During his seven months at a Marist boarding school in New South Wales in the 1960s, 13-year-old Jefferson was terrorised by Brother Maximus.
While ‘as happy as a pig in mud’ to be sent to high school 150 kilometres away from his home town, Jefferson’s excitement vanished when, within days of his arrival, Brother Maximus announced he had become the principal.
‘And a kid alongside me said, “God, no, not him! … He killed my little mate”.’
Jefferson told the Commissioner what the boy had told him: that Maximus had sent a boy upstairs to close a window, but the boy was too small to reach. When the boy mentioned this, Maximus told him ‘get up there or else’. The boy then placed a stack of books on a chair, climbed up and ‘fell out of the window’. And Maximus was there when it happened. ‘Maximus wasn’t downstairs, he was upstairs.’
Soon after, in the first of frequent episodes of physical abuse, Maximus passed Jefferson in the corridor and whacked him on the back of the head.
One night, after a friend completed his homework because Jefferson’s hands were swollen from earlier canings, he was sent to Maximus who gave him ‘12 floggings of a big, long cane’.
‘I thought my hands were broken … I just fell to my knees [outside] and I tucked my arms up … I didn’t cry ... You can’t show any emotions because once you do, you’re gone, they’ve got you.’
Maximus was ‘very cruel to a lot of kids’, he recalled, as was another Brother who used a rubber hose or ‘big board ruler’ over the back of the knuckles for crimes such as unfinished homework.
One boy was knocked out cold in front of the chapel for having his hands in his pockets. These and sexual abuses, which were known to other Brothers, were covered up, Jefferson believed.
Jefferson is convinced he almost died one night – which has ‘always played on my mind’ – when woken by a Brother. He was sent downstairs to Maximus who told him he was about to get a ‘really good flogging’.
‘He punched the living stuffing out of me, punched me in the stomach, punched me in the testicles, punched me in the groin, then he grabbed hold of my head and he just kept slamming my head up against the wall.’ The Brother also groped his genitals.
Familiar with boxing, Jefferson covered and blocked as much as possible. ‘He kept punching me and belting me and he said, “Mummy and Daddy can’t protect you now, sonny! It will just be another accident and no one will know the difference”.
‘And I thought, “This is not good”. Then after a while he reached over and he said “I’m going to come up and smother you with a pillow when you’re asleep and you won’t know when it’s going to happen”. I thought, “This is not good”.’
Eventually, as the Brother continued to smash him against the wall, Jefferson lost consciousness and has no idea what happened during his period of ‘lights out’.
He woke up as another Brother dumped him on his dormitory bed. Jefferson told the boy next to him that he would bequeath him his beloved transistor radio saying, ‘If anything happens to me, I get killed or anything like that, it’s yours’. This was so his father would ‘smell a rat’ and investigate. Jefferson was nauseated after the flogging and had a ‘shocking’ headache for the next three days.
Jefferson ‘escaped’ and returned home. ‘I had enough of the bashing and … flogging and I thought if I don’t get out of here I’m going to get killed and I honestly thought Maximus was going to bash me to death that night.’
But he only told his parents he ‘didn’t like it there’ and they sent him back. Maximus continued bashing him against poles and walls and threatened him – ‘something to do with a sewage pit … and the other one was he was going to run over me and then the other one he was going to put through the Argos saw, where we used to cut up the wood for the boiler, and he was going to put me through that and that’s how he was going to kill me’.
Jefferson escaped again. He finished his schooling at a local government high school.
He never told his parents. ‘I honestly didn’t think they’d believe me. I didn’t think anyone would believe me because when that kid told me that [Maximus had] killed his little mate – I didn’t believe him … then, but I do now.’
At his next local high school a female teacher pulled him aside several times and asked him what had happened to him at the last school. She was smart to spot the behaviour his parents did not, he felt. But he didn’t tell her because ‘what good is it going to do? And I said nothing’.
Jefferson did not tell his wife about the abuse until the mid-1970s and it was another 20 years before he told a psychologist during one of his many bouts of depression.
After stumbling across the Broken Rites website he later helped another former student of Maximus who was ‘at the end of his tether’ during the Towards Healing process.
Eventually, both of them got settlements – Jefferson’s was more than $70,000.
The process itself though, was ‘crap’. It lacked ‘compassion, truthfulness’ and understanding. He was told Maximus is demented and living in a nursing home, but doesn’t believe it.
At one point in a meeting with his lawyer, Jefferson became enraged when accused of ‘making out this bloke [Maximus] to be a monster’ despite the admission in front of two very senior Marist Brothers present that in addition to four complaints against the Brother that were already underway, seven more were then pending.
‘I reached over the table and I was ready to hook him one … I said, “He is a monster. He has sexually abused several kids. One of them was an eight-year-old girl. He is a monster”. And of course they had to agree with me then that he was a monster.’
Throughout his life Jefferson has suffered ‘deep, severe depression’ due to his ‘destroyed schooling’. At 15, ‘I used to pinch me old man’s whiskey so I could sleep of a night’ and in the years after that he was ‘reckless’.
‘I didn’t care if I got killed’, he said, trying to forget how Maximus intended to ‘beat me to death … trying to force me into submission – and I wouldn’t give it’.
Later, Jefferson wrote his life story. He also suffered ‘a nervous breakdown’ around the time of overwhelming family health crises during which he considered ‘just blowing me brains out’.
Despite trying to move on, ‘things keep coming up’, Jefferson explained, his mind playing ‘for years’ on scenarios about the fear and pain of the boy who went out the window.
He feels that an independent authority – such as a policeman walking through his abusive college – to which children could approach for help might mean ‘a lot of other kids wouldn’t have got sexually abused’.
Towards Healing itself is merely protecting paedophiles in the Church, said Jefferson.
It is ‘rubbish’ and should be stopped so survivors can go straight to court – with financial assistance.