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Nelson's story

Nelson was raised in a small country town in regional New South Wales. The population was approximately 1,000 and the community was very close-knit, so even though Nelson was an only child he had many good friends and extended family members around him.

‘It was an extremely happy place to grow up. My parents were very loving, hardworking middle class people committed to the community, and I couldn’t have really wanted for anything more there.’

Because Nelson’s family were devout Catholics, it was decided that instead of attending the regional high school, he would board at the Salesian college in Victoria like his older cousin Robert. So in the mid-1970s ‘at the age of 11 off I went for my first year, which was very exciting for me.

‘From the first night it was clear that there was something wrong there … There was just as much physical abuse as there was sexual, right from the word go. It was horrific … My first night was in a room of I’d say there would be 50 kids, and one of them was I believe beaten to within an inch of his life with a tennis racquet by one of the priests. And that was just an eye-opener for me. I thought “I gotta look after myself here”.’

The priest in charge of the infirmary at the college was Father Cottee. ‘Cottee came at my bedside, fondled with my genitals and masturbated on at least two occasions. I was so young and innocent at the time I didn’t understand what was happening to me ... I thought it was a medical examination.’

Father Cottee was ‘taken away from the school for a period of time’ and, while he was gone, Nelson ‘grew very quickly’. By the time he was 16, he had reached adult height and was aware that what the priest did was wrong. ‘It was clear that I wasn’t going to let that happen again.’ Cottee returned to the school but ‘he never came anywhere near me’.

Nelson said, ‘As much as that may have and did affect me, there was no possible way of telling anybody about what happened because I understood extremely well the power and practices of the Catholic religion and I knew in later years that what happened was wrong.’ After finishing high school, he ‘was happy to be out of there and I never ever went back.

‘I remember trying to tell certain friends earlier on in the piece but it was laughed at … and I just thought, well, I’m not going through the humiliation … I eventually told my cousin Robert … and he was the best person to talk to because he’d been there … And there was just a constant battle with anyone in my family because I think that they believed that you were attacking their faith.

‘I went to a priest who was a family friend … who was at the school and told him about this. I wouldn’t say that it fell on deaf ears but nothing was done about it, and that would have been in the late 90s. It was an effort for me to go to him because he was a priest …

‘I remember specifically talking to him about Cottee and at the time he said “We’ve put him into a parish”. He shouldn’t have gone into a parish, he should have been taken to the police. The parish would be the worst spot for him. I couldn’t understand that. And I knew then that they’re just closing in on their ranks.’

After leaving school Nelson tried to block out the abuse with alcohol.

‘The problem with pushing away what happened is that as soon as the first challenge in your life comes, along with that challenge comes what happened to you … I’m older and wiser now but it’s because you haven’t dealt with it, it just keeps coming back.

‘It cost me a marriage. For a young person I was extremely good at football, it probably cost me my football career because of the drinking ... I just wish that I could have had the opportunity to go through life without [it]. And also I thought what happened to me maybe didn’t warrant telling anyone because it may not, as I grew older, thinking that it wasn’t as bad as some people had got it there. But nonetheless it affected me the same …

‘I had a deep anger of the Church, the way they’ve acted around it … I just cannot understand how someone didn’t know what was going on at the time that I was there. It was absolutely rife.’

In 2014 Cottee was convicted of offences relating to child sex abuse and Nelson has recently been contacted and interviewed by police, which he presumes is to extend the priest’s jail time.

Nelson has worked at moving on from his past and rebuilding his life with his second wife and children.

‘I’m lucky because I have remarried a beautiful woman who has helped me immensely both mentally and as a person in every way … My children are now approaching adulthood. So I just need to deal with this as best as I can …

‘It’s a life wasted trying to get this out of you. It really is.

‘I wish the first 50 years were without what happened to me, but you can only change the next 50.’

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