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Josephine and Brian's story

‘He didn’t have a childhood. From three and half to 16 he was with the Christian Brothers. He didn’t really have what you and I would consider an education. I was lucky enough to have a good education. I was an only child and I did get that. That is why I do these things for Brian. I’m not trying take over or be a svengali or anything but I do feel very emotionally involved.’

Josephine contacted the Royal Commission on behalf of her husband Brian, who was abused many times while living in Christian Brothers’ orphanages in Western Australia in the 1940s and 1950s. Josephine and Brian spoke to the Commission together to tell their story.

When Brian was three, he and his siblings were taken from their parents and sent to a foundling home. Brian stayed there for about three years. He wasn’t sexually abused during this time but he was ‘uptight all the time’ and ‘always scared’.

At age six he moved to a Christian Brothers’ boys’ home and that’s when the abuse began. One day a Brother caught him loitering out of bounds.

‘I was dragged inside,’ Brian said, ‘me pants ripped down, me testicles and everything all grabbed, and whacked on my backside and then I had to go back out’.

At night the Brothers stalked the dorms, sitting on the boys’ beds and slipping their hands under the covers.

‘They’d mess around with your private parts. I always used to pretend I was asleep. I knew it was a Brother because you could always tell by the smell of the habit. It was a dry-cleaning smell.’

After a few years at the home Brian and his siblings were returned to their mother and lived with her for a little over a year. Then one day ‘We were playing out in the street at the front of the house and, no warning or anything, this car comes up, pulls up, grabs us, puts us in the car’.

Brian was taken to a receiving centre, then picked up by some Christian Brothers and brought to another orphanage. ‘That really hit me. I went into myself and I’ve really never, ever come out.’

The orphanage was located out in the bush. There Brian suffered harsh treatment but no sexual abuse. He was then moved back to a boys’ home in Perth and into the hands of the worst of all the abusers.

From age 14 to 16, Brian was relentlessly hunted and molested by his teacher, Brother Neilson.

‘There was no one I could talk to about it, it just happened. I used to have to masturbate him once or twice or sometimes three times a week. And there was no way of getting away from it.’

It was largely because of Brother Neilson’s behaviour in the classroom that Brian never fully learned to read or write.

‘It was impossible to learn anything. He’d lean over you, breathing down your neck, and then you’d just go all black. And that happened quite often. I still go black occasionally.’

At 16 Brian left the home and entered the workforce. Not long after that he met and married Josephine. They went on to have several kids.

‘We’ve been about as poor as you can get’, Josephine recalled. ‘Brian didn’t have a job where he could earn a lot of money. He was a labourer and he laboured very, very hard seven days a week most of the time.’

Brian remembered one time when he worked all day Sunday on a job for the promise of five quid in payment. When the work was done the man who’d hired him said, ‘I’m sorry I’ve got no money’. Instead he offered Brian an old push bike. Brian took it home, sanded it, painted it and gave it to his kids.

Throughout the early years of his marriage, Brian kept the abuse to himself. He was in his late thirties when he finally told Josephine what had happened. He felt better for telling her. Together they told their kids, who were teenagers at the time.

‘They were shocked’, Josephine said. ‘They knew Dad had been in an orphanage all his life, they knew he had a very different upbringing to them but they were absolutely shocked. “You should do something, Dad”. They were angry.’

Brian and Josephine took their kids’ advice and approached a lawyer. They took action against the Church and later participated in Redress WA. They didn’t receive much money from the processes but still found them worthwhile.

These days, Brian and Josephine still struggle with the legacy of the abuse on a daily basis. ‘You just can’t get rid of it,’ Brian said. ‘It’s part of your life and it just doesn’t go away.’ Josephine said, ‘I feel as though I’ve lived it too’.

The two of them have been married now for over 60 years. They’ve survived and thrived because of the love and support they give each other. ‘And the kids,’ said Josephine. ‘The kids are good. We’ve got eight grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.’

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