Godfrey and his brother were made wards of the state in the late 1960s, when he was nine years old. They lived in three different Melbourne boys’ homes, the last of which was run by the Christian Brothers, a Catholic order.
The boys came home for a time when Godfrey was about 12, but then police came to the house and falsely accusing them of a local crime.
‘I remember my father ringing [the Christian Brothers boys’ home] and asking for us to be put back there’, Godfrey told the Commissioner. ‘I don’t believe Mum and Dad were able to look after us properly and it was an easy way out for him.’
On this second long stay at the home, Godfrey was sexually abused on numerous occasions by two of the Brothers. Brother Shaw was head of the home, and abused Godfrey in his private quarters and in the church attached to the home.
‘Shaw would say after these things occurred, “You’re not to tell anybody”. And who was I going to tell, when he was in charge?’
‘Brother Randall was more of a sly cunning sort of a person who would wait to get you alone and in the car and expect you to do things to him as well as he tried to do [things] to me.’
Discipline at the boys’ home was also brutal. ‘You did anything wrong you got six of the best, or three of the best. They didn’t mind where they hit you, either … I ran away from there on numerous occasions, mainly because of the sexual abuse.’
Godfrey is still furious about his treatment by the police at the time. While on the run he would be picked up by police and then returned to the boys’ home, despite giving them clear accounts of the sexual abuse he was suffering.
When Godfrey fled the institution he would head for his home in rural Victoria. Once he was picked up by police in a town north of Melbourne. He was kept alone in the police lock-up for five days.
‘The statement I gave to the police officer … was that I was being sexually abused – that’s why I’d run away. I’ve since seen that statement in my file and he wrote that I accused older boys and not the Christian Brothers. That’s not what I said.’
Godfrey was returned to the boys’ home once again.
On one occasion Godfrey did make it back to his family. His mother called the police to let them know he was all right. Within hours the local constable came around to collect him. Godfrey notes the constable was Catholic.
‘I did try and explain to him what was happening there, and that I didn’t want to go back there because of the abuse. He said I probably deserved it.
‘These good Catholic police officers covered up a lot more than what I told them. In the end you just gave up telling anyone because nobody believed you anyway … They’ve got a lot to answer for.’
Godfrey does not recall ever being visited by workers from the welfare department.
‘The Brothers that were there, they weren’t all abusing children. But they must’ve known what was going on. That’s what annoys me the most. Why weren’t they doing something about it?’
Godfrey has been unable to trust people throughout his adult life, which has caused relationship difficulties for him. He has tried to suppress the memories, but in the late 1990s an attack on his young daughter rekindled the trauma. He began self-medicating with alcohol and drugs. Godfrey now takes pills for depression and expects he will need them for some time.
‘It’s still not easy to talk about. I’m still quite pissed off with the Catholic Church, and their continual stalling and cover up.’
Godfrey participated in the Towards Healing process in the early 2000s. He has renamed it ‘Towards Hurting’. Godfrey was told he would not need legal representation, and that the process would be mediated. But Godfrey discovered the church representatives who met him were ex-policemen.
‘As soon as they turned their tape recorders on they became cops again. And I’ve had enough of cops …
‘There was a Christian Brother who came in and said he was sorry, but then he walked out.’
Godfrey eventually accepted a cash settlement and signed a confidentiality agreement. He later learned the amount he had been given was less than half the sum awarded in similar cases. ‘It was just shut up money and I’m not going to shut up anymore.’
Years later he contacted the Christian Brothers to complain he was having flashbacks and nightmares and the compensation was inadequate. The Brother he spoke to told him ‘if I wasn’t happy I should give it back. And I thought that was pretty bloody ordinary of them’.
Godfrey has been seeing a psychologist in recent years and that has been helpful. ‘I don’t think I’ll ever get over it. It’s a matter of dealing with it.’
Godfrey has been following the work of the Royal Commission and is hoping that practices have already changed.
‘I’d hope that the Christian Brothers aren’t in any way in charge of kids, because they shouldn’t be.
‘The police also – I mean if you locked a 12-year-old kid up these days in the watch-house for five days there’d be a royal commission into that alone. Every time I see a police car I still shudder …
‘They took away my childhood and ruined the rest of my life up until now. But I’m a stronger person than that and they’re going to find that out. I’ve got nothing to fear from telling the truth. The whole Catholic teaching is about telling the truth and being honest and God-worthy. Well, they’re none of that at the moment.’