Max Dean's story

Max was six months old in the mid-1940s when he was made a ward of the state and placed in a Catholic orphanage in Victoria. For two decades he lived in several different homes and institutions.

In the mid-1950s when he was nine, Max was diagnosed with a mild intellectual disability and transferred to a St John of God Brothers children’s home.

Max described the place as ‘a hell hole’. Boys were often drugged at night to make them sleep and they’d be beaten if they objected to taking medication. Max was ‘a nervous kid’ who’d often wet the bed. When he did so the Brothers would make him ‘wear the sheets for three hours’ as punishment.

During the seven years Max was in the home he was physically and sexually abuse by three perpetrators: Brothers Goode, Kelly and Sawney. The abuse occurred once or twice a week, and when Max was 10 years old he reported it to a visiting doctor.

He’s not sure what happened next but Brother Sawney’s response was to break Max’s arm as punishment for ‘speaking up’ and destroy all his personal possessions.

At 15, Max moved to another home that was also run by the St John of God Brothers. There he was forced to work on a farm to ‘make the institution money’. He can’t recall ever going to school. He was sexually abused in that home by Brother Ned as well as again by Brother Sawney who often visited.

Every time Max fought back against the sexual abuse, Brother Ned would make older boys assault him.

After leaving at the age of 20, Max found life difficult. He’d had little contact with his family in the time he’d been in the homes and felt unloved by them. He continued to be harassed by the Brothers and at one stage was again sexually abused by Brother Sawney who’d come to visit him at the hostel in which he lived.

Max reported the assault to the hostel manager but was labelled a ‘liar’ and ‘kicked out’.

Shortly after leaving, Max’s health suffered and he underwent surgery in hospital. After that he was transferred to another institution to recuperate from the operation. In that place Max witnessed Brother Dawson masturbating a younger boy. He tried to stop the abuse from happening again to the boy by ‘giving’ himself up.

At a follow up hospital visit Max told the doctors what Dawson had done. The only outcome of this disclosure was that Dawson, who’d come to pick him up from hospital, punished him by making him walk back to the home. Soon after this, Max found his older sister and went to live with her and her husband.

Max described drinking ‘a lot’ of alcohol and smoking cigarettes as a way to help him cope. He never took drugs because he believed ‘it wasn’t worth it’. He often had trouble falling asleep and was easily agitated. Adapting to life outside the institutions was difficult without support and with such poor education. He taught himself to read and write when he was in his mid-20s.

In the mid-1990s, Max reported the abuse to Broken Rites and to Victoria Police. In the early 2000s, he received about $120,000 in compensation from the Catholic institutions. He made a later police statement against Brother Dawson, after which he received a number of threatening phone calls.

Max is now on a disability pension. He sees a counsellor regularly, which he has found helpful. He describes himself as ‘a good fighter’ and because of this ‘gets the job done’. He said he’s ‘lost a lot of friends’ over the years because ‘they’ve killed themselves’.

Telling his story to the Royal Commission was a way of healing, he said, and he was encouraging others who’d been in the homes to come forward and do the same.

Content updating Updating complete