‘I hardly knew anyone that wasn’t a Catholic when I was younger … Mum got across to us that anybody that wasn’t a Catholic was pretty much a criminal.’
Piers grew up the youngest child in a working class Catholic family. His father had an acquired brain injury and worked as a labourer, while his mother looked after the home and took on seasonal work when she could. ‘Mum was very much the matriarch. Dad basically just did what he was told and he had limited memory and speech. So as a child I couldn’t really talk to him very much, just about football or something simple. He just wasn’t up to anything sophisticated.’
Piers attended the local Catholic primary school in Victoria. When it was time for him to attend high school in the mid-1960s, his mother insisted on sending him to a Salesian boarding school. ‘My parents really struggled to send me to this school and they thought it would be a great thing for me … I think my mum was under a lot of pressure to send me to a good Catholic school.’
When Piers arrived at the college he found that the teachers would physically abuse the students and the conditions were inadequate. ‘The food and the level of nutrition was deplorable. By the winter time we were just left out in the rain or in the wind … I had chilblains all over me.’
During his first term, Piers’s teacher, Brother Delaney, started coming into his dormitory at night to talk to him. Over the course of that first term, Delaney would regularly visit Piers and molest him.
‘As far as I can remember it started with him just talking to me, sitting on the bed … Eventually he managed to get me to have an erection. And then he told me that that was my evil, and that that was the devil that was doing and causing that reaction. As though it had nothing to do with what he was doing.’
Delaney also tried to make Piers masturbate him in return. ‘He lifted up his cassock, he had an erection. And he put my hand on his penis and I tried to take my hand away but he sort of forced me to do it. And then there was a loud noise and he just rushed off. And that was the last time that he tried anything with me.’
Following this incident, Delaney attempted to be ‘over-friendly’ with Piers, but Piers would ignore him, even in class. ‘I didn’t want to have anything to do with him and I couldn’t see the point of me pretending that I had respect.’ A few weeks after the abuse ceased, Piers was confronted by a group of senior boys who wanted to know what had occurred between him and Delaney. ‘I was 12, they were 17 or 18. They were big, I was little.’ Piers was also asked by the head rector if anything had happened. On both occasions Piers denied anything untoward had taken place.
Piers wanted to leave the school but couldn’t explain to his parents what had happened, so he stayed. ‘When I went back there in Form 2 I really resented being there and I started to misbehave a lot to the extent that by the time Form 3 came around they asked me to leave because of my behaviour … I suppose in retrospect I was really a bit of a smart arse.’ Piers was able to stay but by Form 6 insisted on leaving and went to the local public school where he was much happier.
As an adult Piers became withdrawn and mistrustful of most people. In the late 1970s he married Nicole and disclosed his abuse to her early in their relationship. ‘I didn’t go into any details as far as I can remember. I just said I was sexually abused at school. And I remember Nicole said “Well, that explains a lot”.’
Nicole and Piers had a child together and over the following 20 years Piers’s mental health began to deteriorate. ‘I basically became agoraphobic. I was pretty much unsociable. I was just an incredible burden. I was morose, hard to live with, unresponsive.’
Piers experienced suicidal thoughts and sought support by disclosing the abuse to his doctor. After a series of inadequate prescriptions and referrals, he was eventually referred to a psychologist who has been effective in helping him for the past 18 months.
Piers has never reported Delaney to the police and believes that seeking compensation would be ‘in some way, prostituting himself. That I was bribed. That I was receiving compensation in a way to ease their conscience rather than mine. I have great difficulty accepting anything from anybody … I’ve always thought that if you take something from somebody they’ll expect something in return and it won’t be something pleasant’. Delaney has since been convicted of child sexual offences perpetrated against other students and has spent time in jail.
Although he still occasionally has suicidal thoughts, the support of his psychologist, his wife and their child has helped Piers feel stronger every day. ‘I feel like even in the worst of times that I would be letting them both down if I did anything. And I suppose just not wanting them to win. To beat me in a way, to have trodden down my spirit to such an extent that there was nothing left for me to fight for or to live for.’