Marko spoke to the Royal Commission on behalf of his brother, Damian, who died in 2014. Damian was born with Down syndrome and from the age of nine lived in two different residential care facilities in Victoria run by the St John of God Brothers.
Damian was three years older than Marko and had very little vocabulary, but the two brothers had a close connection and understood and communicated well with each other.
Whenever Damian returned home for holidays, he’d be in a bad way, Marko said. His clothes would be dishevelled, dirty and often not his. When it came time to return, Damian would scream, shake and cry, and beg Marko to convince their parents not to send him back.
He’d point to his genital area, a gesture that after some time, Marko realised was an indication he was being sexually abused. Marko didn’t know if the abuse was perpetrated by another resident or one of the many Brothers about whom allegations of abuse had been made.
On one occasion in the late 50s, the family were visiting the facility when Marko went for a walk outside with Damian. An older boy suddenly appeared and held Marko in a chokehold while grabbing his genitals. Damian became severely distressed at the sight of the boy.
‘It was fight or flight’, Marko said. ‘I struggled and somehow – he was a big kid – somehow, I got away. That was the day I knew a hundred per cent what was happening to Damian. And from that day on, I’d beg, “Please don’t send him back”, but verbally, you know, really let them know.’
In the year before his death, Damian required a high level of health and personal care. He was no longer able to walk and spent most hours restricted to bed. It was terrible and upsetting, Marko said, to see the amount of anguish it caused Damian to have people undertaking his personal care.
‘Because he had to be changed all the time, it brought back all of his abuse’, Marko said. ‘So you’d be in the room and you’d be holding his hands and they were washing him. And you’d say, “Is it better if I stay or is it better if I leave?” And they’d say, “Oh, it’s probably better if you leave”. They’d have to change his nappy or whatever, and you’d go and you’d hear him screaming so loudly and you’d come back in and you’d have to pacify him, depending who it was … It brought it all back, you know, whatever was done to him in both places.’
Marko said he’d wanted to talk about his brother for a long time. He regretted that he hadn’t been able to influence his parents to prevent Damian going back to the facility, but realised he was a child himself. He thought of his brother daily and there were particular things that brought back to him the terrifying staff and how much the place Damian lived in as a child ‘was like hell’.
‘When you walk in there’s a smell. It’s like laundry that hasn’t had enough laundry powder or something in the washing machine. There’s a smell that never leaves me. I don’t mean never leaves me but when I walk into a place that’s got it, you go, “Oh”. It’s a trigger right back to there and to St John of God.’