From the first term of his arrival at a Brisbane Catholic boarding school in the 1970s, Lawrie felt singled out by Marist Brothers teachers for beatings, and he was given poor marks and excluded from extracurricular activities. For reasons he didn’t know, he wasn’t allowed to be in the yearly school photographs. ‘My name’s there’, he said. ‘Just not me.’
Lawrie had been happy at his previous school, but it went only to Year 10. He had plans to go to university but his treatment and the subject marks he received in his final two years meant he had to put the idea aside.
In Year 12, Lawrie became aware of the dormitory master waking boys during the night and getting them to come to his room to lie on his bed. ‘I was woken up several times and went to his room only once, and I refused and went back to my bed.’
Soon afterwards Lawrie said he was ‘set up’ by the dormitory master and accused of stealing money. The police were called and Lawrie was interviewed but no charges were laid.
Throughout Year 12, many of the class’s students were engaging in sexual behaviour. On one occasion a student performed oral sex on Lawrie but this was as far as his participation went, he said. He was particularly unnerved by the dormitory master who stood by and watched as the boys performed sexual acts on each other.
Lawrie said he didn’t ever tell his parents about what was happening because he was ashamed. ‘My dad was and always has been a very dominating person.’ When he finished school, his father told him to go and work in the mines and to forget about going to university.
School life has had a great effect on him, Lawrie said. He was jailed for four years at the age of 21 for theft-related offences, and until the age of 45 was a regular drug user. Now in his late 50s, he said the thing he’d found hardest in his life was forming long-term relationships and friendships. ‘I can’t. I just live by myself, you know.’
He has one daughter and is proud that she’s been able to do what he hasn’t done in finishing university. ‘She has moved out and started a new career, and lives with her boyfriend’, Lawrie said. ‘I am very proud of her.’
Recently, he has started a course at a technical college. It is progressing well and he hopes to get a job at the end of it. ‘It’s a bit of hard work, but you’ve got to apply yourself.’
Lawrie said he’d never told anyone about his experiences at boarding school until he spoke with staff of the Royal Commission. ‘The reason I wanted to come in and say what I had to say was because I heard a bit about it on the news and thought, "I might just let them know what happened to me", you know what I mean?’
He felt his outsider status at the school, once established, was reinforced by each of the teachers and it kept growing from there.
‘I think it was the make-up of the place’, he said. ‘You fitted in or you didn’t. It’s just like the whole structure has to be rebuilt. The old ways – we’re talking about schooling from the 1800s – that’s what they’re still living in, you know.’