Born in England in the 1930s, Kieran spent his early childhood in an orphanage run by the Sisters of Nazareth before being shipped to Australia as a child migrant at age seven. ‘Transported’, as he put it to the Commissioner, ‘from the gentle hands of nuns to the Christian Brothers’.
Kieran lived the remainder of his childhood at several children’s homes run by the Christian Brothers. During this time four of the Brothers subjected him to severe physical and sexual abuse.
‘It was open slather’, Kieran said. ‘The abuse of deprivations, abuse of sexual interference – we took that as normal.’
Kieran remembers the Brothers as intimidating figures, moving through the halls in ‘those big black garments’. He said the Brother in charge would be referred to as ‘the boss’ and the boys lived in ‘absolute fear and dread of being called to the boss’s dormitories’.
‘It was a culture of fear and uncertainty. Because they had the power. They were bigger than us. They were giants.’
Kieran said that constant fear made it impossible for the boys to tell anyone what was going on. He recalls that when the welfare workers arrived to conduct an inspection ‘we were automatically put on our best behaviour’.
The abuse continued until Kieran graduated and left the home. Sometime later he began to train as a Christian Brother himself, but the seminary felt like ‘an extension’ of the orphanage, so in his mid-30s Kieran moved to a new city in a new state.
It turned out to be a major improvement in his life. ‘It was the making of me.’ In his new home Kieran began a routine of work, education and psychiatric treatment.
It was during a psychiatric session that Kieran first disclosed the details of the abuse. He was reassured and impressed by the psychiatrist’s response. ‘No one believed what I came from, and he had the tenacity and observance and professional understanding of the trauma I had been through.’
The sessions helped Kieran to look honestly at the ways in which the abuse had affected his life. He is married but told the Commissioner that the relationship has become estranged. ‘I did not have the wherewithal to realise the importance of what marriage was to a family. And my son has turned 40 and we had this out in no uncertain terms.’
Despite his difficulties Kieran maintains a positive outlook, describing himself as ‘an eternal optimist’. He has completed a number of university degrees, including a doctorate, and has been actively involved in the campaign to bring justice and recognition to former child migrants.
In 2010 Kieran received $45,000 in redress from the government of Western Australia, in recognition of the abuse and neglect he suffered as a child. He has also received an apology from the Christian Brothers but considers it a ‘token’ gesture.
Kieran remains a committed Catholic but with some reservations. ‘I acknowledge that the Catholic Church has had a deep influence on me but I must as an adult take it with a grain of salt.’
He expressed particular gratitude to his psychiatrist, who provided him with support for over 40 years, and to the disability workers who have helped him to engage with the Royal Commission.
He told the Commissioner, ‘I am one of the luckiest men alive’.