Joshua’s parents were devout Catholics and every Sunday the whole family would go to church. Joshua was an altar boy. His parents sold their house and moved to a less affluent neighbourhood so they could afford to send Joshua and his brothers to a local Marist College with an excellent reputation. Joshua started at the school in the early 1980s in Year 4.
The physical abuse began immediately with Brother Andrews, Brother Patrick and Brother Francis each using a different implement to inflict punishments on the students. ‘They were sick fuckers’, Joshua told the Commissioner. ‘The pain and physical punishment they inflicted on Year 4 and 5 boys … Brother Andrews had the “Black Magic”, which was a phallic-shaped piece of rubber … Looking back now, you could construe that to be a dildo, and that's what he used to belt kids with.’
Joshua couldn’t tell his parents as Brother Pat had said he had already been to Joshua’s house and his parents had given him permission to do whatever he wanted. ‘That set a schism between my relationship with my parents and started me off on a path of “I can’t trust Mum and Dad”.’ Joshua only found out many years later that this alleged visit was a lie.
In Year 6, the whole year went on camp and was subjected to ‘Shower Time’ in which they were all forced to undress and wait in line for a shower. ‘Bit weird. You’ve got 150 boys, all naked, lined up on a hill waiting to get into makeshift showers.’
Several men, unknown to the boys, were there just watching them, drinking beer and ensuring that no child was able to cover himself.
One of the staff at the camp supervising all of this was a lay teacher called Perry. Joshua believes that Perry was also responsible for the ‘cock culture’ at the school where boys were frequently encouraged to discuss and compare the size of their penises.
In Year 8, Joshua recalled an incident where Perry wore extremely tight-fitting pants to school. He was reading out the front of the class and began stroking himself on the outside of his pants. It was clear to all the boys that Perry was masturbating, and was highly aroused.
Brother Davos was Joshua’s religion teacher from Year 7 to Year 10. Joshua remembers every religion class turning into a sex education lesson. Davos would stand behind Joshua and massage his shoulders and chest. Sometimes he would hug Joshua or rest his hands inside his pants under the belt. Davos was nicknamed ‘Lester’ (child molester) by the boys. He would also make pornography available to them in his office. Joshua recalled another occasion when Davos was masturbating under his cassock during class.
Because the abuse was so prolific and brazen, Joshua believed that some of the other lay teachers knew what was going on, but either couldn’t or wouldn’t do anything about it.
‘The culture of the school was so much porn, so much misogyny, so much women-bashing – which scars you. You grow up having these ideas in your head about the inferiority of women. And just ugliness.’
By the time Joshua was in Year 10, he had become rebellious. He would challenge the Brothers; he recalls a meeting where he and his parents were called into the office, and he was politely asked to leave. By this time, the abuse had already begun to have a serious impact on his life, including an alcohol addiction that he still struggles with today. Joshua spent time away from his family, couch-surfing at the homes of friends. He recalls harbouring a lot of anger at the time. Joshua nevertheless managed to finish his schooling, outside the Catholic system.
Joshua knows of three former class members who have committed suicide over the years. He managed to put the abuse behind him and get on with his life. Increasing publicity around child sexual abuse, and his old school in particular, have triggered memories. Joshua has found himself discussing the incidents with old school friends.
He had never told his parents, however, until a family dinner a few years ago. Joshua was having a theological argument with his parents, who were espousing the values of the Catholic Church. ‘Mum and Dad were really laying into me for having a different belief and I said, “Look, your Catholic Church is a bunch of paedophiles. This is what happened to me. This is what happened to a number of us boys” … It all came out.’
The confrontation inspired Joshua to engage a lawyer and begin seeking compensation.
‘It was the perfect environment for paedophiles. It was a Catholic-run school, and the clientele were staunch Catholics that trusted the system and would never speak out against the system. So it was a honey pot for paedophiles because they were protected, or could get away with it.’
Joshua welcomes the Royal Commission and the new spotlight on child sexual abuse. He hopes the Marist College, and other Catholic schools, are changing. ‘To be less ritualised and less Catholic. To be more inclusive and more open. I would hope that there are agencies and bodies that are able to go in and evaluate their programs, and evaluate what’s going on at that school.’