‘My last memory of leaving England was seeing my father and my grandmother on the wharf … just waving to them and then we set sail that night … I had my 13th birthday on the boat … Apparently we were considered adults once you’d turned 12 or something.’
Kev left England as a child migrant, and was sent to a farm school run by the Christian Brothers in Western Australia in the early 1950s.
‘[It] was a place of torture, where our rights were taken from us and we were treated like slaves, half-fed, half-clothed, with no one to stand up for us or protect us from the abuse we received on a daily basis. There is no justification for what we had to endure.’
Kev told the Commissioner, ‘[The farm school] changed me. I went there as a fresh-faced teen with hope for what the future held and was moulded into a workhorse with minimal education and no ability for social interaction or emotional connection … full of bitterness and hatred. I have struggled ever since the day I set foot in that revolting place’.
The boys at the farm school were subjected to physical, emotional and sexual abuse. ‘I was beaten more times than I can recall; the strap, the fist, a work boot, the cane, fencing wire, a walking stick … whatever was nearby and could do damage … They just really looked for any excuse to inflict pain on us. It was as though they took pleasure in severely hurting us.’
Kev recalled, ‘If we did not work as hard as the Brothers wanted us to, we’d be told that we were going to hell. To teach us about hell the Brothers would hold a candle or a lit match under the palm of our hand for as long as we could endure the pain’.
All his life Kev has suffered from physical health issues that he attributes to the farm school. ‘I still suffer from atrocious back pain … We were forced to do all of this work without shoes. We would commonly experience stone bruises, carbuncles, boils and cement burns … all of which would never be treated.’
The Brothers would regularly tell the boys ‘we were “useless bastards, unwanted scum” and that we would “end up behind bars” or “back in the gutters that we came from”. They also liked to refer to our mothers as “whores”. Words like this break the spirit of a young boy and I believe these … verbal tirades have resulted in my lack of confidence and my inability to cope in social situations.’
Kev told the Commissioner that one Brother would hit the boys if they did not have their rosary beads in their pocket. ‘He would pretend to look in our pockets, but really, [it was] a way for him to put his hands down our pants and fondle our genitals. We had no underwear, so we had no defence against him …
‘He also tried to teach “sex education” by forcing the boys to masturbate in front of him … He would prey on us every chance he got.’ The Brother also masturbated in front of the boys. He lured them into his room with lollies, and made them touch his penis while he masturbated. When Kev complained to other Brothers, he was beaten and made to clean toilets.
‘I never once saw anyone from child welfare undertake an inspection of the property … We were placed there by the government, and then completely neglected by them … Surely just the number of boys making attempts to escape would have been enough cause for concern … It was as though everyone was happy to just let us rot there.’
Kev told the Commissioner, ‘There is no record of my abuse on paper, and to be honest, I wish I had no record of it in my mind. It has haunted me to this day … I hold a lot of anger and resentment towards those Brothers … I have a group of friends from [the farm school] who are still friends to this day, mainly due to the hardships that we faced together’.
Kev has spoken with a counsellor, ‘to cope with the stress, memories of [the farm school], and the anger [and] resentment that I hold for those Brothers’. What helps him more than counselling is being able to speak with his friends from the institution over a beer and a game of pool. ‘We’ve stuck together because we all knew each other.’
When Kev applied to Western Australia’s redress scheme and the Catholic Church’s Towards Healing, he found the processes long and difficult.
He received the maximum amount of $45,000 from the government, but he is not happy with the $15,000 he received from Towards Healing. Also, the fact that he had to ask for an apology meant that ‘it didn’t feel sincere … [I’m] not really happy with the way it was handled’.
Kev told the Commissioner, ‘I have lived with the shame of the events … all of my life. It has not only affected me, but also my family and my relationships with them.’ It distresses Kev that his children and grandchildren have grown up with him always being angry and hostile, and he is ashamed that one of his grandchildren asked her mother why he hated her.
‘I look back on my life and wonder if I had never gone to [the farm school], how much better my life would have been.’