At the age of three months, Hamish was placed in a Catholic orphanage in Western Australia. He stayed there until he turned six in the mid 1950s, at which time he was transferred to a Christian Brothers boys’ home outside Perth. Hamish said he wasn’t abused in the orphanage and it wasn’t until he got to the boys’ home that he had any inkling of sexual abuse. The boys’ home, he said, ‘was a smorgasbord for paedophiles’.
Brother Meehan would routinely put his hands in boys’ pants and ‘have a fiddle around’ before he strapped them. ‘These guys were cruel in lots of ways, you know’, Hamish said. ‘I don’t know if it was a cover-up. They wouldn’t hesitate to strap you. Being kids the way we were, obviously our discipline wasn’t that good, not to their standards anyhow. If you were talking and you shouldn’t have been talking, you’d get strapped. That was quite common.’
The boys’ home incorporated a school that few people visited, although Hamish remembers cleaning the grounds and standing in line when welfare workers came. He told the Commissioner he couldn't remember ever speaking to anyone from outside the school, though even had he done so he wouldn’t have told them about the abuse.
In his four years at the boys’ home, Hamish was sexually abused by two other Brothers as well as Meehan. ‘Their habits were the same. They would sit on the edge of the bed and buddy you up, saying, “I got some lollies here for you”, and the hand would slip down there and have a fiddle.
'The first one to sort of paedophile me was Brother Bernard. That’s what he’d do – sit on the bed and occasionally he would say, “Come up to the bedroom”. You’d go up there and he’d be naked and have an erection, and invite you into bed, grab your hand and put it on his penis. Then he’d motion your head down and say, “Suck it like a lollypop”. Then he’d say, “Quick, you better go back to bed”, and you’d run off.’
Mr McDougall was a regular visitor to the boys’ home during holidays and ‘had no hesitation in putting his hands down your pants’. McDougall would bring identical T-shirts and shorts for boys to change into, then buy them ice-cream and rub his whiskers against their faces while abusing them. ‘With me it was more on a casual basis’, Hamish said. ‘He’d sort of hug a lot of kids, and rub his prickly face on yours. He was showing you love in a way – well, maybe the kids didn’t mind because they didn’t get any love. But paedophiles are like that. They’re loving and they’re nice; you just got to watch them, I think.’
At the age of 10, Hamish was moved to another Christian Brothers’ College. He said it was common knowledge that boys there were being sexually abused, but he avoided it by being extremely vigilant. Some of the boys who were abused joined the Christian Brothers order themselves, for reasons Hamish thought were related to ‘indoctrination’.
At 17, Hamish was allotted a parcel of land by the Christian Brothers. He was told a $10 weekly wage was put into a bank account but he didn’t ever see any of it. The land was too small to be a viable farm and, after four years, Hamish left and moved to Perth. For a time he went to reunions and was an active member of the ex-students association, but ceased contact after the group decided to align with the Christian Brothers.
Hamish married and has two sons with whom he has spoken a little about his childhood experiences. He separated from his wife and has been in another strong relationship for many years, but said he has had difficulty with high alcohol use as well as trust and intimacy issues.
In the late 1990s, he received an ex gratia payment of $45,000 as a Redress Western Australia claimant. A request he made to the Christian Brothers Ex-Residents Association for financial assistance to attend his brother’s funeral was refused, a decision he found disappointing considering the financial support given to child migrants to attend family reunions.
Hamish told the Commissioner he didn’t seek an apology or financial recompense from the Catholic Church and doubted he ever would, as he thought it would be ‘meaningless’.
‘I think the best outcome in this whole thing is that the financial gains the Christian Brothers have made, that money should go back into the Australian economy. I have heard that the Christian Brothers have got two billion shares in the Fairfax industry, so they’re not short of a dollar there. Any lads that have been affected by the result of being in the care of the Christian Brothers should be financially compensated. Or – I’m not sure if that’s the answer – to the taxpayer the Christian Brothers are in debt.’