Maxwell was abused so many times by so many different perpetrators that he barely had time to tell the Commissioner half of what he suffered and witnessed. The abuse happened over the course of four years in the late 1970s and early 1980s at a special boarding school that Maxwell attended from age eight.
Maxwell was sent to the special school because the teachers at his Catholic primary were unable or unwilling to deal with the difficult behaviour he exhibited as a result of hyperactivity and dyslexia. When he arrived at the special school he discovered that many of his classmates faced far more complex challenges. He told the Commissioner ‘There was deaf and dumb kids, I remember a kid in a wheelchair. I think there was Down syndrome people there’.
The school was run by an order of Catholic Brothers. The principal was a man named Brother Clifford. At the end of Maxwell’s first week at the home, Brother Clifford took him out on an errand and fondled his genitals. This was only the first of dozens of abuses inflicted on him by the principal. And Maxwell wasn’t the only victim.
‘There was at least 40 different boys I seen him doing sexual things to.’
Brother Clifford would also encourage the boys to touch each other and to grope one of the house mothers. He was ‘obsessed with sex’ and would talk about it constantly with the boys. Maxwell described him as the most frequent offender, but not the most violent. That distinction went to Brother Willoughby.
‘He was just like Brother Clifford but not as nice. He was more vicious with you. He used to always tell me I was a handsome little boy and when he beat me and hit me he’d blame me and say, “You know I love you so why do you make me hurt you?”’
Four other Brothers and the gardener also sexually abused Maxwell during his stay. And when he went on excursions to other Catholic institutions, many of the Brothers there also abused him.
Maxwell tried to tell people what was going on. He told one Brother once and was beaten for ‘telling tales’. He cried to his mother a few times over the phone but Brother Clifford would always appear, take the phone and explain that Maxwell was lying because he was homesick. ‘He’d just tell Mum what she wanted to hear. And who’s not going to believe a priest?’
On top of the sexual abuse Maxwell had to deal with regular physical assaults. One time he was thrown down a set of stairs and got most of his teeth knocked out. There was also the psychological abuse. He described one occasion when Brother Clifford took him and two other boys to visit a morgue.
‘Brother Clifford pulled out a dead body on a stainless steel slab like thing and he showed us this person. And he said, “This person is evil and they died of cancer, and they’re stuck here in eternal hell and they’re going to rot” … I was just looking at it and I was frightened and he said, “This is what’s going to happen to you if you don’t do everything we say”.’
By age 11 Maxwell had ‘cottoned on’ to what the Brothers were doing and rejected their attempts to brainwash him into believing it was all harmless and normal. He demanded to be released, and after a six month period during which he was ‘bashed more than sexually abused’ the Brothers let him go.
Maxwell finished Year 6 at a local primary school and went on to do a year or so of high school before joining the workforce. All the while he struggled with the impacts of the abuse which included nightmares, physical scarring, anxiety and an aversion to human touch. ‘If another man touches me or bumps me when I’m walking through the shopping centre I get pins and needles in that spot for a couple of hours.’
A few years ago Maxwell started seeing a psychologist and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and a chemical imbalance in his brain. He now takes medication to correct the imbalance and checks in fortnightly with his psychologist.
With this support behind him Maxwell has been able to pursue police action and a private claim against his abusers. Unfortunately, the slow pace of the legal process has taken its toll on his mental and physical health.
‘To tell you the truth I’m all hated out. I just feel numb, I feel nothing.’
Still, he knows that other people are relying on him, and that’s why he doesn’t give in.
‘There’s a lot of poor kids that were at our school that weren’t physically capable of telling their story properly. There’s a lot of kids handicapped and stuff. So I want to make sure I tell it, because I’m one of the fit ones, fit enough to tell the story.’