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Lionel's story

Lionel was put into an orphanage in 1944 as a baby because his 16-year-old mother couldn’t afford to keep him. Until the age of 14, he moved between different Western Australian children’s homes with his longest residency being in Christian Brothers boys’ homes.

From the age of nine, Lionel was sexually abused by three Christian Brothers, often under the pretext of ‘treatment’ for bed wetting. He and another boy were picked out for the procedure and told they would be cured. The treatment consisted of a device being attached to each boy’s penis then connected to machines that released electric shocks if the boy urinated.

Lionel said the attachment had to go on his erect penis and the Brothers would masturbate him to achieve this. Brother Bernard also masturbated himself at the same time.

‘The machine did wake me up by giving me electric shocks on the end of my penis every time liquid made contact. We weren’t told what to do when this occurred so we had to find the light switch to try to stop ourselves from weeing so we could disconnect the device. Then I had to go and find the Brother on duty and go through the process all over again. On average this was about three or four times a night. This went on for between six and nine months or maybe longer. It was so embarrassing … The program did not stop me from wetting the bed.’

The boys were segregated from other residents and told the procedure was a secret. Each morning they were made to stand on their wet beds as other boys filed past and watched them being berated. As further punishment they were told to take down their pants in front of the class and were beaten across their bare buttocks.

Lionel told the Commissioner that conditions in the home were extreme with boys being forced to carry out hard physical labour. None of the staff ever showed any care towards them. On one occasion Lionel told a Brother that his gums had been bleeding. The dentist, when he next visited the home, removed Lionel’s entire row of top teeth. ‘I can only think that at age 11, my gums would have bled due to poor cleaning habits or poor nutrition’, he said.

After leaving the home, Lionel went briefly to school but then left to work in labouring and farming jobs. He joined the defence force at 26 and found it suited him, but after nearly three decades he noticed he ‘was getting hard’.

‘I finished up as a warrant officer and the taps on the door, “Sir I have a problem”. I’d be saying, “Well are you the problem or are you here to solve the problem?” And that would turn them off, “Oh, don’t worry about it”. And I realised those sort of things I was saying automatically - whether I didn’t want to handle a problem or whether I was brushing them aside I don’t know, but that’s the hardness.’

Lionel first disclosed the abuse in 2009 at the time of Redress WA. He received an ex gratia payment of $45,000 and began to think about how his childhood had affected his relationship with his wife and children. ‘Things like the way I eat, the way I sleep, why I’m hard, all those have now come out and [my wife] can now understand why I’m like that.’

Part of his reason for coming to the Royal Commission was to speak for those who weren’t able to. ‘If I come forward, then a lot of people who can’t come forward can be covered, particularly those who I spent time in [the home] with. A lot of them have passed.

‘Hopefully what comes out of your side is it will make everybody aware that people from this age to whatever time they die have had reasons why they’re living their life the way they’re living it. It’s very hard for people who haven’t been in an orphanage situation which I have for the first 14 years, that it’s actually harder for me because we had no grounding. We had no grounding on how to do things. There was never anybody there to teach me how to love, how to cook, how to live life.’

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