Every Friday in the summer, Brother O’Leary would take the boys to a secluded creek for a swim. In a grassy clearing the students would strip to their underwear, or naked. O’Leary called this ‘the dancing ground’ and would make the boys dance for him before they could enter the water.
‘He would just watch you. He’d just sit there and watch you. And when it got really hot we were stripped off and into the creek. That was a regular thing and he would just sit on a log and watch you.’
Jarryd had a happy early childhood in a big Catholic family in central Victoria. He was looking forward to attending the local primary school run by the Christian Brothers. In the mid-1970s he got his wish, joining the classroom of Brother O’Leary for two years.
‘If only people could see inside that classroom,’ Jarryd told the Commissioner. ‘It just beggars belief how it continued for so long.
‘He’d kiss you on the lips. That’s how he started his year. Seemed quite nice, but then the brutality started where, if you got something wrong in particular, he would belt you across the back of the head or pick you up by the ears … He’d throw kids against the back door, that was one of his things.
‘That was a regular occurrence on a daily basis, not only for me but for many kids in that grade. I suppose it’s taken me up to 30 years to actually come to terms with that.’
The violence was constant and severe. ‘It was just an amazing amount of fear for an eight, nine-year-old kid to be thrown into … I can’t remember learning anything in those two years, to be honest … What I learnt was to survive, as we all did.’
Brother O’Leary also sexually abused the boys. He would sit at the back of the room and call them up to sit in his lap. Jarryd recalls turning around once and seeing O’Leary kissing and fondling a student, and licking his ear.
‘He exploded and picked me up by the ears and threw me into the aisle next to my desk. I felt as though I was going to soil my pants and the feeling of my head being squashed was terrifying and has haunted me until this day. I was truly petrified.’
One day Jarryd fell and grazed his knees in the playground. O’Leary scooped him up and carried him to the empty classroom. He sat Jarryd in his lap and applied antiseptic, ‘whilst kissing my cheek and saying, “It is okay now” and “It won’t hurt now” ... I remember thinking, “What is he going to do?” Luckily the bell went and I was sent to my desk.
‘I can still feel his breath on the side of my face … I can still smell him. That’s how vivid it is. I can still smell this bloke.’
Jarryd moved on from O’Leary’s class and had a couple of ‘normal’ years finishing primary school. He then moved to another college run by the Christian Brothers for his teen years.
Here, the physical and emotional abuse resumed, particularly at the hands of a lay teacher, and a Brother who took a dislike to Jarryd. Eventually the bullying became too much and he lashed out at one of the teachers who was victimising him. He was expelled.
Jarryd was out in the world. ‘I got mixed up with the wrong crowd, was exposed to alcohol and drugs and was an extremely angry young man for the next three years, where I was in and out of employment, couldn’t hold a job, no education or skills and I blame the school system for my dysfunction.’
Anger and aggression marred his late teens. ‘[I] just couldn’t control the anger inside which I believe stemmed from the years of mental, physical and emotional abuse I suffered during my time at the Catholic schools.’
Jarryd credits his family for surrounding him with love and helping him get back on his feet. With their encouragement, he was able to attend university in his mid-20s and embark on the career that has taken him to the top of his profession.
Jarryd has not shared his story widely. His brothers all went through the same schools and had similar experiences to him. ‘Some days we joke about it, some days we don’t. I think we all carry scars.’
Jarryd hasn’t had any formal counselling, but he is now considering it. In the last five years he has begun feeling anxious in crowds and suffering panic attacks. He has withdrawn from friends.
After recently approaching the police with his story, the Royal Commission was the next step. ‘I think it’s time. It’s time for me to just say, “Well, you can’t carry this any longer. You’ve just got to deal with it, stop and deal with it and move on as much as you can” …
‘I’ve always had this self-doubt and this anger that has festered inside me from a very, very young age, and I can only put it down to those couple of years. Those two years at that point in time were so critical that it shaped the next 35 years of my life.
‘I’m very proud of where I am now, but I’ve always wondered where I could’ve been if I’d had someone who was decent for those two years.’