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Lucas's story

Lucas attended a Catholic primary school in the late 1960s. Shortly after he arrived he witnessed one of the nuns brutally beat a five-year-old child in front of the class. He soon discovered that violence was a common part of the school culture.

‘After that I guess I lost just about every bit of faith I ever had in adults and teachers and the Catholic system full stop, and I was very cynical and scared and quite intimidated by the whole practice.’

In hindsight, Lucas believes that the nuns inflicted the violence in a systematic and calculated way. ‘It was almost like they were softening us up for something else.’

He encountered that ‘something else’ in Grade 5 when he moved to a Christian Brothers school for boys. It came in the form of a man named Brother Fitzsimmons.

‘This guy would physically abuse you, emotionally abuse you, tear you right down, and then cuddle you and then use that to take advantage of students … You can imagine the raw emotions after you’ve been beaten up, in public as well, or privately. You can imagine how that might feel, and you can imagine that any positive gesture from that same teacher – it must be a bit like the kidnapee falls in love with their kidnapper.’

Lucas said he was one of many boys who were physically beaten and also rubbed and groped by Fitzsimmons. The Brother would often touch the boys’ thighs in class, shower with them, touch their naked bottoms and get them to sit on his lap.

Other teachers also physically abused the boys. Brother Sheehan was ‘a very violent man’ who carried a strap ‘purpose-built for beating up children and not leaving marks’. Mrs Tonkin was a lay teacher who ‘had a nasty habit of taking you outside and literally kicking you up and down the corridor’.

Some of the boys, Lucas said, suffered grosser forms of abuse. He recalled one time when he and some classmates were invited to visit the house where the Brothers lived. One by one, the boys were invited to join the men in another room.

‘And by the time it got to the third boy, and the first one hadn’t come out again, and I heard crying in the background, and I heard noises in the background – and I don’t know what it was, it must have been something instinctive in me, I just got up and I ran. Something in me said, “You can’t stay here”. I don’t know what happened to those boys. I still don’t know.’

In their later years at the school, many of the boys became abusers themselves.

‘One of the things that was really quite disturbing was the culture that teachers had instilled in those older boys to perpetuate physical and emotional and sexual abuse between students … They would often perpetrate a lot of the abuse on behalf of the staff.’

Lucas said it was impossible to report the abuse to anyone at the school. The only person to talk to was the principal and ‘he must have known what was going on and condoned it’. Lucas mentioned the physical abuse to his parents a few times but nothing was ever done.

‘I have a hard time forgiving my parents. They must have known – they did know what was going on at times and didn’t do anything about it. It seemed to be a culture for that generation too, that they didn’t say anything.’

The abuse petered out as Lucas got older. But the impacts continue to this day.

‘As a teacher I know that those years are incredibly formative years. Whatever you do to a child before it’s seven – well basically it’s the saying, “Show me a child when he’s seven and I’ll show you the man”. It has affected me, it’s still affecting me. I don’t trust people, I’m cynical, I’m bitter, I’m twisted. I don’t have any self-esteem.’

Still, despite the legacy of the abuse, Lucas managed to succeed in the workforce and at university. He now works as a teacher in the Catholic system.

Lucas is disturbed by some of what he’s seen in regard to his employer’s approach to child protection. After several years in his position, he still hasn’t been asked for his working with children check.

‘I was a little bit surprised that after everything that’s come to light the Catholic system isn’t more stringent. In fact, I thought that they would have been more stringent than everybody else but they don’t seem to be.’

In his daily work practice, Lucas is hypervigilant about his physical interactions with the kids.

‘I won’t talk to a student in a classroom by myself, male or female, and if I am in a small office where I’m talking to a student, a door is always open and it’s usually a public place. You just simply do not touch kids, full stop. You don’t pat them on the back, you don’t put your arm around them. You don't guide them. We just avoid any of those things that could possibly be misconstrued. One of the scariest things for a teacher like me is being accused of something when you didn’t do it. Just the accusation is the end of your career.’

Lucas worries that he’s taken his self-protection strategies too far sometimes, even ‘to the silly point’. But he sees this as a necessary part of a worthwhile job. He told the Commissioner: ‘One of the reasons I became a teacher was because I swore black and blue, back then, that I’d never let that sort of behaviour happen to children again’.

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