By age 12 Reese had seen more than his fair share of horrors, so unlike most of the new arrivals at the boarding school he quickly realised what the Brothers were doing and took steps to protect himself.
The school was a Catholic boarding school in Victoria, run by the Christian Brothers. Reese arrived there in the early 1970s. On his first night he noticed that the dorm master, Brother Vincent, had a habit of sneaking up to the beds at night and molesting the boys.
‘So I moved me bed. I was pretty streetwise for a 12-year-old. I moved down near the locker room, which is at the end of the dormitory next to a window, and I thought, “Well if anything happens to me, I’ll be out of here. I’ll take off”.’
The plan appeared to work and Reese suffered no night time visits, though from time to time Brother Vincent tried to draw him into his private room. Reese always refused and was punished for it with an extra six cuts of the strap across his hand.
‘And I thought that was cheap … My father was a fairly big bloke and fairly aggressive, so I knew what a real flogging was.’
Then one day towards the end of the school year, Brother Vincent caught Reese fighting with some of the older boys and gave him the strap as punishment. Reese’s casual response aggravated the Brother. ‘He had the shits because I didn’t respond, as usual, and didn’t care.’
Reese went off to bed. In the middle of the night Brother Vincent woke him. They argued.
‘I grabbed him and he said something to me and I was sort of angry so he walked back to his dormitory, so I followed him. I thought, “You bastard”. It’s the only time I’d ever been in the room. And he threw me on the bed and that was when it happened.’
Brother Vincent raped Reese. ‘It’s probably the only time I remember in life I cried.’ He walked out of the room, then stopped, turned around and went back in. ‘It’s interesting how adrenalin and anger and all those things come into it. I just started belting him and wouldn’t stop. Anyhow, he was crying on the floor and I was so angry for the other kids and angry for me.’
Eventually several of the other Brothers heard the commotion and came running. Reese started swinging at them too and the scuffle continued until the Brothers managed to lock him in the linen cupboard. When the door opened hours later Reese came out swinging again and ran into his father. He left the school for good that night. His dad stopped twice on the drive home to beat him.
For the next few months Reese studied at the local high school during the day and worked for his dad mornings and nights. Father and son rarely spoke to each other, their main interactions taking place when Reese would intervene to stop his dad bashing his mum.
Eventually Reese’s dad decided he’d had enough of Reese’s interfering and sent him off to another Catholic boarding school. This school was run by the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart who, Reese soon discovered, weren’t much different from the Christian Brothers.
By this stage, Reese’s anger had only intensified, as had his hatred of bullying. The first time he caught one of the Sacred Heart Brothers trying to interfere with a younger boy, he threatened the man. The next time he caught one of them he attacked. ‘I really could have killed him, I was that angry.’
The only thing that kept Reese from going completely off the rails was his schooling. He was a gifted student with a particular passion for writing and English literature. ‘I enjoyed it. I wanted to learn because I thought if I learned it quicker I’d get out of there.’
Unfortunately, Reese wasn’t able to see out his full term at the boarding school. One night he found one of the boys, bloodied and beaten. He attacked the Brother who did it. Later, two prefects grabbed Reese and brought him to the Brother who then beat him with a fan belt.
After that, Reese decided that he’d reached his ‘use-by’ date and grabbed his meagre belongings and walked out the front gate. He found a new school and worked a few jobs to pay for a tutor and a place to live. When he ran out of money his dad stepped in ‘out of guilt’ and let him live in the garage.
Things were different now. This time, when his dad started hitting his mum, Reese intervened with all the rage and strength of a solid, 15-year-old-boy. ‘I broke his jaw and told him if he ever did it again I’d kill him. And he must have took me at my word because he never, ever touched her again.’
A while later Reese took off, hitchhiking his way to Melbourne where he joined the armed forces for a few years before starting his own business. The business is still thriving today under the management of his youngest son.
Reese now rises at four o’clock every morning to write, using words as a way to get the bad things out of his system. He is very active in his local community, helping disadvantaged people and violent men who need someone to set them on the right track. He still holds a fierce hatred of injustice, but he’s lost some of the anger.
‘One thing I’ve learned in life is that you can be angry and you can be hurt but you don’t have to hurt other people, and it doesn’t make it right.’