‘It was the done thing in those days. You got the farm, and the boys or girls go to boarding school. That was the way it was then.’
Kel grew up in Tasmania and between the ages of 10 and 13 attended a Catholic boarding school run by the Christian Brothers. After the family moved interstate in the late 1950s, he completed his schooling at a Catholic school run by the Jesuits.
In those days, ‘it was like, “Shut up and get in the corner, or you’ll cop it”, and they used to, the Christian Brothers used to … with the big leather strap. And if you stepped out of line, or whatever, you copped it’.
Kel told the Commissioner, ‘They were teachers, the minders sort of thing, and you know, you looked up to them, and they’re supposed to be looking after you while you’re away from your family’.
Kel recalled, ‘It was discipline, discipline. I mean, alright, discipline’s fair enough, but not to the point where if you step out of line, “You’re going to get this” or “You’re going to get that” or … into the boiler room … and shove all the coke in, that sort of thing. I mean, you’re supposed to be at school, not a labourer. But there were good times there …’
Most of the Brothers were ‘okay, as far as I’m concerned’, but Kel recalled Brother Mitchell, who was ‘Creepy … I just remember his creepy hands touching me … and other things’.
Brother Mitchell would lure Kel and other boys into his room at the end of the dormitory with the promise of ‘nice lollies and all that sort of thing and yeah, yeah, “Come into my room” and whatever …’
Kel was sexually abused by Brother Mitchell on and off for over a year. ‘I wasn’t the only one … Of a night, you’d be lying in bed and you’d hear one of the boys giggling or carrying on or whatever … when they were in his room, so naturally you’d think, “He’s up to his same old tricks again”.’
Brother Mitchell told Kel not to tell anyone what he was doing, but Kel has no recollection of being threatened by the Brother. ‘As a person, to me he didn’t seem a bad sort of person, but he just had a bad thing that he liked little boys.’
In the end, ‘We dobbed him in … The other two boys and I, we’d had enough of what was going on … [We] reported him to our parents and they went to the school … and then the Brothers … set a trap for him, I think’.
When Kel told his father about the sexual abuse, he didn’t believe him. ‘He gave me a belting … That was the way, you know in those days. You copped a belting because [they] didn’t like what it was … Dad wanted me to be a good Catholic boy’. The other boys’ parents must have believed them, because Brother Mitchell was caught in the act, and removed from the school.
‘He turned around as they were taking him away, or wherever they moved him to, and he turned around and said to me, and I don’t think the other two boys were there, “How could you do this to me?” And it stuck in my mind all these years.’
Kel left school at 17, and went on with his life. He married and divorced twice. He worked hard and now, in his late 60s, has no plans to retire. ‘You can’t go fishing every day …’
The sexual abuse has not been something that he’s dwelt on but, ‘most of the time I put it in the too hard basket. Put it away and this is probably like, in the later years … there’s certain things you put out of your mind and you move on, and that’s virtually what I did. At times, it hurts. I might be lying in bed or whatever and I think about it, but one has to move on’.
Kel told the Commissioner, ‘I do hit the bottle a bit. I drown my sorrows. Sometimes it comes up when I’ve had a few grogs or whatever, but I keep saying to myself, “Get over it. Get over it”.’
Kel hadn’t spoken to anyone about the sexual abuse until he told his youngest daughter a couple of years ago. ‘She brought up a couple of things and we were talking and I said, “Oh yeah, it happened to me when I was a kid” and she sort of looked into … the Royal Commission … She encouraged me to do something about it.’
After his daughter told him about the Royal Commission, Kel decided to come forward because, ‘It has to be known, to the whole of Australia or whatever, or the world, that this sort of thing went on and they … must have known. Those other Brothers must have known what was going on and I mean, I was a kid, taken away from my mother …
‘It’s a relief that I’ve come [and] told you my story … Kids are kids. Adults taking advantage of kids like that is just not on … I know what [the paedophiles] need … but you’re not allowed to do it …’