Harry's story

Brother Deakin stood in front of Harry and pointed the gun at his head. He spun the cylinder, took careful aim, and pulled the trigger. Harry suffered this ordeal several times and often soiled his pants as Deakin prolonged his agony.

The game of Russian roulette was punishment for running away from the St John of God home in coastal New South Wales, where Harry had been placed at age 10. Harry was from a large family and he remembers his father was often drunk and violent. Harry was the only child to be removed and placed into care with the Catholic order. He was never told the reasons, though he had been identified as a ‘slow learner’.

Harry endured six years at the home in the early 1960s. ‘It was evil’, Harry told the Commissioner. ‘If you run away they put you in a room and they can come and bash you whenever they want.’ Brother Deakin ran the home and administered much of the discipline. ‘You had to stand up. If you didn’t get back on your feet you’d get kicked.’

The sexual abuse began when Harry was 13 or 14, also at the hands of Brother Deakin. He was often isolated from the other boys in a secret room.

‘When Deakin was molesting me I would shout and scream and fight back even though the other boys told me it was easier to “go quietly”.’

Sexual abuse was widespread at the home and Harry was not the only victim.

Harry did ‘set the record for running away’, escaping as often as he could. The local police usually picked him up. At times he tried to tell them what was going on at the home but they would ‘give him a flogging’ and return him for another game of Russian roulette.

Harry received almost no education from the St John of God Brothers. He was forced to work on a farm attached to the home instead. He never learnt to read or write. Years later Harry was diagnosed with dyslexia.

When he was 16 Harry escaped the home for good. He tried to return to live with his family, but could find no work. He ended up in Sydney’s Kings Cross. ‘I lived on the streets there for about 18 months. … Felt safer there than in the home.’ Eventually he moved in with his older brother, Cam, and found work. Harry didn’t tell anyone about his abuse.

‘I had trouble holding jobs down. I couldn’t handle authority.’ He began drinking and had repeated run-ins with the police. ‘I’ve struggled all my life with feelings of guilt and shame. I feel angry about what Brother Deakin did and that no one stopped him or tried to help me.’

Harry has suffered a lifetime of nightmares and flashbacks to his abuse. ‘Another time [my partner] tapped me on the arse. I turned around and had a knife to her throat just like that. I broke them knives.’

‘Now I teach my boys the non-violent thing. Especially with women.’

Harry eventually told his brother about Deakin. Cam urged him to seek help from a doctor or psychiatrist, but it is only in the last few years that Harry has found a counsellor he trusts. ‘Even today, talking to a doctor, I gotta be able to trust them before I’ll tell them anything.’

He has also approached the police and made a statement about his life in the St John of God home. Harry does not believe the police took him seriously. He’d like to see more investigation and wonders if Deakin is still alive. He would like an apology from the Catholic Church and some help with his ongoing treatment.

Now in his late 60s, Harry is going to the gym five days a week and still works.

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