‘I have a very spasmodic memory with regards to the family background. Many different father figures. Many different schools. A fairly intensive religious upbringing from the ages seven to 16.’
In the 1970s in Queensland, when Patton’s single mother was having trouble coping, the Assemblies of God church recommended a residential centre. Patton described it as ‘a place for troubled children’.
He was in his early teens when he and his siblings were sent there. The centre was run by Noel Bruner, a man no longer officially part of the church but who called himself a pastor. Bruner’s assistant was Margaret Spett, a former resident with mental health issues who had become a member of staff.
Patton doesn’t remember ever receiving any counselling or support in the six months he lived at the centre. He said it was little more than babysitting. What he does remember is frequent physical abuse at the hands of Noel Bruner.
‘He’d walk in with this pair of boxing gloves hanging off his hip ... Any of us lads that had stepped out of line would be called up together … Basically get biffed around the head and pushed against the bunk, and intimidated, threatened … I think I tried not to give him any reaction, and the more I tried not to give him a reaction the harder he hit me.’
Patton was sexually abused, too. Margaret Spett would show the boys pornography, then make them stand up so she could ‘inspect’ their erections.
Patton told the Commissioner he wasn’t sexually abused by Bruner, but in later years he was contacted by a number of survivors who were.
Life didn’t get any better after the centre. ‘Went home for a little bit before they passed me off to a Christian foster family … Couple of months, wasn’t long before they got rid of me …
‘I was passed off to a number of foster homes actually, through the church. So I think that rejection kind of was instilled in me … any job I tried to get into, it just never worked for me from that point on, I never fitted in anywhere.’
There was more physical abuse in the foster homes. ‘They all hit me,’ he said.
Patton never reported the abuse at the residential centre, although he often thought about it. ‘My mum let me, every now and then, come back and stay for a little bit. Every time I came back I’d always go, “You know, we have to do something”. No one wanted to talk about it.’
In his mid-teens Patton moved to Sydney to look for his brother. ‘I just ended up living on the streets … I had no money in my pocket, couldn’t hold a job.’
He soon met Shane Uriss, who ran a drop-in centre for homeless kids and would sometimes offer them accommodation. ‘Sleeping in the streets started to wear a bit thin with me and I needed a break so I did ask Uriss. He said yes. I didn’t know that there was only going to be the one bed until I got there …
‘Looking back now he tried to absolve himself by getting me to … permit him to touch me …
‘I ended up becoming a male prostitute on the Darlinghurst Wall … and I’d say about 80 per cent of the young fellas down there were going through the centre.’
Patton was able to get out of that life in the 90s, when he began a relationship and had his first child. But the impacts of the abuse have always stayed with him. ‘Borderline paranoia … Social phobia, extreme anxiety, clinical depression ...
‘I’m a dysfunctional member of the community, I’m a non-contributor, and I’ve been a risk to the community as well …
‘Suicidal tendencies haven’t always just been about myself. I’ve often thought about killing people ...
‘I’ve tried medications … Combined with my past drug use, I have an extreme sensitivity to taking anti-psychotics and stuff ... I do much better with alternative methods. You know, exercise, mindfulness, social interaction, psychotherapy.’
Patton told the Commissioner, ‘When I go away from here it’s not like it’s fully resolved. It’s still in me. My inability to function in society will always be there, feeling like I’m being judged and that. And other people call it paranoia but for me it’s another level of suffering that’s real. That’s never going to change in me’.
Noel Bruner and Margaret Spett are both dead, but Patton still wants justice. For him, that means having Bruner’s high civic honour revoked. ‘If you’re able to do anything with that I would appeal to the Commission … that’s probably the only bit of compensation because I can’t underestimate the damage that took place to me …
‘When I see that it’s a trigger, it’s a massive trigger.’
He also wants society to be more aware that one impact of child sexual abuse isn’t that survivors take their own lives, it’s that they take the lives of others.
With the support of his wife and children, Patton is determined to improve his mental health. He also hopes to use his past to help others in the future. ‘I want to be a functioning member of community’, he said.
‘My contribution now is to do the best I can, to remain stable as I can.’