Leonard attended a ‘normal’ primary school in the early 1950s until he was sent off to a Catholic boarding school when he was 11 years old. He told the Commissioner, ‘it was only five miles away from where I lived, but a world away because there was no contact with home’.
For the next few years, Leonard lived in an isolated environment, ‘ruled by fear’. The school was run by Catholic Brothers who administered vicious beatings with the cane and strap.
‘It was scary when a fair amount of the time they lost their cool. Because, when you can see somebody go from just dealing out whatever it is to going red with rage, and you’re thinking, “God, I’m only a little kid here, what’s he going to do next? He’s going to go right off his rocker”. And they did … That’s not discipline anymore, that’s just crazy.’
This regime of fear and brutality paved the way for the sexual abuse that followed. Leonard was befriended by Brother Everett, a teacher who looked after one of the other classes. Looking back, Leonard suspects he was being groomed from the start, but at the time he saw the friendship as a great opportunity.
‘It was like having a friend in the Gestapo because I was on the right side of the law with him wherever I went.’
It was not long before Brother Everett began inventing reasons to get Leonard alone with him. ‘He’d get me up his room and this wrestling sort of happened, and it got pretty frequent and that started to take on a bit of a different form. But I couldn’t really tell anybody and nobody would believe you in those days if you did. I would have got beltings for a lot less.’
The other kids noticed what was going on and teased Leonard about it. Still, no one ever spoke up about it, and the abuse continued for years until one day Brother Everett was suddenly removed from the school.
‘I think that one of the Brothers, the head Brother, might have smelled a rat.’
After that, Leonard did well at school but left early because he ‘just had to get out of there’. He now sees his lack of education as one of the most significant consequences of the abuse.
‘It disadvantaged me through life, even though I try not to let it. I think that, as much as you can say you got through it or got over it, when I look back anyway I think I cut myself a bit short.’
Leonard kept the abuse to himself for over 50 years. He said, ‘I tried not to let it hold me back. I shut it out of my mind’. Then one day he heard another survivor telling his story on the radio.
‘His account was very revealing to say the least, and I thought it was just marvelous how he had the gumption to do that and I thought, I’ve got to do the same.’
Leonard told his wife about the abuse and she was very supportive. He then approached the Catholic Church through its Towards Healing process and spoke to a Catholic Brother. Leonard was surprised at the man’s reaction.
‘He just came back and said, “I believe you, Leonard. What can we do?”’
Ultimately, Leonard received $50,000 compensation, a written apology and an agreement to pay for his ongoing counselling. He remains sceptical about the payment, describing it as ‘hush money’, but found the counselling sessions useful.
‘Being the old bushy that I am, I thought it’s not going to help, but it has helped.’
Leonard also credits the support of his mates as one of the things that’s helped him get through. Leonard’s old classmate, Gary, even attended the private session with him to offer support.
‘One of the first things they said to us on the first day was, “You’ll make friends for life”. I never realised the importance of that statement, because we depended on one another to get through, and we did make friends for life.’