Matthew Robert's story

In the early 1950s, at nine years of age, Matthew arrived in Freemantle, Western Australia. He and his brother, child migrants, were then sent to a boys’ home run by the Christian Brothers. Instead of receiving the education their parents at home thought they would, the boys’ home residents were made to labour barefoot in paddocks and on construction sites.

Right from the beginning Matthew knew this was wrong. He wondered, ‘Why is all this happening? Why there’s no schooling?’ Matthew would often feel tired from the work and was strapped if he wasn’t fast enough.

Punishments were brutal. One time, Matthew was punished for trying to run away. The Brother leaned him over a desk, pulled down his pants and belted him with a strap that was rumoured to have lead in it.

Matthew remembers working in the paddock with another Brother who would always pick him up by the bottom and hold him before putting him on the truck. One of the other Brothers would walk around after his shower dressed only in a towel. It was known amongst the boys that his room full of Playboy magazines.

Father Hughes was the visiting priest who would come and give confession. One day, Matthew went in and confessed three minor sins.

‘All at once he put his hand down [my pants], I was on my knees. And he started to fondle me. It was for quite a while. And he said to me, “Do you play with this?” I never answered him straight away because I thought he might be trying to remind me of a sin that I forgot. So after a little while I said, “Yes”, really for the sake of saying yes. As a nine-year-old, I had no feeling of anything as far as that goes. And he still kept on fondling and he said, “It’s all right. It’s all right to play with it”. But then I think he must have realised, when I had no feeling as far as whatever, he sort of let go … I took it as a bit of a shock.’

Matthew didn’t realise the assault was wrong and didn’t speak about it for a long time.

‘But when I actually spoke … a few boys come up with the same thing for some reason, which I thought it only happen to me.’

He has since found out that Father Hughes and some of the Brothers he came into contact with have had numerous child sexual assault allegations made against them. He realises he was, in a sense, lucky. It could have been much worse.

Matthew and his brother were only at the home for about a year. Their parents came out and joined them and the family stayed in the area of the boys’ home, where there was no school.

From the age of 14 Matthew had worked. He was now aged in his 70s and described his lack of education as hampering employment options. In his 20s he had gone to night school and this had helped somewhat. He’d built a life ‘the best I could’, married and had a family.

In more recent years Matthew received compensation through the Redress WA scheme. ‘I was expecting a little bit more’, he said, in relation to the sum he received. He also received a modest payment and assistance from the Christian Brothers.

‘I’m not a churchgoer any more. The way I look at it, I’m not the one who’s going to go to hell. It’s those who done it to us.’

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