Luca's story

‘They marched us to the ship. I could see my mother in there crying on the dock. We never even got to say goodbye. And it took 28 days for us to arrive to Australia.’

Luca was one of numerous siblings, and since it was the 1950s in Malta and his mother had mental health issues, his parents struggled to provide adequate care. Luca was approximately 10 years old when he and several of his brothers were placed in a Catholic orphanage. When he was 13, Luca and his brothers were placed on a boat bound for Australia as part of the Catholic migration scheme.

‘My father, he always fought for us kids. And I could show you documents in here when my father cannot read or write … And the Catholic Church forged his signature.’

Upon disembarking in Western Australia, Luca was sent to a boys’ home run by the Christian Brothers. Although he had done well in school in his homeland of Malta, he was never taught English and could not keep up with the lessons. After a short time his schooling was stopped and he was put to work as an unpaid labourer on the farm attached to the home.

‘There was no schooling for us because we couldn’t even speak English. So for the first three weeks we stood in school just like dummies … I’d never had no schooling whatsoever after that.’

The Brothers who looked after Luca were frequently cruel and dealt out harsh punishments for the slightest misdemeanours. If Luca made a mistake while working, which happened often since he’d never been on a farm before, he was viciously beaten. The nuns were equally cruel and provided no kindness despite Luca being in a foreign country with no parents.

When Luca was 15 years old, Brother Daniels fetched him from his dormitory, took him into another room and instructed him to kneel on the ground where he was forced to hold his arms out in a crucifix position.

‘I thought he was going to get me to pray or something. He made me kneel down and he put my pyjamas and he tied them around my head, around my eyes. And I felt somebody grabbing my two arms like that. And then he lift my shirt up and he dropped my pants down and he masturbated on my back.’

Shocked by what had happened, Luca went to confession where he disclosed the abuse. Despite the seal of confession, the priest told Brother Superior about the incident, who punished Luca rather than reporting it.

‘I went to confession about it. I went to tell a Maltese priest because they used to bring in a Maltese priest for us kids ’cause we couldn’t speak English or our English wasn’t very good … And he must have spoken to [Brother Superior] because I got called in the office and he asked me why I did not tell him instead of telling the priest. And he belt me across the ears.’

The only good to come out of this interaction was that the abuse did not recur. Luca told the Commissioner that by this stage he had become an aggressive boy and Brother Daniels may have been afraid of his reaction should he try to abuse him again. ‘I was an aggressive kid. I was a kid who used to look after my family. That’s why I got so many beltings.’

Following the abuse, Luca ran away from the home, but was found by the police and returned to the home where he received a beating. Back at the farm Luca continued to work hard for no pay. In addition to physical violence, he encountered racism from the clergy and slowly began to learn English, to avoid the punishments he received for speaking Maltese. ‘We felt that they hated the Maltese boys because they couldn’t speak English. And if we got caught speaking amongst ourselves we had a flogging.

‘When I was about 15 and a half, started to learn a fair bit of English, you know picking up a bit of English here and there. And I said to Brother Superior, I said “How come I don’t get no mail?” He said “How can you get mail yourself from dead parents?” And I couldn’t tell my brothers, I didn’t want to break their heart. I kept it to myself.’

At 18 Luca left the home and went to work as a fisherman. In the early 1990s he discovered his mother was still alive in Malta and had been told the boat carrying Luca and his brothers had sunk and she had lost her sons. He also discovered his father had died two years before. Realising the Christian Brothers had lied about the death of his parents, Luca mourned his father and made several trips to visit his mother in Malta before she too passed away.

With no education, Luca spent his adult life working manual labour jobs. He continues to suffer from depression and insomnia, has considered suicide and has been married several times. Having never previously disclosed the abuse, it wasn’t until he had a breakdown that his current wife realised something was wrong and helped him seek counselling.

‘I’ve been married twice, this is my third one. This is the only one I ever spoke about my life … I kept it on the inside, you know. I had a lot of anger and I think that’s what cost my marriage ... If it wasn’t for this lady here I don’t think I’d be here today.’

Luca currently receives the disability support pension as he is unable to work. According to doctors this is because of repeated strikes to the head he received from the Brothers during his time in the home. ‘After what happened to me, the confession and everything, I gave up religion. I didn’t want to know anything about religion.’

Several years ago Luca participated in the Redress WA and received compensation to the amount of $45,000. He is currently participating in a class action case against the Catholic Church. ‘To be honest with you, I wanted to go back and kill the mongrels.

‘So much went on in that place. You can go for months and months, and three years that I did there. It’s a lifetime. It’s a lifetime sentence what we’ve been through … I could write a book about it, but my problem is I can’t write.’

Luca and his wife currently foster children, which helps Luca feel as though he is redressing the ills of his past.

‘We’re foster carers. I’ve been doing that for about 19 years now. And the reason I do it is what happened to me … When it comes to children I’m there. Because I’ve been there, I know what’s it like.’

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