‘I was probably three or four years as altar boy with Father Thornleigh … [He] would assault me during the week … It was non-stop. One priest would finish with you and then another would grab you. I have been victims to … Hawkins, Thornleigh and Wallace.’
Jaden and his mother, Sue, provided a statement to the Royal Commission written in the late 1990s by Jaden’s father, Martin who died in the mid-2000s. Martin was sexually abused by a Catholic priest and two Brothers in the early 1970s, when he was a young boy growing up in regional Victoria.
Before he died, Martin was pleased to see the three abusers jailed for offences against numerous boys, but he did not live long enough to see the establishment of the Royal Commission for which he advocated for many, many years.
Jaden and Sue decided to come forward to the Royal Commission to speak on Martin’s behalf, and to talk about the secondary effects the sexual abuse had on his family.
In his statement, Martin wrote that he reported Father Thornleigh’s abuse in the early 1970s, to Father Flannery.
‘Father Flannery was like God to us kids. He spoke at the school and did masses … I made a complaint … to Flannery. At that time I was a victim of Thornleigh only … [He] would fondle me and masturbate me. I was bewildered and wanted it to stop. I loved Flannery and thought he would be the best to go to and complain.’
After he told Flannery, ‘[He] didn’t even bat an eyelid. It was like he already knew. He said, “It will be alright son” and patted me on the shoulder … I never served on mass with Thornleigh again after that … Unfortunately Brother Hawkins and Brother Wallace took over from Thornleigh’.
Martin recalled an occasion when the altar boys went on a trip to the beach and Thornleigh told them to take off their pants. Martin refused ‘because I knew what was going to happen’. Thornleigh took two of the boys around the corner, out of sight. ‘I peeped … and saw [him] anally penetrating one boy. I saw that boy crying and saw the second boy sitting on the sand crying as well.’
Thornleigh took Martin on a trip to the country one day, and Martin fell asleep in the car. He woke up to find Thornleigh attempting to molest him, and on that occasion was able to fend him off.
Martin knew of many boys who ‘committed suicide because of assaults by Thornleigh, and I know of others who have attempted suicide. I know of a personal friend who [killed himself] last year … He was my best friend and was assaulted by Thornleigh, Hawkins and Wallace’.
When Martin was in Grade 5, his teacher, Brother Wallace, ‘masturbated me at a minimum of three times a week … down the back of the classroom … This went on for 12 months … He done it to all the kids’. The Brother told Martin ‘he done all of this because he loved me so much’.
As well as being Martin’s classroom teacher, Brother Wallace coached some of the sports teams at the school, and Martin recalled being abused after practice, and when the Brother transported the teams to matches.
The following year, instead of escaping ‘this torture’, Martin was sexually abused by his Grade 6 teacher, Brother Hawkins, in the Brother’s office at school.
After the abuse he experienced during his primary school years, Martin began to rebel against the Catholic Church and the Christian Brothers, and was expelled from two Catholic colleges. Before he was expelled from one of them, he went on a camp. On the way, to his dismay, the bus stopped to pick up Brother Wallace.
When the boys were setting up camp, Brother Wallace overheard Martin warning the others to stay away from the man. Later, Wallace cornered Martin and ‘kicked me in the genitals as hard as hell. While crying and in pain, said to me to shut my fucking mouth’. The Brother then sexually abused two of the boys in a hut at the camp.
Martin began drinking at the age of 14. Jaden found it extraordinary that no one questioned why he started going off the rails, and years later, when the abuse was revealed, no one said, ‘Oh, God. That’s why you were like that … I’m so sorry I didn’t … But nothing’.
In the 1990s, Martin was watching television and saw Brother Wallace receiving an award. ‘It was a trigger when he saw that. And looking at photos of when we were kids, there was this massive downward spiral from that moment. I mean, he’d always drunk, but not to that extent. He was an alcoholic from a teenager …’
During the 1990s, Martin’s life began to unravel. He left his job. He was forced to go on a disability pension. He also had a number of car accidents, which Jaden and Sue believe may have been attempts to take his own life.
Martin also became obsessed with having others come forward to talk about the abuse they experienced at the hands of Thornleigh, Wallace and Hawkins. He began knocking on doors in his neighbourhood, but very few people wanted to talk about it then.
Martin’s drinking had a devastating effect on his family. ‘He would drink and he would get violent at times and there were times as well when he would want to leave and go and do stuff and we’d try and stop him. I remember punching him in the face … [I was only] 10 or 11 …’ Jaden was trying to stop his father driving while he’d been drinking.
At one stage, the family began to be harassed because of Martin’s obsession with getting the abusers charged and trying to get others to speak out. Their house was trashed. A pet was killed. And they received warnings to keep quiet. Jaden always felt like he was being watched.
Eventually Martin’s drinking and behaviour became too much for Sue to cope with, and she packed up, took the children, and left. Although they no longer lived with their father, Jaden and his siblings were devastated when he died.
Jaden and Sue told the Commissioner that many of those who refused to speak when Martin asked them to were now among those coming forward to the Royal Commission.
‘It’s been interesting going to a few events and … meeting people who knew Dad and didn’t want to talk at the time … If only they had’ve … They’ve all said, “Yep, we knew Martin at school. We knew what he went through” but they didn’t come forward. I suppose it was their own prerogative at the time … but yeah …’