Lenny spent the years between his birth and 18 in various Catholic orphanages, children’s homes and government-run facilities in Victoria. He has fond memories of the nuns from the first two homes but things changed in the late 1940s when he turned 10 and was sent to a home run by the Christian Brothers.
Separated from his best friend, he was struck by the size of the place and the severity of the Brothers. It was daily routine for boys to be caned, punched and strapped. During his time there, Lenny had a tooth broken and his jaw and fingers fractured, injuries sustained from beatings by different Christian Brothers working at the home. In the regimented shower system, boys lined up naked and marched in groups to an exposed shower block where there was rarely hot water. Lenny said at these times he felt deeply uncomfortable with the way the Brothers stared at the boys.
Lenny often heard Brother Conistan coming into the dormitory at night and waking boys to take to his room. ‘I let it go by until the day it happened to me.’ One evening Conistan woke Lenny and told him to go to his room and not make a noise. Lenny was made to stand naked in front of a mirror while Conistan stood behind and masturbated him.
‘I didn’t know what was going on. He was hugging me, saying, “You’ll be all right, but you make one noise, look out!”. Then he started fondling me and, I learned the word later, it was called masturbation which he done to me.’ When Lenny tried to report the abuse to the Brother in charge, he was punished by being banned from movie night and having his pocket money withheld.
Moving to the next dormitory and away from Conistan, Lenny’s relief was short-lived. He became a regular victim of Brother Keeling’s sexual abuse and was anally raped for several years.
Lenny’s attempt to report Keeling’s abuse resulted in him being lined up with other boys in the dormitory, picked up and held upside down by Keeling out the window, who told the other children ‘If you tell lies, this is what’s going to happen to you’.
Lenny told the Commissioner that when he was 14 he was moved without warning from the home and taken to a training centre, which he thought was for people with severe psychological problems. Adult men in the centre were aged up to their 50s and within two weeks of being there Lenny had been sexually assaulted. This abuse continued for the three years he was there and attempts to report it to staff were met with silence or beatings. He ran away numerous times but was always picked up by police and returned.
Into his adult life, Lenny continued to be haunted by the sexual abuse perpetrated on him. He made attempts to report the assaults to Victoria Police, the first time in the mid 1980s when he was told that they’d occurred too long ago and nothing could be done. In the early 1990s he was interviewed by Victorian detectives about the assaults at the training centre but as far as he knew no action was taken. Less than a decade later he made a formal statement to the Sexual Crimes Unit, but again there was no outcome.
In the mid 2000s, Lenny met with two Christian Brothers who agreed to pay him $100,000 for the abuse he’d suffered. Half the money was to put in Lenny’s savings account and the remainder invested separately. Later when Lenny went to check the investment account, he was told only $3,000 remained and that he ‘must have spent it’. He knew that wasn’t the case and he told the Commissioner he was thinking about seeking legal advice on options to address the missing money.
Despite the trauma he’d encountered in life, Lenny said he was still positive and remained committed to helping people in the community. He was working to investigate and preserve as much information on the institutions he’d been in so others could piece together their childhood stories. He said when he heard about the work of the Royal Commission, ‘it really cheered me on, even at my age’. He hopes it will help others so that ‘down the track we can prevent this ever happening again’.