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Kevin Oliver's story

'The nuns suggested I be trained as an altar boy. One of my duties was to ring the bell at noon each day. The bell was behind the church; one day I was ringing the bell, and the priest came and asked me to step inside the door. And that's where he sexually abused me the first time.'

Born in northern New South Wales before World War II, Kevin lived with his mother, siblings and grandparents after his father had deserted them.

Kevin was seven years old when he was first abused by Father Macmanus. The priest went on to attack him at least another two times. 'It was in his vestry … He was very calm and calculated, he knew what he was doing.'

The priest was good at scaring little boys, too. 'He said if I told anyone, he could always get even with my mother. It was only some months after that that my mother was found in a shearing shed away from [the town]; she'd been abducted and she'd been raped. It was all kept very quiet.’

Soon after this, Kevin's mother packed her bags and disappeared. 'Our grandmother couldn't handle us, she was close to 80, and her husband had just died. So me and my younger brother, Rob, were sent to some relatives, while our older brother, he stayed back because he was working already.'

This second set of relatives weren't the best guardians either.

'They were both elderly people and they had no interest in us whatsoever … Plus they had us chopping the wood and mowing the lawns – the old push mower! We had to do all the chores and we just had a gutful of it.

'So one day we just went out and we never returned … We lived in the bush for nearly six months.'

As to how they survived on their own: 'Rabbits', says Kevin. 'Plus a few vegetables off the farmers at night. We got a wool pack to make beds out of, and we slept under a railway crossing.'

Eventually the boys wound up back at their grandmother's house, but within a few weeks arrangements had been made to send them to an Anglican boys' home in a nearby town, and into the hands of Mr and Mrs Wilson. 'They were sadists.’

'It was run like a Gestapo camp. They made boys go without meals for long periods for the smallest thing.

'He used to put some of us down the well – and urinate on us. Then he'd pour down dirt and tell us he was going to bury us … At one stage he had a routine of dosing us with Epsom salts on the weekend, "to clean us out". One boy couldn't make it from his bed to the toilet in time … Wilson had these liquorice allsorts, and he rubbed them in the faeces on the floor and made the boy eat them.'

There was also sexual abuse.

'One day he drove me to the shearing shed on the edge of the property and told me to go check all the doors were locked. When I came back to the car he was playing with himself. He grabbed me … I finally broke free and ran back into the shed.

'He eventually drove away, and later that night I went home. I told Mrs Wilson about it. She told me to go and have a wash, that I was disgusting; she never believed me.

'He assaulted me on other occasions. And he abused other children; there are some things I can't mention … At night, when they'd had their showers, he used to pick boys out and get them to run his bath … I was in bed: when they came back up, they were crying.'

One day Wilson took some of the boys to a shed: 'He said he was going to give us sex lessons. And the sex lesson involved a sheep and a duck … It was absolutely disgusting.'

Kevin left the home when he turned 16. It appears that Wilson was later reported to police and convicted in relation to some of the abuse against other boys, and received a 100 pound fine.

As for Kevin, 'I've been seeing psychiatrists and counsellors for 50 years,' he says. His son, who accompanied him to his session with the Royal Commission, described some of the impacts the abuse had on his father.

'He hasn't mentioned that he has terrible nightmares, so much that he has to sleep in a separate room. He kicks the walls out, his wife's been kicked to pieces because of the nightmares he's having about snakes in his room, and people coming in after him. He can't get a good night's sleep.'

Kevin has kept in contact with survivors from the home, and some years ago they jointly approached the Anglican Church for redress. In the end, some $650,000 was awarded to the dozen applicants – and then their lawyer charged them $230,000, way more than double what he had quoted.

Later, Kevin also approached the Catholic authorities regarding the abuse by Father Macmanus. 'The board recommended compensation, but the local bishop said no … Eventually I got $10,000; the bishop told me, "You either take that or you get nothing".'

The Anglican compensation was also handled by a bishop, and Kevin says the two institutions were like night and day.

'There's no comparison … The Catholic bishop hadn't got one ounce of compassion. None whatsoever, just calculating, cold-hearted. Whereas, the Anglicans, to me they've done the right thing. And the bishop followed up: he kept ringing to see how we were, made sure we were getting counselling and that.'

'The only thing I didn't like was when the Anglican bishop said to us, “Whatever money you take from the Church today, you've taken away from children”.

'That made us feel guilty. That's always stuck in my throat, that has.'

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