Merve was five years old in the mid-1930s when he was sent to a boys’ Catholic boarding school in Western Australia. It was here that Father Curtis began hugging and kissing him and within a year or two, fondling and masturbating him.
Merve told one of the nuns, Sister Gabriel, what was happening. She responded by putting him in front of the whole school at assembly and calling him ‘a despicable boy’. She told other students they weren’t to play or speak with him and Merve spent the following years in isolation. He recalled being belted during this time by Sister Gabriel because he’d become sick with measles.
From primary school, Merve moved to a Christian Brothers high school where ‘they assaulted people and kids and thought they had the right of God to do it’. One day, Father Curtis walked in on choir practice. Merve took one look at him and walked out. He again disclosed the abuse and again was punished. He then told his mother and she withdrew him and sent him to a different Catholic school.
When he was about 18 or 19, Merve met a nun from his primary school who apologised for the abuse. He dismissed her with a few expletives. He regarded the use of corporal punishment by the Sisters of Mercy as their complicity in the abuse. ‘The nuns there were just as bloody bad as the rest of them’, he said.
As an adult, Merve’s life became busy as he built a career, got married and raised his children. He had other things to concentrate on besides the abuse. ‘I don’t think I ever really and truly worried about it very much because I pushed it away to the back of my mind’, he said.
Media reports about child sexual abuse brought the memories back and he decided to tell his story to the Royal Commission. His wife, Noelene and daughter, Caroline, accompanied him to his private session.
Noelene told the Commissioner that Merve had only ever referred to his childhood at school in passing. ‘He might have said he had a few bashings or something like that’, she said. ‘But they were just passed over.’
Caroline said she’d gathered that something had happened to her father even though he hadn’t talked about it directly. ‘I sort of pieced it together without him really saying anything. It was just how he talked about the Church and in some ways how protective he was of the family.’
Merve told the Commissioner that he’d told Western Australia Police about the abuse at some stage in the past but ‘they were not impressed’. In early 2014, he contacted them again and they sent an officer to his home to interview him. He asked if she was Catholic and when she said she was, he sent her packing.
Merve said he hadn’t thought about compensation and didn’t want an apology. He thought a Bren gun would be useful in getting restitution.
‘What do I want? An apology’s no good, that’s meaningless. They’d just say, “Merve, I’m sorry”. And I might get up and flatten the person who said it. I don’t know. Money? What would you do with the money?’
He couldn’t understand why anyone would want their child educated in the Catholic system. ‘It makes me wonder the way I was treated that parents – Catholics – would ever send their children to Catholic schools. They’d be bloody mad if they did. Anything could happen to those kids and for what bit of good? Nothing as I remember.’