After he was sexually abused by a priest at his Melbourne Catholic school in the late 1960s, Liam ‘couldn’t concentrate. I hated being in school. [The abuse] went on for over a year … As much as I tried not going … or being late, you were dragged to school’.
‘My life as a kid spiralled a bit. I became aggressive. I really didn’t like other people that much, to the point where I just became super aggressive. I don’t think I was a nice person. That led to me being made a ward of the state.’
Liam had tried to talk about the abuse but this went nowhere. ‘For as much as I tried to tell my parents, they wouldn’t believe me.’ He thinks this was probably ‘because the Church represented hope for me mum’.
‘I tried to tell the nuns and I was beaten for that, so the only option I had was [my older brother] … [He] actually fronted him behind me dad’s back and the abuse stopped after that.’ Liam suspects that his much older brother believed him straight away because the same thing may have happened to him when he was at school.
Liam and one of his younger brothers were sent to a government-run remand centre, which was ‘just abominable. It was a prison, for children. They locked us in rooms … We were beaten mercilessly’. After a short time, the boys were transferred to a boys’ home run by the Christian Brothers.
‘And what they did to us there, I don’t believe the government didn’t know … It’s impossible for that many children to have suffered what they did, without anyone else knowing … We were handed to an organisation that … was paid to abuse us, because the government gave us over. They were paid … by the government, and no one checked on us.’
The boys attended school outside the boys’ home, but ‘if you were beaten badly enough, you were kept home’. Liam recalls being asked about his bruises twice at school, but he ‘was that scared, that I told them I got them in football’.
The boys slept in dormitories, and ‘for a Brother to come and get you at night was not a hard thing. I know there’s things that happened to me that I’m never going to talk about … To be handed around like a toy, I now find it disgusting’.
Liam knows that the Brothers drank alcohol, because ‘you could smell it on ‘em when they came to get you … [One Brother] was the worst … To be beaten and to wake up naked on my own, covered in bruises and not knowing what happened to me, I can’t get rid of that …
‘To be dragged up by the head of that [home] … stupidly thinking I was going to be safe and to have the same thing … sexually abused by him. And the worst of all … he just wouldn’t give up. You could fight back. You could do whatever, but he wouldn’t give up.’
Liam told the Commissioner, ‘I try and forgive myself for some of the things that I did, like deliberately put another child in a spot where I would have been … and he would have got taken instead of me’.
It also distressed Liam that he wasn’t able to stop the Brothers from taking his younger brother from the dormitory. ‘I feel I let [him] down because he was my little brother … There was nothing I could do … [The Brother] was huge.’
The physical and sexual abuse Liam experienced ‘changed my life. I can never, ever, ever, trust anyone outside my family. I’ve had counselling. I’ve seen psychiatrists … What I’ve put my partner though. The times that I’ve tried to kill myself. I keep getting told it’ll get better … but it’s like it’s been covered up for years until there’s hardly any of us left’.
Liam has trouble sleeping and ‘can’t stay in a room in a crowd without having my back in a corner. And there are times when I wish … it would just go away and for a long time, if that meant getting spastic drunk or taking some drug to make it go away, that was my only peace …
‘Now … I’m not a goose. I know that that’s not normal … but it stopped the hurt. It worked for me.’
When he heard that two former residents from the home had died, ‘I think that’s what kicked me into reality, to realise that if I kept going down that path I was going to go … [After] two attempts to kill myself, I was going to succeed’.
As much as Liam hated himself, he realised that ‘I still had … beautiful children and an amazing partner. So they didn’t deserve that’.
About 10 years ago, Liam applied for compensation from the Christian Brothers, through the Catholic Church’s Towards Healing process. ‘I was given $5,000 and told to take my family on a holiday.’ He received a letter of acknowledgement for the abuse and an apology. With the help of a lawyer, he is now in negotiations for a larger payment.
Liam was encouraged to make the second claim when he spoke to someone from knowmore, the legal service set up by the Royal Commission to provide advice to survivors. ‘He saved my life … He said, “Look, what you’ve been through. You can do this”. He said, “Nothing can hurt you more than what you’ve already been through”.’
Liam told the Commissioner that, ‘one of the reasons I’m here today, and I don’t want to sound selfish … but I’m not here to help other victims in the future, because I’m not going to be here … I’m here for my own personal self, to finally think that they will be held accountable, that someone, someone will finally be held accountable for what they did …
‘I’ve been robbed of a normal childhood. I know I wasn’t a perfect kid. People go to jail and get out and live normal lives. This is going to carry right through my life … I worry that I’m going to be one more of those people that die before there’s any justice … I promised myself this would be it. If I keep going down the path that I’m going [the stress] is going to kill me.’