finding helpful.
Gilbert was ‘very, very sceptical’ about coming to the Royal Commission. ‘I wasn’t really going to come. I was going to do my disappearing act and not be seen for six months.’ After telling his story he thinks it will take him ‘a month or two to leach it out of my system and get back to normal again’.