Murray Nicholas's story

‘The records I got from the state … my biological father, he [was] more worried about drink and drugs and being in jail. Looks like … [My mother] liked the booze, I think … One thing [though], they were good Catholics.’

Murray and his siblings were placed in a Catholic orphanage in regional Victoria in the early 1960s, when he was four. The first time Murray remembers celebrating Christmas was when he was nine, shortly after he was adopted by Mary and Bruce.

‘My adopted parents were lovely people … but I couldn’t call them Mum and Dad … and they accepted that. I considered Mary my natural mother. She died two years ago, [in her late 90s].’ Murray cared for Mary until her dementia made it necessary to put her in a home.

Although Mary and Bruce adopted both him and one of his brothers, Murray believes that ‘the damage was already done’ by the time he left the orphanage.

The orphanage was a harsh, ‘dog-eat-dog’ place, where you had to learn to fight. In his records, Murray read that he had gone from ‘a loving four-year-old, to wanting to fight everyone and prove I was top of the heap, when I was eight. So obviously, the years in between …’

During his time at the orphanage, Murray was subjected to physical, emotional and sexual abuse at the hands of the Christian Brothers who ran the place. He remembers being locked in a dark room, held under water for so long that he couldn’t breathe, and being made to perform sexual acts by the Brothers.

Murray has blocked out a lot of what happened to him at the orphanage. ‘I can remember certain things, mainly the aftermath of what happened because I’ve had certain traits all me life.’

When Mary was bathing Murray one night, she touched the top of his head, ‘and I just went under and I wouldn’t come up, wouldn’t come up, so she let the bath water out and said, “What’s wrong?” and I just wouldn’t say nothing … and sort of cowered there and next thing, she stopped giving me baths’.

Murray told the Commissioner, ‘I can’t stand in line with someone behind me … No one can touch me on the arse … I’ll turn around and hit ‘em … Right up to 34, 35, I suppose, I had a hell of a reputation, fighting-wise. I’m not saying that proudly. It’s just the way I defend myself. I was no thug … I wouldn’t hit someone just for the hell of hitting ‘em’.

When he was in technical school, the boys had to line up alphabetically, and Murray was always in trouble for standing at the back, or in an aisle. ‘It didn’t matter what they’d do, I was a little smartarse … but I could just not stand anyone standing behind me … So I was always in trouble with the teachers …

‘I tried to tell Mary … about certain things. She said, “That wouldn’t happen”, because what priests said, what nuns said, well, if you were a good Catholic, that was it … And of course, if you got brought up in a good home you just wouldn’t think those things possible.’

When Murray got married, his wife did not understand why he would just take off for days at a time. He used to be a heavy drinker, but he wouldn’t drink at home, around his family.

‘I’d sort of … sometimes I’d be away for a week and no one’d be able to find me and … just the way I coped was to get away, get it out of me system … and then come home.’

Although his marriage didn’t last, he is on friendly terms with his ex-wife and has told her about some of the abuse he experienced. He also has a good relationship with his children, so ‘I must have done something right’.

Murray told the Commissioner, ‘In hindsight, what happened in the home, stuffed up … me school and so forth … but I’m not saying, “I could’ve been this. I could’ve been that” because in reality, there’s probably a lot of people that went through the same as I went through, if not worse, and probably have done a hell of a lot better …

‘I’ve always said you can’t do anything about the past. I coulda went down two tracks and I think mainly because of [Mary and Bruce] and my strong will, I didn’t. So where a lot of people blame their past by doing stuff … I’ve never stolen anything from anyone. Never damaged anything. I used to have a police record for fighting, that’s all.’

He cannot understand how people can commit sexual offences as adults, and use the excuse that they were sexually abused as children. ‘That’s why I reckon the past’s the past. It doesn’t matter how you’re brought up, you don’t go and rape … anyone.’

Murray approached the support organisation, Open Place, on the suggestion of his ex-wife. He has found them helpful and ‘not intrusive’, and although he’s always been reluctant to join groups, he thinks he will give it a try.

He believes that all incidents of child abuse should be reported. ‘I can’t understand anyone not reporting anything. Doesn’t matter what it is … If anyone hurts anyone, it should be reported, no matter how trivial.’

Even though he believes that nothing can change the past, Murray was glad to come to his session at the Royal Commission, ‘to finally get it out, that’s all’.

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