Mort was one of six kids born to very devout Catholic parents. In the 1960s and 70s, he was sent to primary and secondary schools in a Melbourne suburb which were both run by the same order of Catholic Brothers.
During his first 18 months of high school, Mort suffered routine sexual abuse at the hands of one man, Brother Barry. Since the Brother taught multiple subjects, including Physical Education, he was impossible to avoid.
The abuse started in the first week of Year 7. The Brother would sit Mort or other pupils on his knee, and ask strange questions such as ‘do you masturbate?’ ‘I didn’t even know the word. And then a little hand would be going up your leg, and eventually, yeah, around the crotch.’ The Brother would also ‘get an erection a fair amount of time when he was touching you up’, Mort said. This happened in front of the class, and Mort ‘just couldn’t do a thing’.
In summer, boys returning from the pool would end up naked in the classroom. ‘You had to drop your Speedos, walk over to the window and wring them out, while he was sitting there like this, watching. One sick puppy … Everyone had to do it.’
In winter, boys muddy from football were touched in the showers. Mort remembers Brother Barry lifting the penis of a boy and saying, ‘you’ve got mud around your crotch’, as if he was inspecting the boy’s cleanliness. This happened in front of other Brothers who just stood there and laughed.
To avoid the abuse, Mort faked diarrhoea and was absent from Year 7, for 38 days. However, he could not tell his parents. They had taught him that priests were ‘representative of God’, and would not have believed him.
After a fight on the train and a smack in the head from the headmaster, Mort had had enough. He walked out, and waited for his mother, who ‘God love her’ went and got Brother Barry. ‘I’d had it with him. I still shake thinking about it, honestly … He got in the car and started rubbing me up again, and I just opened the door and ran.’
Weeks later, when Mort returned to school, a kid belted him in the classroom, then Brother Barry got the strap and belted him while he was on the ground. ‘That was about the last straw’, Mort said. He then left the school, half way through Year 8, but not before he was made to shake the Brother’s hand and say thanks.
At his next high school, also run by the same order, he encountered Brother Barry one last time. There to attend a school play, the Brother saw Mort, and followed him into the playground. ‘And off he goes again!’ Mort said. ‘I just ran. I honestly just ran. I don’t know where I went.’
During the years of the abuse, Mort’s grades dropped from As to Ds. By the time he entered the workforce, he found it difficult to settle down and concentrate, and estimates that, over his lifetime, he has had about 25 different jobs. ‘I just can’t get committed. I’m just all over the place. Some days I’m good, the next day I’m a screaming mess.’ Mort also admitted that ‘I’m not big, but I do get angry’, and mentioned that, in one job in a country pub, he kept getting into fights. ‘Forty years, it still hurts.’
Mort’s inability to ‘settle down’, and his heavy drinking, brought his first short-lived marriage to an end. His second marriage lasted longer, but was not any happier. He also lost his faith in the Church. ‘I just can’t trust any of them. I just can not.’
The first chance Mort had to disclose the abuse came around 1990 when he called the police during a national phone-in. After making a statement, and police inquiries, Mort was told that Brother Barry was dead, and that there was no point in pursuing the matter any further.
About 10 years later, as his second marriage was ending, Mort was ‘breaking up all over the place’, and everything just poured out. His psychologist put him in touch with Broken Rites who, after a quick check, revealed that Brother Barry was still very much alive. ‘I fainted. I honestly fainted. Just legs just gave way’, Mort said.
Having discovered that the ‘mongrel’s still walking around’, Mort rang everybody to say ‘we gotta do something about him’. His efforts, and participation in the trial, led to Brother Barry being charged with multiple accounts of indecent assault.
In the courthouse foyer, Mort hit the Brother with words not fists. ‘I looked him in the eye and I just said, “Isn’t it a bastard kids grow up? You’re getting yours, mate”.’ However, Mort was ‘bloody disappointed’ with the sentence, even when it was increased after an appeal. ‘They’re just not getting enough jail time. Me, I’d be chucking the key away. Wish I could.’
Mort received a settlement of about $100,000. Half went to his lawyers. The other half was spent within a year by his girlfriend who put the lot through the pokies.
Mort also received a signed letter of apology from Brother Barry which he’d hoped would convince his father that he was not a liar who was ‘only after money’. However, his father still refused to believe him. ‘You’re just making arseholes out of us,’ he said.