‘I am, in some ways … an emotional wreck … It’s not just a childhood … It’s also all that trauma I went through at [prison] and I had a very poor family life. All I can remember there is conflict.’
In the late 1940s, when Richard was 12, he was sent to a Salesian college in Victoria, one of four boarding schools he attended from the age of five.
One of the Brothers at the school ran some kind of competition and ‘apparently I won it and I don’t think I really did, but … the prize was one of those hunting knives the kids used to love’. Brother McPherson told Richard to go to his room after lights out to collect his prize.
‘He just molested me in the worst possible way, that’s the best way I think I can put it.’ Over the next year, Brother McPherson called Richard to his room every three or four weeks and continued to abuse him. Richard was not the only one. ‘At the time I was having trouble getting to sleep, and I would see other boys going to this person’s room.’
None of the boys talked about the abuse. ‘I don’t know if you can call it fear, because it was the unknown more than anything else … Just didn’t know who to talk to … I’d been to other boarding schools before that. You learnt very early in life, when you had problems, you kept them to yourself, supressed your feelings, your emotions.’
Richard told the Commissioner that he did talk about the abuse during confession one day, and a month or two later, Brother McPherson disappeared. ‘Whenever anyone’s been transferred or whatever from that boarding school at that time, everyone gathered around and wished him goodbye and all of this, but [Brother McPherson] just disappeared.’
At 14, Richard fled from the boarding school and walked all the way home. He went to live with his father for a while, but got into trouble and was sent to a reformatory run by the Catholic Church. ‘I was there two days [when] I was called into a storeroom by the head [Brother] … and he did basically the same as that other one did. In some ways, that wasn’t the worst of it.’
Not long after Richard was abused by the Brother at the reformatory, ‘this gang of boys, four of them, out of control they were. The whole place was out of control and these four boys bashed the hell out of me and raped me’. He told the Commissioner that abuse at the place ‘was a common thing. No one seemed to give a stuff’.
Richard ran away from the reformatory but he was caught and sent back. ‘And what they did is they shaved me head … and used the strap … on the bare backside’, until he was covered in welts. After a second gang rape by the same boys, Richard ran away again. He stole a car, and when he was caught he was sent to a reformatory in New South Wales.
By the time he was 17, Richard was in adult jail, where he was able to avoid further abuse with the help of some fellow inmates he knew from his time in the reformatories. Richard was released from jail in his mid-20s and did not return until the 2010s, when he was charged with offences that he denies committing.
Richard had a major breakdown in the early 2000s after his last marriage broke down. He told the Commissioner that he has had numerous marriages and de facto partners and is distressed to have lost contact with his children and grandchildren.
Richard supressed his story all his life, but when his current solicitor advised him to write it down, he decided it was time. ‘It took me about three months or more … to write the summary of my life, which opened … quite a few doors.’
Richard told the Commissioner, ‘The thing that gets my goat, more than anything else … people that are supposed to be there to look after you … to help you through whatever, don’t do their job’.