Growing up, Lew was constantly reminded of the importance of Catholicism within his family and small community. The archbishop regularly visited his home, using the occasions to press Lew’s father for donations to the church, and issuing directives that the children needed to go to boarding school. Given the choice of two schools, Lew opted for the Marist Fathers and in the early 1960s, arrived there as a nine-year-old. ‘I made a really fatal error of judgement there’, he said.
Lew said the abuse started ‘really early in the piece’ and continued until he left the school at 14. Two of the teaching priests meted out severe beatings, and one in particular, Father Simpson, would strap boys by day and call boarders to his room at night.
‘He would line them up and there might be one, five or 15 of them’, Lew said.
‘And so you could count the canes and we’d go to sleep, the lights would go down, and you’d hear [the cane] and this would go on and sing you to sleep every night. And these kids running out sobbing, and so that was the culture that existed.’
One day Lew was in the toilet block with a friend, both homesick, and crying and comforting one another. Lew said the next thing he recalled was being in Father Armstrong’s room.
‘He had me sitting on his lap in his room with my pants down, and I was sobbing, sort of like I am now, in anticipation, ‘cause I thought, this man’s going to crush me with his hands. He was comforting me and I never thought anything more of it, really. It wasn’t repeated or anything like that, but he was playing with my penis. I always imagined that it was because maybe I was in that toilet and what was I doing, you know? I was having a pee so was he checking that I can pee properly? And I had no idea and eventually I got out of there and I … had everything intact and I hadn’t been brutalised, in fact he nurtured, was cuddling me and … he was a good guy. He was on my side.’
Lew described another priest, Father Jordan, as ‘a real operator’, who was always smooth and well-groomed. One evening he turned up during study time and gave a speech to the boys, telling them he understood that they’d be missing their parents and feeling a bit lonely. ‘Once he had us all identifying with everything, [he said], “I can help you with that, because you’ll be noticing your bodies will be changing and you’ll be growing hair in different places, and you’ll have questions to ask”. And so he had the whole class in ones and twos jerking themselves off and entertaining him, like he was having a field day. He was really enjoying himself, you know.’
Jordan’s abuse continued, Lew said, until he ‘went off the boil’ and ‘dropped us like hotcakes’, moving on to another year’s students.
Unlike Jordan, Father O’Donnell was ‘slimy’ and ‘greasy’ and ‘a paedophile’. Lew recalled awaiting punishment and being told by O’Donnell that he could come with him to his room or face Father Simpson. If he chose the former he’d be thrown on the bed to be groped and rubbed against by O’Donnell. The latter ‘choice’ meant he’d be caned on hands or bare buttocks until he bled.
Lew told the Commissioner there was another priest, Father Hunter, who was often supervising the boys’ showers. ‘We’d get naked and be paraded through’, Lew said. ‘I watched Hunter one time … and he was unashamedly really titillated and excited. He was salivating. He was wetting himself with excitement watching us kids. And I was standing there unbeknownst to him, and I thought, this is really weird, without having full comprehension or understanding of what was going on.’
At 16, Lew said he’d become ‘more difficult and less compliant’, and he left the Marist Fathers’ school, going on to three colleges in an attempt to complete his studies. By the age of 21, he’d had 21 different jobs. He said his life since then had been ‘a response or a reaction’, particularly pitched at making decisions that opposed what his father, the strict Catholic, would want.
At various times Lew had also erupted in rage when he perceived behaviour resembling that of the bullying priests. He once beat up a parking officer who’d threatened to book his car. ‘I just picked him up and I threw him around in this construction site’, Lew said. ‘Not in front of everyone, and I can just remember, I was not in control … and I did that until I was able to compose myself.’
Lew told the Commissioner that he didn’t think all-male institutions should be permitted in modern society. ‘The culture that can breed; they can become nasty, competitive, and brutal beings, you know, like given no guidance or moral checks.’
He said he ‘did a rebuild’ on himself over many decades, avoiding those who were ‘slimy’ and ‘mimicking people to give them what they wanted’. While he’d been successful at work, his personal relationships had suffered. He was estranged from his wife and daughter and didn’t have a lot of friends, describing himself as ‘a solitary player’ in life.
‘All my life I’ve been self-generating and a little bit of a loner and now everyone’s gone off and got their happy families and so for a 60-year-old, the door’s not open and I’m spending far too much time alone … You’re 60 and if you haven’t got a family, or none of your family talk to you, you really need to get on the phone and you mightn’t have done enough of that to keep your social connections going …
‘There are groups I can join. I look after native animals so I should be able to relate a couple of human beings along the way.’