‘The Christian brothers are good teachers. Whether they’re teaching you English or agricultural work. Apart from that, well it’s downhill all the way.’
Lex was born overseas and came to Australia in the 1950s as a 13-year-old under the Child Migrant Scheme. His mother did not join him here until his father had passed away, some years later. Upon arrival Lex was sent to a remote agricultural school run by the Christian Brothers in Western Australia.
Soon after arriving at the school Lex found himself in a classroom with a Brother, whose name he has forgotten. ‘I had my shirt hanging out, so he put his hand in, tucking me in. And when he got around the front he fondled me.’
When Lex was about 15 years old he was sleeping in room by himself at the back of the school farm. Lex described how he awoke one night thinking that he had had a wet dream but instead felt another body on his bed. It was too dark to see who it was before the person fled. ‘Not knowing what’s being done to you and by who, you get scared.’
This happened several times. Eventually a parcel arrived from his mother with a torch Lex had asked for. When night came Lex was waiting. ‘In he comes and I shined the torch on him and it was Jim Finnegan.’ Finnegan was a school old boy who had been kept on as a cook. ‘I belted him one in the mouth. There was blood everywhere.’ The assaults in the darkness ceased.
Lex reported Finnegan to the school Principal, Brother Rawlings. No action was taken. Lex is certain Rawlings already knew Finnegan was an offender. ‘And they still employed him there. Because I caught him out he probably went on to someone else … They don’t give up that easy.’
He also told the nearby Mullewa Police, but was laughed at and told to go away.
‘I went for a visit about 25 years later, and he was still there, this kid. You can draw your own conclusion … I blame the Christian Brothers. That kid should not have been there. They knew what he was like.’
Lex was also subjected to excessive beatings and strappings by various Brothers at the school. He remembers being attacked by Brother Petra, ‘a complete idiot’. ‘He put me in the industrial washing machine and turned it on.’ Fortunately there was someone else present who turned it off.
Lex left the school aged 17 and went to work for good people on a couple of farms. Lex stated that he benefited from the agricultural training he had received from the kinder Brothers. He was not paid a penny for years of work, but the skills were useful throughout his working life. He married and had a son, but his marriage did not survive.
Lex believes the abuse he suffered has affected his friendships, but has not caused any other mental health problems.
In the 1990s Lex was one of the former child migrants to take part in a class action against the Christian Brothers. He was told by the lawyers they were not interested in pursuing sexual abuse claims. Lex received a small payout based on the physical abuse he suffered at the school.
Overall, Lex feels the legal team sold them out. ‘They made millions, we got peanuts.’