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Liam Nicholas's story

Liam attended a Catholic primary school in regional Victoria in the late 1970s. His mother’s children from a previous marriage were taken into care, so by enrolling Liam in the Catholic school system, ‘I think she was trying her hardest at what she thought was a safe pathway for me to experience life to the fullest, and it didn’t eventuate’.

Liam was 10 when he started at the school and his first impression was that ‘I remember a lot of fear in that environment’. There was a great deal of physical punishment and ‘I remember … being struck quite often with a ruler … I remember being dragged by the hair and … the ruler quite often on the hands’.

Liam was sexually abused by his teacher, Brother Grayson. The first time was in the toilet block, where Grayson exposed himself and forced Liam’s head into his groin in an attempt to make him perform oral sex.

‘I had no sexual experience at that age … It was a big shock. It’s still … that’s stayed with me … just the image of the man in the black suit with his … being blunt, his penis out, was … that’s still with me to this day and that’s sort of caused me lots of flashbacks over the years.’

Liam told the Commissioner, ‘At the time, I think it was just a total sense of fear and isolation, just feeling, in this cold school, just starting there … just feeling a lot of fear and not wanting to be there’.

The second time, Liam remembers ‘being grabbed by the scruff and dragged … out of the classroom’ into Grayson’s office, where ‘the same attempts were started again’. This time, Liam left the school immediately and ran home. With his limited understanding, he told his mother that ‘he wee’d on me … and looking back now, obviously [he was] ejaculating’.

Liam didn’t want to go back to school because, ‘I think at the time I was more concerned about being scared of being hit … I probably couldn’t really take in, looking back now, sort of contextualise or have the knowledge … what actually took place’. His mother went to the school and although there was no more sexual abuse, the physical abuse continued. Liam’s fear of going to school ‘started a long career of wagging school right up until I was 15’, when he left.

After remaining at the primary school for another six months, Liam was sent to a public school for a short time. He was then sent to a Catholic school run by the De La Salle Brothers. ‘Seeing the Brothers for the first time in their habits, in their uniforms, you know, that’s pretty scary … I remember probably within the first week or so at morning assembly … the principal … the strap, the cuts … and you know, getting stuck into a couple of kids … and I just shrunk after that.’

Liam told the Commissioner that he saw one boy having his arm broken during one such beating. ‘It wasn’t what I would think of as being a safe environment or a learning environment.’

When Liam was 11 or 12, he walked in on a lay teacher who was undressed from the waist down, in the presence of an older boy, and ‘looking back now, I think he may have been in the process of something with this other boy, and then I remember him grabbing his penis and waving it at me … and I think I took off after that’.

Because of his persistent truancy, Liam’s schooling suffered. ‘I think that was the biggest thing … Through my own self-discovery later on I realised I was capable of a lot, which has created a lot of sadness and I’ve missed opportunities. You don’t get that time back.’

From the age of 15 to his early 20s, ‘there was nothing for that period … no friends, no girlfriends, no interaction of any sort with relationships, and believing that was my lot in life. That … gave me a black hole for the future and those attempts to end it sort of come into play, because the solitude or the isolation becomes obviously way too much’.

Liam believes that he is ‘definitely a survivor, I guess. You develop those skills, especially in that period from early teenage years, right up until mid-20s. A lot of depression and time on your own. I guess, even being what I’d describe now as being agoraphobic … through what should be social and development years’.

Liam told the Commissioner that in the region where he went to school, a lot of young men have committed suicide. ‘Those young men who I know aren’t alive now, and knowing their backgrounds and knowing they came from the same environment … I can’t obviously directly relate it to that incident, I can only put those things together and I know that … the general culture and obviously other things that have come to …

‘Those young men, like I guess in war situations, you don’t return from a war zone. In a way it’s similar. You go into this institutional war zone, where you can be picked off any moment by a sniper … Again, you can only think about the mothers and fathers and the siblings and the dreams they had for their … yeah.’

Although memories of the abuse are ‘ongoing … it’s something you deal with every day, not just the incidents but the residual effects’, Liam is now ‘at peace with the world, and people in general, and being able to nurture and love for the right reason and being able to express yourself as a person that you skipped from 10 up until 25 years, in my case. Fifteen years is a long time in isolation … So I’ve served my sentence’.

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