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John Arthur's story

John grew up in a large and devout Catholic family in a town in Victoria’s south-west. As a 13-year-old in the late 1970s, John attended a class camp by the sea. It was supervised by a Christian Brother and another teacher, Lionel Grace, from his Catholic school.

John told the Commissioner he believed ‘preparations’ had been made at the camp site. ‘There were gay magazines sitting on top of the rubbish bins, like where we’d see them, as if they’d just been put there so we’d come across them.’

The boys were staying in a clubhouse set in bush by the beach. John and five other boys were chosen to sleep in a bunk room downstairs. In the evening Lionel Grace handed around beers to the group downstairs. ‘We thought, “This is alright, don’t tell the rest of the crew up top” … When you think back that was probably his motive – just so we’d keep it quiet’.

A party began and the boys moved outside into the warm summer night. A food fight began. ‘[Grace] started that and he was just in his jocks or whatever. He’s running around, and we’re running around hiding and throwing stuff at each other.

‘Next thing – that’s when he grabs hold of me. It was dark, it was summer … I remember he had a big belly on him. I struggled and struggled to get away, and he was just going through the motions.’ Grace rubbed his genitals against John’s backside until John managed to break free.

‘He said, “You know you better be quiet about it … if anything gets back about you drinking grog and that, youse are in deep shit with your parents”.’

‘It worked. I thought, “I’m not going to tell anyone”. It was alright except for what he did.’

John also has vivid memories of an incident in the classroom the following year. One of the Christian Brothers stood in front of the class and told the boys they should stand in front of a mirror at home and say ‘I love myself’ and start masturbating. The Brother helpfully mimed the action.

‘I don’t remember much about school – but that’s forever stuck in my mind.’

John found he couldn’t concentrate at school any more. ‘I didn’t like school. I couldn’t get out quick enough.’ He left in Year 11 and began an apprenticeship. John tried to brush aside the abusive incidents as he grew older, but found the memories kept recurring, particularly the assault at the school camp.

‘That’s in my mind every day. Every day of my life.

‘The only time it’s been blocked out is when, like, I probably drank a lot of alcohol. That’s when you don’t think about it. That’s how I’ve blocked it out.’ John believes he has been a heavy drinker in an effort to ‘self-medicate’. When he was younger he also resorted to illegal drugs.

John has had trouble maintaining relationships, especially during his 20s and 30s. ‘I just didn’t want to commit to anything back then and that’s actually how it’s been … Whether that’s a part of it, I don’t know, but that’s the pattern.’

The abuse has also driven a wedge between John and his devout parents. ‘They being so full-on committed – it gave me the feeling that they didn’t want to know about it.’ His mother had continued to defend the Church even in the face of multiple media reports of child abuse and cover-ups. ‘From the memories I had, I wouldn’t give them two bob.’

Thirty-five years after the events, John finally wrote to his mother and told her his story. At the same time he decided to contact the Commission.

‘Since this Royal Commission’s come in, I think that’s been the best thing. It’s advertised and Mum’s mentioned it, and then I’ve said a couple of things and been able to communicate about it a bit.’

John has not sought counselling in the past. ‘I’ve probably just done my own counselling and that’s about it. That’s how I’ve coped with it, I s’pose. Or not coped with it. I thought I’d block it out and that was it.’

He has recently been in touch with a police taskforce and reported Lionel Grace. ‘I think this bloke needs to be brought to justice.’

John believes future school excursions can’t be left to teachers alone to supervise. ‘They need to involve parents more with the kids … they need to have family invited. Or volunteer parents. ‘I often think about that. How are kids going to be protected?’

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