‘My mother thought it would be a very good idea to go to a school that was I guess a little more authoritarian, or that when you left school at least you would have a good education - as people think when you go to a private school that somehow there’s this magical good education outcome’, Richard told the Commissioner.
‘She was looking for a school that wasn’t too far away, that was affordable, because she was a pensioner, so something that she could afford, the family could afford, and that hopefully would have a better result for me.’
The school she found was a Catholic independent near their Adelaide suburb, and Richard began there when he was 12 or 13, in the early 1970s. But it didn’t work out as Richard’s mother had hoped. He was physically and sexually abused at the school and left with injuries that continue to restrict him, along with many painful memories.
‘For about 20 years, if I had to go out that side of town I couldn’t even bear to drive down that road’, Richard said.
The main assailant was Brother Keith, the Master of Discipline. ‘He enjoyed that title.
‘He was a very, very cruel person. He enjoyed beating the children, beating the boys as often as he could. And I think he had picked out his favourites for abuse – physical and sexual.’
Richard was sexually abused by Keith for about a year. He realises now that he was not the only victim, and that knowledge has helped him. ‘When you’re young and that happens you think there’s something wrong with you.’
As well as the sexual abuse, brutal canings left Richard with broken fingers and bruised kidneys. When he was hurt in an accident on school grounds, several Brothers drove him home, carried him inside and put him on the sofa. It was left to his family to get him to hospital, where he was found to have serious injuries that kept him away from school for ‘quite some time’. Soon after he returned, he was called to the principal’s office, falsely accused of cheating and expelled.
‘I assume that was because they didn’t want to be sued.’
Richard’s experiences at school continue to affect him as an adult. ‘Even to this day I just don’t trust anyone, whether it’s business or work or anything, I still don’t, I’m just very, very wary of most people.’ The ambitions he’d had when he arrived at the school had evaporated by the time he left.
‘I just couldn’t do it. When I left school I just went and got a job, a boring job … I didn’t have a career as such’, he told the Commissioner. ‘It‘s made life very, very hard, financially and otherwise, absolutely. It’s not been much fun, in those terms.’
Richard didn’t talk much about what had happened to him for a long time. ‘It’s one of those things that you put away in the back of your mind, into a little compartment somewhere.’ But in the early 2000s, containing the memories became impossible and he decided to contact the Catholic Church.
‘I made a phone call to try and resolve that and to talk through the problems with them.’
A meeting was held with two assessors, to which Richard brought a written statement. He didn’t come with a lawyer. ‘I didn’t think I’d need one, because I thought that they were on my side, because they’re there to help, aren’t they?’
Despite Richard’s anxiety - ‘I did feel very apprehensive or embarrassed and humiliated about bringing it up, because they were two older men, which is probably not the sort of people I wanted to speak to’ – the early meetings were positive. But meeting again after a break of several months, the assessors took a different approach.
‘They started to say to me, “We’ve actually looked into the records, and you were never at that school – so why are you here? Are you here just to make money?”'
‘They said, “We can’t find anything, we know Brother Keith’s a very good person … No one else has come forward so why have you come forward and why are you making it up?” and then they’d be nice to me for 10 minutes and then they’d be angry at me for 10 minutes. Then they wouldn’t say anything for 10 minutes and then someone would come and bang the table and it would be like one of those interviews you see in a cop show, it was just quite bizarre.’
After Richard produced documents proving he’d been at the school, the matter was handed on to another Church representative. By then it was almost three years since Richard had first contacted the Church.
‘I was just getting sick of it. Then after a while I thought, "No, I’m just going to persevere with this". Because they’re obviously keeping on at you until people just say, "Look, it’s too hard".’
The representative Richard met with had a chequebook with him.
‘He said, “I’m authorised to go up to $10,000”, and I remember saying, “I was hoping that might have a zero on the end of it” … And he said, “I’m only authorised to go up to that figure – what would be realistic?” And I said, “Well, as a base figure, probably $25,000 would be” – because I was thinking of a house deposit, that would be helpful to make up for what I’ve lost … And he said, “If you’re looking at that we’d have to go to court, and then you’d have to get solicitors, and, you know, we know you don’t want go down that path, and that’s going to take many years”, and all those things.’
Richard took the $10,000, and used it to pay off his credit card and buy a laptop. ‘That’s as far as it went – it didn’t exactly change my life.’
Richard is seeing a psychiatrist now, and finding it helpful. He has also completed university studies to post-graduate level and has work in a related field.
‘I guess I’ve had my revenge academically by going and doing the things now that I wasn’t able to do then … I’m really enjoying that.’