The Marist Brothers high school that Graham attended in western New South Wales was determined that the peace and hippy movement that was flourishing in the 1970s would not darken their doors.
So they brought in ‘Victorian principles’. This meant that for most of the time that Graham was there, the school was ‘mind-bogglingly’ strict. ‘It also allowed the dodgy ones amongst ’em to start fiddling with kids and it was open slather for them … They could do anything they liked to us.’
The school principal, Brother Allsop, called the boys ‘brazen faggots’ and caned them methodically just to keep them in line. Brother Phillips punched Graham in the back of the head and knocked him unconscious for no reason. ‘He was an animal.’ Phillips repeatedly punched one boy for no reason at all – ‘a real nice little bloke who wouldn’t hurt anybody’. Not only was Phillips ‘extremely violent’, he selected several boys for mutual masturbation sessions, in the guise of sex education lessons.
But he was selective about who he’d touch. He didn’t go near Graham, who was big for his age. ‘They wouldn’t touch me because I’d fight ’em.’
It was Brother Peter Wilson who sexually abused Graham and a number of other boys at the end of their weekly painting sessions. The kids had to volunteer for different tasks around the school every Saturday and Brother Wilson’s painting detail was a bit of a bludge.
‘He’d always want us to get paint on us.’ Then at the end of each session, the boys had to strip down to their undies and lie on towels on the benches while Brother Wilson rubbed them ‘all over’ with turps. He didn’t touch Graham’s genitals but it was definitely sexual.
Brother Wilson also had a ‘sweat box’ at the back of his classroom so that the football team could sit in there in their underpants and sweat off surplus weight. ‘It was made of clear plastic, why was that? And he’d always stand up the other end and watch.’
Graham liked Brother Wilson so found it hard to reconcile not just the sexual activity, but the fact that he was the worst caner of all the teachers.
Graham had started first form as a shy, quiet boy. After the first term his grades went downhill and by third form he had a complete breakdown. For a whole year he didn’t remember anything and became completely vague.
At one stage he asked his parents to take him out of there. He also tried to run away but without success. The boys were told very clearly by the Brothers that they couldn’t complain about their treatment because the Marist Brothers were in the Melbourne dioceses and so not under the local bishop’s jurisdiction.
By the time Graham finished high school he was traumatised, aggressive and full of self-loathing. Friends said he was ruthless – he didn’t want to be, but he was. And it was Graham’s transformation into someone he didn’t like that still upsets him now.
‘Their obsession was “We’re going to make you or break you. We’re going to turn you into men” … Well, they broke me.’
Graham describes himself as ‘hopeless’ with relationships. He couldn’t keep a girlfriend because he was too angry and depressed. He started taking drugs when he was 19 and binge drank for a long time to kill the depression, but as soon as he sobered up he was depressed again. Sometimes thoughts of suicide gave him relief from his feelings.
The past 15 years have been better for Graham and he’s had very good counselling for the past couple of years. Going bush with friends helps him a lot as well.
He’s never officially reported the abuse.
Graham wants to see the end of enforced celibacy for priests and a complete change in Church culture. Throughout his school life it was repeated to him – you could not question any teachings or behaviours, all the way down from nuns and Brothers to lay teachers. ‘They’re God’s representatives on earth … They cannot be questioned.’
Graham thanked the Commission for not calling him a liar, the only authority not to do so. ‘That’s been a lot of the damage, not being believed.’