Ever since he was a small boy Phil felt like there was some kind of label attached to him, marking him out as an easy target for sexual abuse. Part of it, he said, was because of his family background.
Phil’s mother divorced and remarried when he was very young, so he grew up in a blended family surrounded by siblings and step-siblings. Phil got along okay with his stepfather as long as the man was sober. When he was drunk, Phil said, ‘He’d get violent with me mother and that, and with me because I’d be trying to stop it’.
The nuns and Christian Brothers knew about Phil’s family history and he now believes that they took advantage of him because of it. He told the Commissioner, ‘They knew all my records. I think that helped set me up for them’.
In the late 1960s Phil was sent to an infant’s school in rural Victoria run by Catholic nuns. When he was about five or six one of the nuns sexually abused him, then told him it was ‘God’s secret’ and that he would be sent to hell if he ever told anyone. Phil took her threat to heart and didn’t say a word.
A year or so later he moved to a boys’ primary school run by the Christian Brothers. Here he was abused on multiple occasions by his teacher, Brother Riley. Brother Riley was brazen in his abuse and would often take Phil and other boys up to the front of the class and fondle them in full view of the other students.
Other Brothers at the school were also paedophiles. One day Brother Montgomery caught Phil alone in the staff room and digitally penetrated his anus. In the bathrooms afterwards Phil discovered that he was bleeding heavily. He did his best to staunch the flow with toilet paper and fled the school, hiding in a nearby creek until the bus arrived to take him home. ‘I thought I was going to die,’ he said.
Phil managed to avoid Montgomery until he reached Year 6. At that time the Brother took over as his teacher and Phil was forced to see him every day. Like Riley, Brother Montgomery flaunted his abuse in front of the whole class, getting students to read aloud while he slipped his hand down their pants and fondled them.
After suffering a few of these attacks, Phil came up with a plan to thwart them. He found an old pair of his brother’s pants and started wearing them to class. The pants were much too small for him and sat tightly round his hips. No matter how hard he tried, Brother Montgomery could not get his hand inside.
Phil escaped Brothers Riley and Montgomery when he graduated to high school, but unfortunately he did not escape the abuse. His high school teacher was another Christian Brother named Brother Barrack who loved to administer the strap and was ‘turned on by violence’.
Brother Barrack was slightly less brazen in his abuses than Phil’s previous teachers. He would tell the other students to face the front of the class while he took Phil and others up the back to ‘dry-hump’ them.
All this abuse took an enormous toll on Phil’s mental health, which in turn has impacted severely on his wife and children.
‘My wife has had to put up with a lot over the years but she’s stuck with me. I’ve tried suicide two times seriously. Thought about it a lot more than that though. She’s had to live through all this. The children have had to live through all this … They’re all showing effects of having to live with me. My oldest suffers anxiety; youngest has got behavioural problems with violent outbursts and learned behaviour from me.’
Phil said that he occasionally takes off into the bush on his own for weeks at a time, leaving his family to wonder if he’s going to come back alive. He feels bad about doing this but doesn’t know how to fight it. ‘You try and do your best but sometimes your brain doesn’t let you.’
About a decade ago Phil decided to get help. ‘Because you can only drink so much, smoke so much drugs and, you know, the kids deserve better than that. I didn’t know how to change it.’
So he rang up the Catholic diocese, hoping they could organise some counselling for him. They ignored his request and treated him as if he were making a compensation claim. The procedure that followed was cold and antagonistic and left Phil feeling re-traumatised. In the end he accepted the Church’s offer of $65,000. He now regrets taking the offer but at the time he just wanted the whole thing to end.
‘I was that much of a mess, if they had a conscience they wouldn’t have said or did anything until I was in a better mental state.’
Since then Phil has managed to give a statement to police and he is currently preparing himself to give evidence in the trial against Brother Barrack. He makes it through the days with the support of his family, his counsellor and a local men’s group.
‘I’ve always felt so isolated, with the way me brain worked and the way I’ve lived me life. And now it’s like yin and yang: it’s great not to feel lonely but it’s sad that there’s others with the same problem.’