Owen Clive's story

‘What do you really want to know?’ Owen asked the Commissioner about his story. ‘There’s things like children bashing children ... children raping children. And God knows what the priests were doing at times.’

One of Owen’s school mates, a survivor of the same abuse, has had his world fall apart. ‘All because of the Commission stuff and not being able to handle it. Because none of us knows, really, what to tell you … Do we tell you that they tied you to wire grates with electrical cable and tried to rape you that way and some other kid saved you? Because I could go on and on and on for hours.’

Owen’s family hadn’t been in Brisbane long when he started going to a Catholic primary school in the early 1980s. The headmaster flogged Owen every day with a cane or strap. ‘He’d put me up in front of the class … get me to pull my pants down, then whip me all over the back legs.’

Brother Charles, ‘a great big huge man’, coached football and ran the choir. He was out of control, Owen said, with a ‘hands on approach’ to everything from caning the children to sexually abusing them. Owen’s grades dropped. He now hated school and hated authority.

But Owen’s accounts of his primary school are overshadowed by descriptions of the Anglican college he went to later, in a town west of Brisbane. Here, the kids were locked in the dormitories until morning. There was no adult supervision until just before daylight.

All the boys got on with each other during the day ‘but after they locked those doors at night it was tribal’. The older students ran riot, sexually abusing and terrorising the younger ones. Some of them were 19 or 20 years old. ‘I saw so many kids get raped by other kids and never ever, ever made my mind think that’s what was happening.

‘Now that I’m an adult and aware of what’s going on, I’ve realised that they weren’t mucking around. They were raping them. And while everybody was sort of thinkin’ it was a joke, it wasn’t a joke at all.’

The other kids were too scared to try to stop the assaults. ‘As soon as you did something, you were the next victim.’

Owen was bashed, threatened with sexual assault and groped repeatedly. ‘They’d chase you till you were ragged.’ Their 20-year-old dorm master, who was the size of an A grade footballer, pulled Owen and another boy out of bed. He’d strip them naked and make them crawl on their stomachs from one end of the dormitory to the other. ‘In front of 300 kids. In the middle of the night.’

If the boys refused, ‘he’d pick us up off the floor by the skin on our chests, walk us into the locker room and then proceed to smash 18 lockers up and down the locker room and move them a metre in either direction’.

Two older boys dragged Owen to the bathroom one night and tried to tie him to the shower grate. Owen believes he would have been raped if a friend hadn't come looking for him.

No one ever told the teachers about the abuse, as far as he knows. Owen’s parents had been told that it was one of the best schools in Queensland to get kids straightened up. They paid a fortune to send him there. ‘They were all kids that were on their last chance … Their fathers and mothers were alcoholics and, from what I could tell, bad-arsed people.’

A group of students, desperate to escape, committed a serious offence and were expelled. ‘We did that solely and wholly to get the hell out of there. Because there was no other way.’

Owen got a criminal record as a result but at least he didn’t have to go back to the school.

He’s never enlightened his parents – ‘the most beautiful people on earth’ – about what the college was really like. They were just doing what they thought was right to get him an education, he said. But ironically, because of the physical and emotional strain of the abuse, his schooling went out the window.

The impacts of the abuse for Owen have been deep and far-reaching: homelessness, substance abuse, nightmares, prison time and emotional volatility. His family walk on eggshells around him. He has problems with relationships and now warns women away because of his emotional instability. He much prefers to be alone. Nightmares make him ‘scream the house down’, terrifying anyone who’s staying with him.

It was only after 15 years of therapy that he told his counsellor about the abuse. If his descriptions get very graphic his counsellor warns him that talking in too much detail will affect him for months.

‘I’m sort of careful, but at the moment I’m thinkin’, the more youse know, the more that maybe can be done.’

When the Commissioner asks about recommendations Owen is at a loss. ‘How do they watch a class of 30 or 40 children any more, all the time?’

Owen hasn’t officially reported his abuse to the Church. He heard that people were getting compensated but he didn’t see the point. ‘Money’s not going to make you feel any better … and it won’t make it go away.’

But he wouldn’t mind an apology from both the schools.

‘I run through those dormitories every night. And I get to a concrete wall that’s got stains in it and I turn my fingers to blood trying to climb up it. And I just don’t get up it. And that has been ever since Grade 8.’


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