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Manuel's story

Manuel came to the Royal Commission to speak on behalf his brother Harvey, and his mother Alice, who have both passed away.

In the early 1960s, after separating from her husband, Alice took Manuel and Harvey to a suburb of Sydney to live with their grandparents. The brothers were close, but the five-year gap in their ages meant that they didn’t have friends or social groups in common. While Manuel was ‘extremely outgoing’ and ‘pretty independent’, his older brother was ‘always quite introverted’, so Alice encouraged Harvey to ‘join groups, to get out, play sport, do whatever - and of course it completely backfired’.

Harvey joined the Church of England Boys’ Society (CEBS) when he was about nine or 10, and weeks later, attended a camp organised by the local church. In a written statement Alice had prepared for the Commission before she died, she said that ‘overnight during this camp CEBS leader Duncan Johns sexually abused 10 of the boys attending the camp, including Harvey, my son. Parents attended a church service on the last day of camp. Harvey insisted on returning from camp with me rather than return with Duncan Johns. He did not discuss the abuse with me that afternoon’.

Her statement continued: ‘That evening, a father of one of the other boys visited us at home and told us of the abuse of his son and the other boys, including Harvey. I woke Harvey who confirmed that the sexual abuse had taken place’.

Alice and several other parents immediately reported the abuse to the parish priest, Reverend Brian Watkins. Watkins said that he would report Johns to the bishop, and asked the parents not to go to the police.

However, Manuel said, ‘nothing was ever really done about it … Obviously the family cared, but there was no evidence that any of the authorities cared. The Church didn’t care’.

Alice harboured ‘a lot of anger and resentment that nothing was done’ about Johns. ‘And the fact that the man could be in church the following Sunday sitting behind her was pretty astounding.’ After Alice complained about this as well, Johns never attended another church service.

Manuel said that his grandmother ‘understood what had happened and felt exactly the same as my mother’. However, his ‘quite religious’ grandfather ‘couldn’t understand that that could have ever happened in a church with people who belong to the church’. Manuel thinks that this partly explains why his family did not take legal action or pursue the matter any further; this, and their need to look after Harvey - ‘the sooner they could leave it behind the better’.

Even though Manuel was only in kindergarten, he remembers the incident clearly because ‘it was so traumatic at the time’.

‘My view of being in this situation was that there was just an incredible cloud of horribleness sort of right over the house. And at certain times in my life, I thought about this and just thought, while the truth needs to be told, and things need to be said, and … things need to be explored, I just think that … children learn how to be anxious from their parents … An anxiety can be exacerbated in them if everyone around them is running around saying how terrible everything is … They don’t always know why that anxiety is there, and it’s possible to sort of transfer that back on yourself and say “I must have done something wrong”.’

A few years after Harvey was abused, Alice married ‘an amazing person’ and the four of them moved interstate ‘basically as a new family’. However, in his mid-to-late teens, Harvey ‘started having schizophrenic episodes’. Manuel said that while Harvey ‘may well have had a disposition towards that’, the sexual abuse he experienced ‘could well have been a contributing factor. We’ll never know. No one will ever know’.

Manuel said that the treatment of symptoms of schizophrenia in the 70s was ‘pretty appalling’ because there was no sense of any therapy – ‘it was just basically very heavy drugs’. ‘It wasn’t until the mid-80s, would you believe, that he had a psychiatrist who could actually even talk about life experiences, what might have caused this, some sort of therapy on how we could work through it. It used to astound me, absolutely astound me.’

Alice looked after Harvey at home until he was in his 40s, and she was too old to care for him. They then moved into a retirement village and a supported hostel respectively, and had ‘some semblance of independence’ before they died. ‘I think it had a really huge impact on Mum’, Manuel said. ‘I think she always felt she let him down in some way, which is obviously incorrect.’

As an adult, Manuel moved back to Sydney to pursue his career, but he remained close to and supportive of his family, and would return to visit them often. He experienced ‘bouts of depression and anxiety’ in his 40s, and is still very emotional about the recent death of his mother. Now nearly 60, he also said that he was surprised to realise that life does not actually get any easier with age.

‘When you’re younger you think “Oh as I get older, things will just be clearer … everything will be sorted out and I’ll understand what life’s about” … And then … it doesn’t work out like that, so you’ve actually got that to deal with as well.’

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