Les broke into the church because he wanted to find God. It was the early 1970s in a small Western Australian town and Les was nine years old. He was accompanied by his uncle who was a little older but also a child. Both boys had been sexually abused by the parish priest and three nuns who taught at their Catholic primary school.
They broke in, Les said, because ‘we wanted to know how the bread was made. We thought God delivered it. We thought he’d come down in the week and drop it off, and we just wanted to know where his door was, because we both wanted to tell him what was happening to us’.
Les and his uncle didn’t find God in the church. Instead they found boxes of communion bread and bottles of wine. It was a huge let down.
‘It was only wine at the end of the day. We thought it was blood, like literally, and he came to give his blood and left it, and made the bread and then left it … So we knew then that he didn’t come, so we couldn’t tell him what was happening.’
Feeling bereft and disappointed, they took the chalice from the tabernacle, filled it with communion wine and quickly got drunk.
‘Then our anger started coming out so we burned all the bibles, we defecated in the church. I’ve carried that all my life. And we pulled all the Ten Commandments down off the walls, and there were all nice, lovely statues and we just pulled them all down … Tipped all the pews, the chairs over.’
They knew it was wrong, Les said. ‘In those days it was good and bad, the Devil and God. And we’d rather be the Devil.’
They were soon caught and dispatched to separate boys’ homes. Les’s new home was a strict, brutal place run by the Christian Brothers. He said that the next three years were like living in a prison camp.
‘We were slave labour and starved as punishment, belted as control and sexually and physically abused as to intimidate and control you.’
The abuse was perpetrated by several Brothers but by far the worst was Brother Gambon. He was known for his uncanny speed. You’d be alone in the shower one second, Les said, and the next he’d be there, naked and fully erect.
On these occasions he would touch Les and force Les to touch him. Gambon often tried to take things further but Les always screamed and resisted. He was viciously punished for it with Gambon beating him with his fists and later with the strap. He strapped Les so hard one time that he broke Les’s hand.
The other boys in the dorm copped abuse from Gambon as well. Les was a resourceful kid who did what he could to help them. He smuggled a lump of plasticine into the kitchen and made an imprint of the larder key. Then on a weekend visit back home he got his uncle to forge a copy from the mould. From then on, Les raided the larder at night to feed the boys.
He also tried to save them from Gambon’s sexual abuse by yelling out every time he saw the Brother sneaking into the dorm at night. This worked for a while until Gambon ‘got smart’ and started waiting for Les to fall asleep before he crept up on his victims.
Chief among these victims was a boy named Eric. Les believes that Eric was raped by Gambon dozens of times. Years later he discovered that Eric had committed suicide. Les can understand. Since escaping from the home in his mid-teens, he’s often thought of killing himself.
Les has struggled with depression and violent fits of anger. As a younger man, the outrage he felt towards the Christian Brothers mingled with the outrage he felt as an Aboriginal man, subject to racism and injustice. It was a volatile combination that tore through his life.
‘I’ve had to survive it twice really, because being an Aboriginal man my anger has just left me without employment because I don’t have any regard for authority. I had a real bad time in my younger years with drug and alcohol and police.’
His relationships, too, have suffered. He lost one marriage because of ‘alcohol and violence issues’ and, until recently, was afraid that his second marriage might go the same way. Then a change came.
‘I took control of myself … You know, you reach a stage in your life where you ask yourself questions, especially if you want to live.’
He gave up drinking and later decided to go to the police, reporting his abusers for the first time. Sadly, the police told him that there was nothing they could do because of restrictions imposed by the statute of limitations.
Despite this blow, Les kept himself sober and pushed on with life as best he could. Ten years later he saw a newspaper article that shook him up and forced him to confront the past. The article showed a picture of Brother Gambon and described how he was fighting accusations of child sexual abuse.
For weeks, Les couldn’t even look at the article. Finally he gathered his strength, read the piece and then, for the first time, told his wife some details of the sexual abuse. With her support he spoke to a lawyer about suing the Christian Brothers.
At the time of Les’s session with the Royal Commission he was still exploring his options. The one thing he knows for sure is that Brother Gambon should not be allowed to get away with what he did.
‘That man’s got away with it so far. He’s 80, so that article says. And now he’s a priest. He’s a priest, so he hears confessions. He needs to have his own confession – in a dark, deep, wet hole of a place.’