Three weeks before Jasper’s older brother died of cancer, he told Jasper for the first time that he’d been sexually abused as a child.
It came as no surprise to Jasper. He too had been abused in the Catholic orphanage in regional Queensland where the three brothers grew up. Like his older brother, Jasper had told no one about the abuse for most of his adult life. ‘For 30 or 40 years I tried to block it out of my head. Just put it aside type of thing. But it always comes back and bites you.’
He first spoke about it to a lawyer in 2010, when he was in his late 40s. But his wife still doesn’t know any details, and he doesn’t intend to tell his children.
‘I try to keep my kids away from that past as much as possible’, he said.
Jasper spent all his childhood at the orphanage, arriving there as a six-month-old. His mother had abandoned him and his brothers. His father, an alcoholic, couldn’t care for them.
Conditions at the home were brutal. The children were always hungry. When he got old enough, Jasper would go with other kids to catch snakes in the bush and turtles at the nearby creek. ‘You’d do anything to get any type of food’, he recalled. Beatings were routine, with the nuns who ran the home just as tough as the Brothers.
Jasper is left-handed and that meant he got flogged almost daily.
‘We used to get told, “It’s the devil’s hand!”. Every time you’d go to use it, they’d whack ya. And keep whacking ya until you’re just completely bruised on the hand. I had days there where I couldn’t even hold a pencil or anything like that.’
When he was five, Jasper became one of the many kids sexually abused by Father Denistone. It began as fondling and escalated over time. Denistone would take Jasper to the presbytery, or Jasper would be sent there by one of the nuns.
‘He was constantly calling children over to the presbytery, and this was like at odd times – this was even at night. You’d be in the dormitory and next thing – “Oh, Father Denistone wants to see you” … You’d come back later on and what could you say? The nuns would see you in tears. To me they had to know.’
Jasper was too frightened to tell anyone what was happening. Denistone had threatened him, saying if he spoke about what was going on his brothers would be sent away.
‘So I couldn’t say anything because I was scared I’d lose me brothers’, Jasper told the Commissioner. Besides, there was no one to tell. ‘If you tried saying anything to the nuns, they called you a liar and then flogged ya.’
The same threat was used by Rodney Winter, who began abusing Jasper when he was nine. Winter worked in the kitchens at the orphanage. He was a violent, terrifying man. ‘He used to beat us with a whip … like you use on cattle. All the time.’
Jasper lost count of how many times he was sexually abused by Winter. ‘I just tried to black things out’, he said. Even now, if he saw Winter on the street, he’d turn and run the other way. ‘He still scares the crap out of me, that man.’
Until he left the orphanage when he was 12, Jasper was regularly abused by both Denistone and Winter. As a young child, he said, he hardly knew that what was happening was wrong.
‘To me it was just like an everyday thing that happened to me from when I was five years of age.’ But after being repeatedly raped by a Brother at the boys’ home he was moved to as a 12-year-old, he’d had enough. ‘I just couldn’t put up with it any more’, he said.
At 15, he left the home to make his own way in the world. He did agricultural training, and worked on sheep stations, farms and oil rigs around Australia. He drank a lot, but gave up alcohol just before marrying his wife nearly 20 years ago. They have three children, and since Jasper suffered a work injury some years ago and can no longer work, he’s able to be a hands-on dad – a very protective one, he said.
Jasper doesn’t plan to report his abusers to police. ‘One of them is dead. And the other I’ve been told they tried to put charges on him and it literally went nowhere. What’s the point of wasting police time if the person’s just going to get away every time?’
Back in 2010, he received $40,000 in compensation from the Church. He’d also wanted an apology, and his lawyer organised a meeting for him with a Queensland bishop. But it felt like a hollow exercise.
‘He spoke to me and apologised for what Father Denistone had done, but at the same time he wouldn’t acknowledge Rodney Winter [was] working for the Church, he said he was working for the nuns …
‘To me it was just like a chore to him. The way he went through it, it was like it was a chore. It was just something he had to get over and done with, and then go.’
Jasper recalled one nun at the orphanage who was kind and respectful to children. But the rest of the experience was deprivation and cruelty, and no good lessons learned. ‘It teaches you to be afraid or to be more violent than you ever want to be, to try and defend yourself’, Jasper told the Commissioner.
‘They preached all about heaven and God and everything else, but to me that place was a living hell … It was probably even worse than hell.’