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Gilbert John's story

Gilbert’s father died in the 1950s while his mum was pregnant with the last of his siblings. Being in ill health herself, and a single parent with a newborn baby as well as other children to care for, she struggled to cope.

As a result Gilbert was sent to a baby’s home, then a children’s home, and next a foster family. Finally, in his early teens, he ended up in a Catholic boys’ home in suburban Sydney, which was at that stage run by the Marist Brothers. The hundreds of boys housed there were schooled on site by the Brothers.

Two of them sexually abused Gilbert, including raping him orally and anally and forcing him to perform sexual acts on them. ‘On some occasions I woke up in the morning with soiled pyjamas and bed linen.’

He doesn’t remember the Brothers’ names, just that ‘one was tall with a slim build and dark hair; the other was balding with a pot belly’.

During school holidays Gilbert would be sent to work on a farm out of town, and sexually abused by the man who ran it, in the same way as the Brothers had assaulted him.

By the time Gilbert left the home he was lacking interpersonal skills, ‘would not show any emotion’, and could not have even regular kinds of physical contact with anyone, such as shaking hands. For a while he returned to the farm, and was subjected to further abuse.

After leaving school he found work, got married and had a family, but now has no contact with his ex-wife or children.

Gilbert considers that the breakdown of this marriage and the troubled relationship he has with his children are a direct impact of the ‘emotional issues’ caused by his experiences at the home.

His ex-wife came from a stable family background and did not understand what he’d been through or how this affected him, but chose to leave him when these issues started coming to the surface.

Gilbert’s siblings also appear to have no compassion for him. One of his sisters has remained a staunch Catholic and tells him he needs to just forget the abuse and move on.

He has never told his children about the sexual abuse, but they know he was in various homes as a child. It is a great fear that he will not be able to repair his relationship with them before he dies, especially as he has always wondered what he might have had with his own father had he lived.

When Gilbert was in his 30s he was admitted to a psychiatric facility with depression, but his experiences in the boys’ home were not raised or dealt with.

In the late 90s Gilbert again sought support for his mental health, and was referred to a psychologist. Around this time he made an application for victims of crime compensation, and settled a claim against the Marist Brothers.

The injuries listed in this latter claim included depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, the deterioration of his academic performance, suicidal ideation and a fear of authority figures, which has at times made it very hard for him to work with certain managers. Additionally he feels guilty that he did not somehow prevent the assaults or report them, and ‘only belatedly’ has he realised this abuse was in no way his fault.

Recently Gilbert became very sick and was admitted to a hospital close to the boys’ home premises. This brought back flashbacks of the abuse and very quickly he became unable to sleep at night, as this was when most of the incidents occurred.

After disclosing the abuse to his doctor a sleeping tablet was added to his medication, but this only ever worked for a short period and then he would be wide awake again. He still attends this hospital as an outpatient and this causes him anxiety.

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