In the early 1960s, when he was just a little boy, Giles and his siblings were removed from their parents who were deemed to be unsuitable carers. Giles spent a lot of time in various homes, sometimes with his siblings but usually without them. When he was nine, he was placed in a home run by the Christian Brothers in a town in Victoria.
He settled in all right but after a while started to hear rumours about the Brothers and what they did to boys. Giles was instructed by the others on how to avoid being targeted. One of the most risky events in the home was film night on Saturdays. The Brothers would spread a blanket over their laps, and also over the knees of the boy sitting next to them. Then they’d fondle them in the dark as the film played.
Physical cruelty was also rife in the home. ‘Just the cruelty of the physical abuse that they gave out to boys, for no apparent reason.’ Boys were made to stand out on the verandah at night, in the middle of winter in bare feet for up to two hours.
Giles felt that he had nowhere to turn for help. But in a way it was worse for boys who were put in institutions when they were older. ‘Because I was raised up in institutions at such a young age, I learned to adapt to the systems at each place that I went to.’ But children of nine or 10 didn’t handle it as well if they were suddenly transferred there.
Various Brothers would ‘perv’ on the boys as they had showers. Some boys were taken from their dormitories by different Brothers and sexually abused. Brother Simmonds was the most violent of the Brothers. He bashed Giles with a piece of wood with nails in it, leaving him with cuts on his legs. Giles learned to avoid Simmonds by knowing which rooms he’d frequent.
Many Brothers were transferred around, Giles said. Simmonds and several other Brothers disappeared one year but he doesn’t know why.
The mental and physical abuse he endured at the home is hard for Giles to talk about. The message to the boys was constantly negative. Giles was told he’d never amount to much, that he was an idiot, a no-hoper and slow.
The fact that he was Aboriginal played some part in the put-downs, Giles believes, but said there was general racism in the home. He remembers that with the Italian boys, ‘we were racist towards them, they were racist towards us’.
Giles was dyslexic, he discovered later, but he believes his education had no chance in the home anyway. Because he lived in such fear, he could not learn and so couldn’t read or do sums for years. He was so anxious under the rule of the Christian Brothers that he gnashed his teeth and ground them down, wet the bed and bit his nails until they bled.
He left the home at 15 and got himself a job.
Years later, in the mid-1990s, Giles reported Brother Simmonds to police. About 10 years later the police contacted him about Simmonds. Giles made a statement and gave evidence in court. The case ended with Simmonds’ conviction and he is now in prison.
What gave Giles the courage to do that? ‘Just the hurt, just the hurt … put upon me and other guys.’
He also felt like he had to deal with it. ‘I’m a man now. What are you going to do about it? I’m no longer a boy.’
Giles struggled with alcohol and cannabis addiction for a while and was in a series of ‘bad’ relationships. He found counselling helped him with his lack of confidence. He is now happy to live alone with his cat. ‘I’m quite content to be by myself … It’s the way I want to live. It’s a side effect of the kids’ home – you had no privacy, no nothing. So when you get a bit of privacy you latch onto it.’
Giles still believes in God but understands how easy it would be to become an atheist in the face of the cruelty dealt out by the Brothers. He believes that ‘they‘ll be answerable to God’ for keeping their mouths shut about the abuse instead of bringing justice. That gives him comfort.
‘No confession under the sun is going to get you into heaven’, he told the Commissioner.
As for recommendations, ‘Really, there should be a law that states that no religion should be above the law’.