Paul Thomas's story

After a long sea voyage, Paul arrived in Western Australia in the mid-1940s. Even though he was under 10, he was transferred to a Christian Brothers orphanage for older boys where he was brutalised on arrival by Brother David, who slapped him over the head and told him to cry like the other boys. ‘I only just got there', Paul said. ‘I was devastated over that.’

About a month later, Brother Merrick forced Paul to perform oral sex in the kitchen. ‘Then the bell went for prayers just before tea, and the dirty old bugger, he went and urinated in my mouth', Paul said. ‘I ran up to the bedroom, my dormitory, and laid on me bed and cried out for me mother.’ Brother Abraham soothed him and wanted to know what had happened, but Paul said ‘I was too frightened to tell him just in case I got a belting’.

A few months later, Paul was transferred to another Christian Brothers home where he met the ‘brutal’ and ‘cruel’ Brother Mark. The Brother’s hands ‘would be wondering all over the boys’ who had to remove nits from his hair.

One night, after Paul had wet the bed, Brother Mark took him to his bedroom and laid on top of him. ‘Then he turned me over. Then he got something out of the side drawer … and rubbed something on my backside. He undone his pants and stuck his penis into my bum, you know, and it was hurting, and I was crying and screaming.’

Brother Mark then clouted Paul over the head and sent him back to his wet bed. ‘I slept in that bed all night sobbing my eyes out,’ Paul recalled, ‘but when I woke up in the morning there was blood in there too because he busted my little backside … I was really scared.' This happened four or five times.

Paul was later transferred back to the older boys’ orphanage where the sexual abuse of children was rife.

‘You couldn’t get away from it anywhere. They were doing it down the milk yards, they were doing it down the piggery, in the chook yard.'

‘Once five o’clock come that’s when reality started to set in, ‘cause you know something was going to happen. Yeah, you’d be asleep and these hands would come in under the blankets, molesting and that sort of thing.’

Lay teachers also abused the children. Paul remembers one man molesting him after dressing him up as a girl. He remembers another showing him how to clean his penis and then shoving him under the bed when there was a knock on the door. ‘I was getting it all over the place', Paul said.

Children were routinely flogged, especially if they were a ‘chronic bed-wetter’ like Paul. He recalled the time when Brother David attached a machine to his penis. ‘While he was mucking around, I started getting an erection because they’re very sensitive, and he clouted me over the face … During the night the thing went off. I wet the bed, got a shock, and he came in and he belted me with a cane.’ The fear of being flogged by the Brothers, who ‘all had straps and canes on them’, stopped Paul and the other children from reporting the abuse.

With ‘all the raping and molesting that was going on’, Paul ‘just couldn’t learn’. When he left the home in his mid-teens, with a small suitcase and one set of clothes, he was not able to read or write. He did learn when he got married, but he was not always able to hold down a job. ‘See, when you have something like that happen to you, you got to be always on the move', Paul said. ‘I’ve had hundreds of jobs … I just kept moving about.’

When Paul began drinking, all the memories started coming back. He would ‘sit down and start crying’ and ‘make a fool’ of himself. However, in his 20s, alcohol gave him the courage to go to the home and confront Brother David while he was ‘having a good feed’ with some other Brothers.

‘I wanted to punch him up for the cruelty he did, so I grabbed the table cloth, I just pulled it off the table and sent everything flying … But if I had a gun, I would’ve shot him. I really would’ve, 'cause they wrecked my life.’

Paul first disclosed the abuse to a psychiatrist in the 1970s. ‘They thought I was making up things. They just gave me tablets and sent me on my way’, he said. When Paul disclosed to his wife, and to his biological family who tracked him down later in life, he lost them. ‘It was just too much for them. They didn’t want to know me.’

In the 1990s he disclosed to journalists during an investigation, and later wrote a lengthy account of his story for presentation during the court case against Brother Mark. The Brother pleaded not guilty to the rape charges, and died before the trial, but Paul said it ‘felt good to get the story out’.

Paul found it ‘pretty heart-aching’ to fill in his Redress WA forms which brought him some compensation but no apology. He has many health issues, including depression, but receives good care from his doctor and support workers.

He said, ‘I would love to have a wife, have some children, have a dog and a cat, a motor car to get around in … a normal life’, but ‘after all this trauma’, he remains single like the other former residents he is now in touch with.

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