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Liam John's story

The boys in Liam’s Catholic primary school would joke about Rick Hazzard. It’s how blokes cope with abuse, he told the Commission, but the problem is that some people still don’t buy the truth about him. Hazzard, well-known and respected in the town, was a teacher for 20 years at Liam’s school and he left a trail of abused boys behind him. ‘I actually know dozens, if not scores, of boys who were abused. I was repeatedly abused … but what’s hard for me is I loved him.’

Liam grew up in northern New South Wales in the '60s and '70s. He was a long way down the line of kids in a large, Irish Catholic family. His father was a ‘hard-arse’, a man who didn’t really like children that much. And what Hazzard gave Liam and the other boys was a wonderful alternative to a crowded home and a terrifying father. ‘This fella created a fantasy land for boys.’

Hazzard had property on a beach north of the town. Liam believes that 10 to 15 students in each grade were picked by Hazzard and taken there during the year. The kids mucked around in boats. They went fishing and brought home seafood to their parents. There was a shed at the back of the house and that’s where Hazzard would take the boys to sleep.

‘We’d go out there, and there was like, seven or eight mattresses. So he’d get you into bed and the fight was always not to be next to him in the bed. So you kind of didn’t like it, but you didn’t know why. And it was confusing because you were in this wonderland. You had all your mates camping out, motor boats you could use ... a toboggan, fantastic sleds … We’d put fish-nets out in the middle of the night.’

And then they’d drive home. ‘He’d take us to church on Sunday night, walk into church with half a dozen boys with him … He’d take the bloody plate around and collect money ... And all the parents said what a nice man he was.’

Boys also stayed at the apartment that Hazzard had built on the school grounds, 100 yards from the presbytery. Liam slept there often. ‘I was one of the preferred boys, I guess, in my year.’

Hazzard showed the boys porn magazines and masturbated them. Liam was never sodomised by Hazzard but two of his friends said he’d attempted it with them. Once the boys moved on to high school, the abuse ended. Liam believes Hazzard lost interest once boys hit puberty.

When he turned 16, unable to cope with his emotions, Liam started drinking and smoking dope. Later he turned to harder drugs. In his early 20s, with a young child of his own, and triggered by a television show about a paedophile, he decided to do something. He rang a former teacher who arranged a meeting with the new parish priest. The priest arranged another meeting with Liam and two local men – ‘upstanding citizens’. It did not go well.

‘They laid into me … “How dare I come back to the town and make trouble like this? ... What would your mother and father think about you coming in making trouble for Rick? … This is terrible stuff that you’re saying.” I was just so shocked.’

About a week later Liam’s father called him, drunk, and asked him why he was making trouble for him. Liam never spoke with his father about the abuse again. The next time he went to church with his parents, there was Hazzard, who still taught at the school, standing at the church door saying 'g’day' to him.

Liam’s not sure if it was Youth and Community Services, but not long after that disastrous meeting he got a call to say that Hazzard had been stood down and was under investigation. Later he was told that Hazzard had been reinstated – there were no current allegations of sexual abuse against him. And the statute of limitations precluded Liam’s own claims. He has no idea how they found out about his allegations.

Liam started getting panic attacks in his late 20s. After his marriage broke up he started seeing counsellors and it helped, even though for the first six years he didn’t recognise that his problems were connected to Hazzard’s sexual abuse.

By the age of 34 Liam was ‘a beaten wreck’. He went to Alcoholics Anonymous and stopped drinking after the first meeting.

Ironically, the ‘iron will of the Catholics’ has helped Liam in some way as well. ‘But it’s limited!’ he said with a laugh. What really helps is talking to other victims. It reminds him that, ‘I’m not Robinson Crusoe, I’m not weird, I’m not wrong’.

Shortly before Liam contacted the Commission, a few more pieces of the Rick Hazzard puzzle fell into place. His brother discovered that their own father had conspired to cover up the abuse with one of the men who confronted Liam, but that the second man at the meeting refused to take part.

Then, when Liam read in the paper that his home town was a dumping ground for priests and he knew half the names on the list, he got very angry. ‘What I knew was, everyone knew … All the parents bloody knew. Which is what my brother ended up revealing to me.’

As for Hazzard, he died not long after Liam's disclosure. Some people still praise him, even though the Church has been paying out money to some of his many victims.

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