Ivan came to Australia with his family in the early 1970s and they settled in Queensland. He told the Commissioner that he ‘basically wasted Grade 8’ at his state high school, and in the early 1980s he was sent to a boarding school run by the Marist Brothers.
‘I found in boarding school, there was a lot of bullying and that sort of stuff … [but] I just dealt with it.’ The Brothers were also quite violent and Ivan remembers being given ‘a good slap in the head’ for mucking around, and being caned on the hands for minor infringements.
Ivan found being a boarder ‘hard. … [I] used to get out every Sunday afternoon … and someone from home would pick us up … It was bloody hard. The hardest part was always leaving home on a Sunday afternoon, and ever since then I hate Sundays. It’s just … I just get melancholic’.
Ivan told the Commissioner that he was a ‘sickly kid’ who used to get tonsillitis a lot. ‘One morning … I was nearly delirious … I was really sick and I remember this Brother taking me into his room, shutting the door … I was stripped off and he gave me a sponge bath … I’m assuming it’s to try and bring my temperature down.’ Normally, if boys were ill they would go to the infirmary, so Ivan does not know why, on this occasion, he wasn’t taken there.
While he was giving Ivan the sponge bath, Brother Steven fondled Ivan’s penis.
‘I feel awkward about using the word “abused”. I think it’s more inappropriate … To me, abuse is like you’ve been sexually abused or something.’ Ivan remembers lying there thinking, ‘What’s going on?’ and feeling very uncomfortable.
When Ivan left the room, it was as if ‘one of the boys might have grabbed Brother Vincent and said, “You’d better come down. Brother Steven’s got a student in there” blah, blah, blah … I just thought it was strange that Brother Vincent and the student happened to be coming to the door as I was leaving … There must have been a culture there that … “We’d better go and protect Ivan”’. Ivan has no recollection of seeing Brother Steven after the incident.
Ivan told the Commissioner of an occasion where Brother Steven humiliated him. ‘I remember vividly … We were in the dormitory one night and for some reason, he got me to take my dormitory bag out with all my dirty laundry, and in front of all the other kids, he grabbed a pair of my underpants on the end of his cane … “Oh, look how filthy and dirty”, rah, rah, rah and just belittled me. That sticks in my mind as well.’
Until he phoned the Royal Commission, ‘that was the first time I … said anything. It’s something that’s been in the back of my mind and you know, like I suffer from anxiety and depression. I’m on medication. Whether or not that’s got … to do with it, I don’t know’.
Depression and anxiety, ‘became a real issue’ for Ivan in the early 2010s. ‘It was more like a performance anxiety … I’ve always tried to do the best I could … and there was a little bit of bullying [at work] … Me and another guy, we just copped so much shit from this guy … and in the end, I couldn’t sleep properly, everything just … I ended up quitting.’ He went to his doctor and was prescribed medication.
Ivan doesn’t know whether the experience he had at work triggered memories of the bullying and abuse at school. ‘Whether or not I had all that stored in me for years … I don’t know.’ After the Royal Commission, Ivan intends to consult the psychologist he has seen previously, but this time he will talk about the bullying and abuse he experienced at school.
When he decided to contact the Royal Commission, Ivan ‘started bloody smoking. After 30 years … I know it’s bad for me and I don’t really enjoy smoking, but I just … whether that’s got something to do with it too. Bringing all that memory back’.
Ivan told the Commissioner that his mental health is ‘pretty shit, actually. I don’t think I’m suicidal … but it does … it sort of crosses your mind. Basically, it’s like looking at the view out there and nothing … you don’t feel anything’. Even though he has thought about suicide, Ivan believes he is ‘too much of a chicken’ to do anything about it.
Ivan acknowledges that Brother Steven’s behaviour was ‘inappropriate. And it could have led to something down the track too. I don’t know. That was another reason I wanted to come, because it could have been the start of something terrible … maybe he’s done the same thing to 30 or 40 other boys that I didn’t know about’.