When Nico was 14 his parents told him they had adopted him. The news came as a terrible shock. He couldn’t handle it, he told the Commissioner. He started getting into trouble. As a result he was sent to a government-run institution in Queensland and then, about a year later, to a home for troubled boys run by the De La Salle Brothers, an order of the Catholic Church.
Life at the government institution was grim. There was not enough to eat and the boys experienced brutal physical abuse. ‘You were treated like punching bags’, Nico said.
Nico tried to escape but was caught. He was brought back and punished by being locked in a basement room for three days and nights. Deprived of food and water, he had no choice but to drink from the toilet bowl.
Life at the De la Salle Brothers institution was even worse. Nico arrived there in the late 1970s, aged 15. There was a school there but the violence meted out by the Brothers who were doing the teaching made it impossible to learn. Floggings were frequent – when administering a beating, the principal of the home, Brother Horace, liked to use a leather strap inlaid with pennies.
Nico received plenty of beatings from Horace. He had also attracted the attention of Brother Stephen, who raped him ‘countless times’. These assaults took place in the stables, where Stephen wrapped a bridle around Nico’s neck and threatened to strangle him if he called out or told anyone what had happened.
Horace came into the stable one day when Nico was being raped by Stephen. He saw what was happening, and just turned and walked away, Nico recalled. But from then on Horace’s attacks on Nico were far more brutal than those on other boys.Using his leather strap, he would rain blows all over Nico’s body.
Nico left the institution as soon he finished Year 10. He took to drugs and alcohol as a way to cope with what had happened to him. He was sent to jail – and that became the pattern over the years that followed.
‘You get into drugs and alcohol, and you do stupid stuff and you end up back in jail, and it just went like that over and over’, Nico told the Commissioner.
It all began to change about 10 years ago. Nico found the strength to stop using drugs and alcohol.
‘I just had the will to fight it, bit by bit', he said. 'Been fighting it day in, day out, just take each day as it comes.’
He met ‘a lovely woman’ and they’ve been together ever since. Previous relationships hadn’t lasted. This time, he felt able to speak about his experiences. ‘I finally found a woman who knows all about what happened, which feels good. I couldn’t explain it before’, Nico said.
He sought compensation from a Queensland government redress scheme and received a modest payout. He is currently seeking compensation from the Catholic Church. Its initial response to his claim was to deny that he’d ever been a resident at the De La Salle Brothers home – an assertion that Nico’s Year 10 certificate disproved.
Now in his 80s, Brother Stephen is facing multiple charges concerning other boys he sexually abused over the years.
Nico remains bitter and angry about the Church and its treatment of him.
‘They are the most evil religion out. They talk about Islam being evil – the Catholic Church is worse’, he said. ‘I want nothing to do with that religion.’