Mathew was born into a large family in the mid-1960s, and along with his siblings, taken into care. He was a baby when they were separated and placed in different facilities around Brisbane.
At the age of 12 Mathew was sent to a De La Salle boys’ home, which had a culture of physical and sexual abuse. He was regularly hit by the Brothers with ‘a leather strap that was made from two pieces of leather sewn around a metal rod’ on his bare bottom. A lay teacher would hit him with the strap and a metal ruler, again with his pants and underpants down, and throw chalk dusters at him. The elderly Brother teaching him to ride horses whipped him with the bridle or reins if he did something incorrectly.
Brother Norbert and Brother Patrick would strip search Mathew in the main hall, making him remove his clothing and squat while they felt his genitals. This usually occurred fortnightly, whenever Mathew had returned to the home from day trips or holidays.
The boys were required to clean up after the Brothers had breakfast in their college. On one or two occasions Mathew was caught eating leftover food and sent to Brother Lesley to be punished.
‘Once I arrived in his room, he told me to pull down my pants and I believed that I was going to get the strap for what I had done. He then started touching my genitals and instructed me to sit on his bed. He then lifted his cassock and sat next to me on the bed, he grabbed my hand and put my hand on his genitals and forced me to begin playing with his penis.
‘He then began touching mine and started masturbating my penis whilst forcing me to masturbate his penis. I remember crying while this was going on and being very confused at what was happening. I always thought Brother Lesley was one of the better Brothers ... until he started doing this to me.’
Another time Brother Lesley took Mathew for a drive to a property the boys used for excursions, and forced him to engage in mutual masturbation. He tried to go further but Mathew refused. The Brother warned him not to tell anyone or ‘otherwise he would find me’.
‘After the assaults against me, I used to cry myself to sleep every night and contemplated different methods of absconding. At that stage, I did not care that I was being beaten for attempting to abscond. I felt that I needed to get away from Brother Lesley who was sexually assaulting me.’
After a year at the home Mathew went to live with an older sibling. For 10 years he remembered Brother Lesley’s threat, and was relieved to learn in the late 1980s that the man was dead.
The abuse ‘resulted in me feeling scared, dirty and ashamed of what had happened and I began drinking and taking drugs’. Working seasonal jobs, he also started gambling.
By his late teens he was in prison, going in and out of custody for a few years. He stayed out of jail after this but the other behaviours remained. In his 20s he quit drugs and reduced his drinking. ‘I did this because of my children and I did not want them to have the upbringing that I did.’
Now in his 50s, Mathew is in a much better place. He is very focused on his long-term relationship and family, sees a psychologist weekly and practises relaxation techniques.
‘I have also become hypervigilant in that I don’t let my kids out very far from my home. I frequently wait until everybody is asleep to lock my windows and doors around my house. Even though my kids are older, I still find that I need to do this to feel safe in my own home.’
Mathew still has flashbacks, anxiety attacks and difficulties sleeping. Even when he can sleep he often has nightmares about the boys’ home. He avoids any church interaction as clergy remind him of the Brothers. ‘I will either make an excuse to leave quickly or I will think of an excuse to stay home such as looking after the kids.’ Alcohol is the only thing that can calm and numb him.
A few years ago, Mathew saw a television program about the boys’ home and was prompted to disclose the abuse he experienced there. He participated in a class action and was awarded a six-figure payment, most of which he gave to his kids. He did not seek an apology from the Brothers nor wish to speak with them.
The legal process brought memories of the abuse to the front of his mind, causing him to become worked up and panic, and this is something he works on with his psychologist.
‘It just comes to me all the time now, all the memories. I just can’t get rid of them now.’